Change management, Guidance, Talent Management
Generation Y, Generation X, Generation Z – Definition & Overview

Table of contents

Generation Y, Generation X, Generation Z, Baby Boomers – What distinguishes the generations, what makes them different and how you can manage them successfully.

Generation Y, Generation X, Generation Z
– Differences & opportunities between the generations

The changes in the world of work

Digitalization, globalization and demographic change

In recent years, the world of work has begun to change fundamentally – and this will continue in the coming years: Digitalization and globalization are advancing and demanding new skills and approaches from employees and entrepreneurs. In addition, demographic change is underway, which means that the baby boomers, currently aged around 50 to 65, are gradually retiring from working life, leaving gaps that the generations after them with a lower birth rate will not be able to fill in terms of numbers. Personnel will become a scarce resource. The employee of the future will be able to choose between several employers.

The importance of change for companies

For companies, this means that they have to draw attention to themselves and search intensively to find suitable employees. The competition for talent, the so-called “war for talent”, will intensify in the future. Companies need to think about what added value they can offer potential employees so that they decide to work for them. While company cars and status symbols used to be an important incentive, the trend today is towards flat hierarchies and work-life balance, as other values have become important for people of the younger generations. In this respect, it is worth taking a look at the different generations, their skills and preferences.


  • What do they want to achieve?
  • What motivates them?
  • What do companies have to offer them to be an attractive employer?


We are aware that the term generation subsumes the most diverse individuals and can never do justice to all of them. Nevertheless, trends are discernible. Here we will look at the main characteristics of each generation and their impact on companies.


Generation overview share


How do generations set themselves apart?

The definition of generation

A generation is an age group that has been similarly shaped by historical or cultural events in childhood or youth. Particularly drastic events are wars, emergency situations such as in the post-war period or political upheavals such as the fall of communism. However, social trends such as the 1968s or digitalization also have an impact on the everyday lives of the population and therefore also on the generation that is the first to grow up with these changes.
We often only notice the different behaviors and values of two generations when they get into a generational conflict. A classic: The older generation insists on rules and behavioral norms that the younger generation perceives as restrictive; the older generation, however, perceives non-compliance with these behavioral norms as disrespectful.

Intergenerational variance and intergenerational difference

It is difficult to define generations by year of birth, because there is variation, the so-called intergenerational variance: it is possible for someone to be clearly assigned to a particular generation by the year of their birth, but show characteristics of another generation. The years that mark the beginning and end of a generation often vary by 5 to 10 years. Some describe Generation Y as the generation born between 1971 and 1997, while others place them in the 1980, 1983 or 1985 to 2000 age groups. A strict definition is not possible.
Nevertheless, there is an intergenerational difference, i.e. the mean values of different generations differ significantly: different goals are pursued, manners change, different values underlie them.


Business Multiple generations


Criticism of the Generation concept

We don’t want to withhold from you the fact that the concept of generations is being discussed controversially.

Organizational researcher Marcel Schütz

Organizational researcher Marcel Schütz from the University of Oldenburg looks at trends in work organizations. He criticizes generational concepts: “Gen Y was invented in an advertising magazine. No offense to the marketers, but trend campaigns and science are two different things.” In fact, the term Generation Y was first used in 1993 in the American advertising magazine Adverising Age.
According to Schütz, neither the chronological classifications nor the characteristics and values attributed to a generation are clear. For example, in one depiction, the much-discussed Generation Y is portrayed as being rather career-critical, while in the next it is portrayed as being rather ambitious. Yet there have always been social classes that are critical of achievement. The students of 1968 or the ecological movement in the 70s and 80s are examples of this. He does not see this developing into a general social phenomenon. After all: “You can observe among students (of Generation Y) from less affluent backgrounds or with a migration background how unbroken and respectable their ambition is to rise up, to earn a place in society economically.” Schütz sees career criticism and ambition as a contradiction.

Social, educational and health scientist Klaus Hurrelmann

The social, educational and health scientist Klaus Hurrelmann, Professor of Public Health and Education at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, has long been involved in youth research. He is co-author of the Shell Youth Studies. He, on the other hand, sees clear tendencies and evaluates seemingly opposing trends completely differently. He does not necessarily consider a career-critical attitude and ambition to be contradictory or incompatible.
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, he comments on the topic of Generation Y and careers: “All studies on this question indicate that making a career per se is not the declared goal of this generation. Rather, their desire is to have influence and to shape something that they consider important…”. According to Hurrelmann, members of Generation Y “take a tactical approach to their lives, aligning themselves with success in a very streamlined way”. They would not rebel like the generation of 1968, but “try to infiltrate the system from within. And that is what is really revolutionary about this generation.”


Generation Y Generation X Generation Z Baby Boomers Overview, Marketing Generations


The different generations

Let’s now take a look at the different generations:

Key characteristics of the Baby Boomer generation

Living to work (1955-1965)

The baby boomer generation refers to those born after 1955; this generation follows the post-war generation, which was born between 1945 and 1955. In the years immediately after the Second World War, the birth rate was still relatively low. However, it rose sharply at the beginning of the 1950s and continued to do so until the so-called pill crunch in the mid-1960s. There was also a baby boom in the USA, but it began in 1946. With around 1.4 million newborns, 1964 was the year with the highest birth rate in Germany. After that, the birth rate fell. The death rate has been higher than the birth rate since 1972. The proportion of baby boomers in the population is very high compared to all other generations, but there are comparatively few studies on the values or attitude to life of those born during this period. The retirement of baby boomers poses new challenges for companies and pension funds.

Childhood and youth

The baby boomers were brought up by the traditionalist generation (1922-1945). This upbringing was traditional and so was the family image. There were clear hierarchies; discipline and order prevailed in the families. Baby boomers grew up in the era of the economic miracle. New opportunities opened up; universities became accessible to a broad section of the population, travel abroad became possible and the first man set foot on the moon.

At work

In its 2010 study, the Knoll company found that job security is one of the highest priorities for baby boomers; they consider a pleasant working atmosphere or work-life balance to be less important. In general, work is a valuable asset to them, and the term “workaholic” was coined by this generation. Baby boomers are team-oriented, focused on their careers and want to get into management positions. They want to be needed and they want to be valued for what they can do. Your prospects: Profession, Profession Profession…


Baby Boomer Generation InterestsBaby Boomer Generation cartoon character, Infographic


Key features of Generation X

Working to live (1965-1979)

Generation X had various names during their youth in West Germany: Generation Golf or MTV, sneaker generation, but also zero buck generation or no-future generation.

Childhood and youth

Generation X grew up in prosperity. During her youth, traditional family structures changed; the divorce rate rose and the first patchwork families emerged. Authorities and traditions were questioned; the attitude to life was rather individualistic and critical.

At work

Every generation tries to set itself apart from the existing generations. In the case of Generation X, the “live to work” credo of the baby boomers has become “work to live”. Here, work does not come first, but is a means to an end. The goal: to lead a materially secure life, to be able to afford something.
The Xers are well trained, ambitious to ambitious. They are looking for development opportunities and want to get ahead. But time is always more important than money. They strive for a high quality of life and value a good work-life balance. You have probably learned this from the behavior of the previous generation, who only lived to work. They don’t want to spend their lives like this. This is a very important change in the world of work.
Generation X people tend to be independent and individualists. In a professional context, they are less oriented towards teamwork, as their preferred way of working is independently. They want freedom in the way they organize their work.


Successfully managing Generation Y, Generation X.jpg


Key characteristics of Generation Y

Combining work and life (1980-1994)

We encounter the generations described above every day in our day-to-day work. The members of Generation Y who were born earlier are already active in working life, while those born later are just entering the labor market. In 10 years’ time, 50% of employees will be members of Generation Y.
They are the best-researched generation to date. Numerous studies, publications and media reports deal with this generation and their entry into the world of work, which will continue to change it permanently. That’s why we’re taking a closer look at the Ypsiloners.
There is a flood of terms for Generation Y – pronounced Why:
Generation Maybe, Generation Internship, Generation Me, Generation Relationship Incompetent, Millennials or – Generation Precarious, Generation Stupid or even Generation Chips.

Childhood and youth

Generation Y is growing up in a world of climate change, globalization and terrorism. She is aware that things change quickly, that there are no certainties and has decided to enjoy life.
The Ypsilonians were brought up with a rather anti-authoritarian, caring, sometimes overprotective parenting style and the trend towards co-determination; wishes were quickly fulfilled. They are the first generation to have grown up partly in the digital age, which is why they are also known as digital natives. Real-time communication is the standard, and life without cell phones and the Internet is almost unimaginable.

At work:

Millennials are looking for meaning in what they do. This means that they are willing to do more and learn more if they find a project meaningful. On the other hand, they ask what the meaning of an activity is in the first place, which has earned them the name Generation Why. Their way of working and their demands on work differ from previous generations. It is no longer so important to get into a management position; Ypsiloners prefer flat hierarchies, networking and teamwork. Instead of focusing on ambitious career goals and job security, they are masters of project work. The Berlin-based trendenz institute has shown in a study that collegiality and personal development are the most important values of this generation, whereas status and prestige ranked last out of a total of 19.
The Ypsilon generation has high expectations in terms of leisure time and private life. In order to feel comfortable at work, they no longer want to separate work and life, but combine them. Doing private things at work is just as much a part of this concept as working in your free time if necessary. They prefer to work with people on the same wavelength. According to the Shell Youth Study of 2010, diligence and ambition are very important to them, which can be seen, for example, in the fact that more and more young people are taking their A-levels and studying in less time.


Why it is important for companies to engage with Generation Y

Generation Ypsilon has demographic change on its side: in just a few years, there will be a shortage of millions of skilled workers. Companies would therefore do well to adapt to the needs of the new generation in order to be attractive to young employees. Ypsiloners look for employers with a good reputation and good development opportunities. However, if motivation is lost, other attractive career alternatives beckon or there are difficulties with managers, members of this generation tend to quit relatively quickly; on average, millennials only tolerate unsustainable working conditions for six months. As they have grown up in a world of constant change, they are more flexible in the face of such changes than, for example, baby boomers, who on average take 2-3 years before leaving a work situation that they find unpleasant.

What does science say? Youth researcher Prof. Klaus Hurrelmann

In an interview with FAZ, youth researcher Prof. Klaus Hurrelmann predicts the following for members of Generation Y: “They won’t pursue a career per se in order to get more money and have more power – although, of course, many of them will think about it when they are faced with these options: The ’68ers also initially rejected these more middle-class goals, and some of them did end up climbing the career ladder quite quickly. With the current young generation, however, it looks very much as if they are looking for a professional activity in which they can realize their ideas and which keeps them alive: living while working and working while living. To interpret from this that they are shying away from a career is completely wrong. Rather, they have an almost clairvoyant sense of how dangerous these spirals of self-exploitation are that you can fall into in today’s working life.”


Generation Y, Generation X comparison graphic


Key characteristics of Generation Z

– Work is only part of life (from 1995)

This generation is not yet active in the world of work. She is just starting out in working life. We will only be able to assess possible developments later, as we do not yet have any experience of how the people of this generation will behave and develop in the world of work. However, a few trends are already emerging:

At work

Like all generations, the members of Generation Z are trying to set themselves apart from the previous generation and are therefore looking for more separation between work and private life. In contrast to the previous Generation Y, they want more structure and are looking for firm boundaries. It will no longer be possible to take work home with you. This generation will no longer be as motivated as Generation Y, as they seek meaning and self-realization more in their private lives and social contacts than at work. This private life largely takes place online; the boundary between virtual and real is becoming ever smaller.

Digital Natives

They are the first generation to grow up completely in the digital age and are therefore hyper-connected.
In contrast to the more optimistic Generation Y, Generation Z is likely to be more realistic and individualistic. They know that they are facing an uncertain future. The McDonald’s training study conducted in 2013 revealed that 62% want a permanent job, 58% value having fun in their job and that only 43% consider success in their career to be important.
In an interview with Spiegel, Daimler Board Member for Human Resources Wilfried Porth revealed how Daimler is preparing for Generation Z. Porth describes the members of Generation Z as constantly online “to present themselves there and exchange ideas with friends.” Daimler took advantage of this and had the trainees report on their day-to-day work via WhatsApp. This initiative was well received. Porth: “Z-lers also have a strong desire for safety. There are a striking number of people who want to plan their lives early, start a family, build a house. However, this is a very German view: in Asia or the USA, things are very different.”
Old and young business

Why is it important to know the characteristics of different generations?

Respect and manners

Today and in the coming years, four to five generations will be working simultaneously. Generations have a way of setting themselves apart and this creates conflicts. Here’s an example: For Sarah from Generation Y, communication takes place at eye level, people are on first-name terms and don’t attach much importance to formality. This casual approach makes Sarah feel comfortable in her working environment. However, Norbert from the baby boomer generation finds this unacceptable, as he finds it belittling and distancing when younger colleagues call him by his first name without being asked. When Sarah adapts to more formal customs, Norbert perceives this as respectful, but Sarah perceives it as distance.

Values and motivations

However, dealing with the generations is about more than just understanding and resolving conflicts. The different values of different generations play a role in every area of the company. The generation has completely different ideas of what success means to them and what goals they want to achieve. Some want a high status, a company car, while others do not attach any importance to this, but want to realize themselves and feel comfortable. Due to these unequal motivations, they need different incentives to perform optimally.
The management should also be aware of how generations communicate and what kind of teamwork they can best work in in order to form successful teams.


Meeting Miscellaneous Age


How companies can exploit the opportunities of diversity

Human resources strategy

Understanding the different needs of the generations is very important for the success of a company. This starts with the human resources strategy.

The channels through which potential employees are reached are different; Norbert still looks at the job advertisements in the newspaper, Sarah also searches on social media. The approach should also be designed according to the motivational factors of a generation. Unlike Norbert, Sarah is not interested in having her own office, she wants to know whether she can combine her work with her private life.


Companies should take measures to ensure that the 4 different generations can work well together at the same time. The differences should be used instead of striving for standardization. Diversity is also a success factor in terms of age: a lot can be learned from the experienced generations, while the younger generations are somewhat more creative and courageous. Companies should therefore ensure that they have well-mixed teams.

Working conditions

Adapting working conditions is another measure for successfully managing generations. This can be done, for example, by offering younger generations flexible working hours or working from home. For older generations, other circumstances are more important.
Here is another example from Daimler: “…the young people ask for a lot of feedback, but I don’t think they always expect praise. This is a cultural change. This is new, especially for many engineers who don’t like to talk big. We have therefore set up mandatory employee appraisals: Our managers and employees regularly discuss what they like about their work and where there is potential for improvement – in both directions.”


What is particularly important:
The company should enable people from different generations to get to know each other well and understand what each generation brings to the table. This brings people closer together, which in turn has a very positive impact on the organization, processes and communication.



Tips for the successful management of different generations

What can you do specifically to successfully manage different generations in your company?
  • Organize presentations and webinars for managers on the characteristics of the generations!
  • Ensure that the topic of generation management becomes an integral part of management development and training programs.
  • Mentoring programs and activities across all generations should become part of everyday life! This is the only way that young people can benefit from the experience of older people and older employees do not stand still in their development.
  • Hold generation workshops! Intergenerational workshops ensure that both the company and the team are well prepared:
    • Better perception of typical prejudices about Generation Z, Generation Y, Generation X and the Baby Boomers.
    • greater awareness of the differences and similarities between the different generations.
    • Better focus on recognizing and using the special strengths and potential in mixed-age teams.
    • greater mutual appreciation and more effective collaboration in a multi-generational team.
    • more successful leadership and better results in the generation mix.


What we offer you

Would you like to delve deeper into the topic of generations? Wonderful!

    • We offer an entertaining lecture of 90 to 120 minutes (depending on the event) in which the generations, their values, their way of communicating and their ways to each other are discussed.
    • We offer one-day seminars on the generations.




Sources and materials on the net

Are you interested in the topic of generations? If so, we have put together a number of articles, books, videos and studies that are well worth reading. Have fun with it!

Is it also about being attractive to different generations as a company? We are happy to help you: Employer branding

Criticism of the Generation concept, pros & cons

Interview with Marcel Schütz:
An interview with youth researcher Prof. Klaus Hurrelmann in the FAZ:
Details on the work of Prof. Hurrelmann on Wikipedia:
An amusing article in Die Welt Five Trantüten are now a generation:

Generation Y

Lecture by Dr. Steffi Burkhardt, author of the book They’re crazy, the boys. An instruction manual for Generation Y.
An interview with Jutta Rump, Professor of Human Resources Management and Organizational Development at Ludwigshafen University of Applied Sciences and Director of the Institute for Employment and Employability in the FAZ The ox tour has had its day:
Two articles on Generation Y in Die Zeit:
How we will work: Time
Generation Y – Do they want to work too?: Time

Generation Z

The Spiegel interview with Daimler Board Member for Human Resources Wilfried Porth mentioned in the article about how Daimler is preparing for Generation Z.

Generations overview



  • Personnel acquisition in the mirror image of generational diversity by Isabelle Latz
  • They’re crazy, the boys. An instruction manual for Generation Y from Steffi Burkhardt
  • From baby boomers to Generation Z: The right way to deal with different generations in the company by Martina Mangelsdorf

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Anna Isabell Arendt
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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