We’ve all seen evidence of this throughout the entire pandemic, which is slowly becoming more normal than typical: different generations are handling this differently. Of course there are blurred lines between the generations, but if you look at the different generations: Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, there are common threads between them.

As leaders, our job is knowing where that person is, meet them where they are, and lead them to reach the goals of the team.

Here’s some tips on leading the different generations through this crisis:

The Silent Generation (or The Greatest Generation), born before 1945:

This generation has lived through war, depression, and have placed strong value in family. The reality is that the Silent Generation is at the greatest risk of dying from this virus, and they are likely to be already retired. Employees that are older than 75 who were planning to work longer are choosing to retire, leaving gaps in knowledge, experience, and wisdom that are going to be hard to replace.

Lead this generation through this crisis with flexibility, patience, and empathy, as switching to an all-virtual business model may be difficult. As a leader, slow down, take time to not assume that this generation knows all of the technology answers, and respect and value the experience and wisdom that they bring to the table.

Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1965):

For the workforce that is aged 74-55, this generation has a lot going on when it comes to the pandemic. They are likely the most financially stable, able to personally withstand the storm of financial insecurity, having lower mortgages, lower debt overall, and no student loans. Their children are likely grown and caring for their own families. They also may be business owners, or high-level business leaders, making decisions about layoffs and general financial insecurity for many other people, which causes unbelievable stress. More than anything though, this is the first time that many in this generation have felt physically vulnerable and high risk, but don’t feel “old”. This can lead to Boomers denying the seriousness of the virus, keeping their social circles going, and “living their life” instead of being locked down. As a doctor I know, who is on the medical advisory board for a church, said “the people who want to go to church in person are exactly the people who should not go to church in person.” This can apply in business as well.

When leading Baby Boomers, they are the least likely to buy in to new procedures and systems. Be sure that establishing the “why” of the new procedures is established, and assure that they are comfortable with the “how” it is going to happen, without being condescending.

Generation X (born between 1966 and 1977):

The workforce that is aged 54-43, otherwise known as the Sandwich Generation, is in the precarious position of often caring for not only parents, but grandparents, and school-age children during this crisis. Unlike their parents in the Baby Boomer generation, they are likely still paying a mortgage, even costly student loans, and are supporting their children as they go to college. They are, particularly women, caring for children that are schooling at home, holding down full-time jobs, and caring for parents that are (or should be) isolated at home, all at the same time. The juggling act of being a parent and an employee or leader is becoming more and more apparent. Fortunately, according to a recent study, Generation X is the least likely to have lost their jobs and/or income, because of the industries in which they are most likely to work.

Leading Generation X employees sometimes seems easy: having been through large-scale turmoil before (the highest divorce rates on record, 9/11, and the 2008 recession, among others), they are most suited to be flexible. “I’m fine” might be the most common phrase uttered by Generation X. But digging deeper as a leader, understanding the pressures that Generation X is under during this crisis is the best way to meet them where they are. Frequent check-ins, walking in the shoes of their day-to-day responsibility, and flexibility when it comes to family obligations are all going to help.

Generation Y, or Millennials (born between 1978 and 1995):

Millennials get a bad rap for being self-obsessed, everybody-gets-a-trophy lightweights. However, during this crisis, Millennials have been leading the charge on staying at home, being frugal with money, getting involved in political activism, and more as they care for parents who are younger Baby Boomers. Unfortunately for Millennials, they are much more likely to work in industries that are struggling (hospitality, foodservice, retail, tourism), and have taken huge financial losses, along with often crippling student debt and few investments and assets.

Just this week, a client was struggling with a Millennial employee that still wants to stay at home despite the team safely returning to the physical building. When we dug into the problems that this leader was having, empathy for the employee, who was still fearful of the virus and infecting her aging family member, drove the modification of the return to office policy. The employee was still performing her work, and a flexible work model was the best for the business. Leading with empathy works.

Generation Z (born after 1995):

Generation Z, who is just entering the workforce or is finishing college, is the most likely to have mental health issues due to stress. Anxiety and depression have been widely reported among this age, as the uncertainty of career paths, educational opportunities, and financial stability is amplified. For someone who is just starting out – who may or may not have decided what they want to be “when they grow up,” to have all of this unrest in every aspect of life is jarring. Employees aged 25 and younger, in reality, are at the lowest risk of getting seriously ill from the virus, so they are most likely to go out to parties and social gatherings, restaurants and bars, and keep the friendships in-person. This could be a result of an extreme feeling of loneliness, as reported by over 73% of Gen Z.

Leading Generation Z employees can be difficult because if there’s a defined mask and cleaning protocol at your business, the virus transmission is likely to happen outside of work, and it’s been well documented that more contacts = more chances to be infected. With Generation Z being more likely to be asymptomatic, this can wreak havoc on your team, business, and customers. Empathy for the anxiety that Generation Z is having, along with being vigilant about systems, processes and procedures is a winning strategy with this generation.


Bottom Line: with more generations in the workforce at the same time than ever before, modifying your leadership tactics and style to fit each generation is vital. Many of our clients are working through this, and we have been asked frequently to train their leaders on the best ways to empathize, adapt, and grow.



Our leadership training programs are customized, flexible, and with accountability will produce results for teams of all sizes. Do your leaders need to be trained on leading the generations? Contact us today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.

About the author,

Director of Marketing, ActionCOACH Columbus

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