Librarianship for the Ages: Intergenerational Colleagues

Librarianship for the Ages: Intergenerational Colleagues

We’ve all heard about the labels applied to various generations. From the newest Gen-Alpha to the more mature GI Generation (1901-1926), each group has had very different experiences in their upbringing. Per the Center for Generational Kinetics, “A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this “birth cohort” exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.” With this variation comes diversity in approaches to careers and work-life balance. Knowing some best practices for maintaining a peaceful workplace is essential when managing such groups.

Below the different generations and best practices are discussed according to the site Insights for Professionals.

  • Generation Z (1997 – 2015)

    • “Gen Z are born between 1997 and 2015, and currently make up around 5% of the workforce” –

    • This age group is becoming more involved in the workforce. They are independent-minded team players who seek mentorship at fulfilling jobs. It isn’t just a paycheck for them; it’s something they need to feel good about doing.

      • Preferred communication:

        • Video calls, texts, and email

  • Millennials (1980 – 1996)

    • “Millennials are those born between 1980 and 1996. This is the largest workforce generation at nearly 35% of the workforce in the US and is estimated to make up more than 75% by 2025.” –

    • With a tendency to be confident, hopeful, and yet a bit egocentric, they can also be self-absorbed and ambitious.

    • As great multi-taskers who value work-life balance and the freedom to express their creativity, they work well independently (remotely) and in teams.

      • Preferred communication:

        • Text and email

  • Generation X (1965 – 1980)

    • “Generation X (1965-1980) makes up roughly 33% of the US workforce. This generation also holds the majority of senior management positions.” –

    • Generation X staff are hard-working, loyal in their jobs even through rough times, and creative problem solvers.

    • They are self-reliant from being raised to be so and have higher expectations for themselves and others.

    • Work-life balance is ideal since many of them have families, and they prefer knowing what’s expected of them.

      • Preferred communication:

  • Email and text with links

  • Baby boomers (1946 – 1964)

    • “Baby Boomers hover around 25% of the US workforce”

    • With a strong work ethic and an old-school approach to most things, they bring decades of experience and can be great mentors.

    • They also seek financial stability as they head toward retirement.

    • Seeking to be respected by their colleagues is a huge part of their needed work experience.

      • Preferred communication:

        • Face-to-face or over the phone

        • Dealing with complex technology isn’t ideal for many of them, so providing them with a paper copy instead of virtual items is ideal.

  • Traditionalists (born before 1945)

    • “…are around 2%” of the workforce. –

    • It’s increasingly rare for this generation to be in the workforce, but those who are tend to be as hardworking as possible and will put work before their personal life.

    • This generation has been known to have self-discipline, respect, and communicate well.

      • Preferred communication:

        • Printed words in larger size fonts or spoken in person.

When managing each of the types of generations above, keep in mind their possible generational preferences. Especially in a library setting where relaying data is the central part of the job. “Having a multigenerational workforce ensures that you have rich history and experience to lean on, with the ability to pivot seamlessly into new technologies and cultural shifts” (celpr). Efforts to blend communication styles will yield a better understanding. When assembling a team of intergenerational employees, concentrate on using more than one method of communication. Such as emailing and handing a printed document for memos or calling a baby boomer employee to convey information, but texting the millennials or genZ’s. Being mindful of other types of communication is also essential when in contact with intergenerational staff. Using active listening to ensure in-person communicators feel heard and empathy for each kind of generation. When the conversation is done, whether in-person or virtual, summarize what you’ve heard to be sure there are no misunderstandings.

It’s also imperative to never use generational stereotypes when working and communicating with intergenerational people. Communicating effectively with diverse populations is vital in a library where it’s often a public space with educated staff. According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, “It is important to remember that at an individual level, everyone is different. But looking at people through a generational lens offers good predictability for those trying to reach and inform…” Maintaining positive, clear communication within the library ensures the library runs smoothly and all staff is on the same page.