What Can Each Generation Teach Us?

The answers just might surprise you. AExperience invited five association executives representing multiple generations for a roundtable discussion on the generational challenges we’re all facing.
two business women of different generations laughing together

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Today, five different generations make up our workforce: The Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945), Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1980), Millennials (1981 to 1996) and Gen Z (1997 to 2012). And not too far behind are Generation Alpha (2013 to 2025) and Generation Beta (2025 to 2039).

It’s no wonder many of us struggle with managing a workforce with so many different generational experiences, attitudes and customs. AExperience brought together association executives of various ages to talk about these generational struggles and what each generation can teach the others. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Don't miss the bonus question at the end of the article!

The AEs 

Moderator Kim Pontius: Good afternoon, everyone. Up first, when it comes to workplace dynamics, what is it about your generation that you would like to impart to older or younger generations?

Leslie Frazier: Hey, everyone! Proud millennial here. I know a lot of older generations may feel like we come into an organization wanting to talk about every single problem that’s there and how to fix it. I think a lot of that has to do with our education. I have baby boomer parents, and a college education was constantly enforced in my household. As millennials have gotten a little older, we realize we now might need master’s degrees. I think the various things we’ve been exposed to in our education fuel a lot of our passion and desire to come in and make impactful changes.

Derek Sprague: I had the opportunity to work with my dad for 20 years, from his 60s to his 80s. And when I first started, it was a very difficult thing. Regardless of what I saw as inefficiency, that’s the way that it was going to get done. What I came to find out is that there are opportunities to play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s where we found we were able to really work well together throughout that whole process.

Amanda Creel: Sometimes I think the phase of life [causes] the disconnect. Because a new generation comes into the workforce, and we’re all of a sudden very negative about [that] generation. We have to remember what it was like to be at that [younger] phase of life and give that respect and professionalism and that grace to let them find their way.

Janet Kane: I think the most frequent points that become challenges between staff of different generations are one’s perception of the other’s work ethic. My advice is that no matter what your generation, professionalism is always expected. You get paid to come to work and be respectful, not to use your generation, wherever that may fall, as an excuse to be rude, abrupt or disagreeable. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Pontius: The one thing that keeps coming up to me is the eye rolls, witty repartee, or thinly masked sarcasm. I agree and would like to train all the generations to have mutual respect.

Sprague: Different generations have their own ways of communicating, but it is important to lay it on the table and have a conversation. If folks are being told what to do without understanding why, it leads to a lot of miscommunication.

Frazier: I’m a millennial, but I’m also from the South, was raised in the church, and grew up in a military community. So, some of the reactions—eye-rolling or certain sarcastic things—I wouldn’t do because that would have been disrespectful in my house growing up. So, as you get to know people and understand where some of that [behavior] is coming from, it might be things outside of just the generational differences. And then, you can really work toward more common ground.

Pontius: Let’s talk about a scenario: You just hired a junior staff member, and they don’t hesitate to tell you what they think is wrong with the association. How do you respond?

Kane: I love to thank them for their insight, encourage them to continue to share their ideas for improvement with me, and sometimes I’ve asked them to assist with some idea that they’ve brought to me. No. 1, it helps them become accountable for implementing the idea. No. 2, they know that I’m taking their comments seriously. And No. 3, it helps them understand how difficult it is to actually implement a change. If you don’t [help someone learn by doing], you don’t know what fabulous idea you might be missing out on. And they will never come to you again if you shut them down from the start.

Frazier: I don’t have any staff at the moment, but I love talking to Gen Zers behind me. I’ve become the big sister to many of them. One thing I have found is if they feel like their voices aren’t being heard or they’re being mistreated at work, they will leave very quickly. I got this advice from my aunt: Let’s say a young staffer has an idea that you know won’t work, but it won’t be detrimental if they try it—let them try it. They can go through their idea and see, “Oops, that really didn’t work. I guess my boss was right,” or “I should have listened to their advice.” Let them fall a little bit and then help them up through the process.

Pontius: Let’s go to the flip side of this. If you’re Gen Z or a millennial, how do you address situations where you feel your voice or perspective hasn’t been heard?

Creel: I may be the CEO, but a lot of my leaders are senior to me. So, I just try to find a way to tell the same story that’s not so focused on me telling the story—data, statistics, video—to get them to see it from a different perspective.

Sprague: When I try to implement a plan, when I’m talking about it, I have tendency to jump to the punchline without telling the lead-up of the joke. Whereas when I write it out first, I can lay out a really good background for it and then can say, “Here are the key points,” and guide my thought process. Then, build a team around it. If there’s one sour apple in the mix, but everyone else on your staff is like, “Hey, this is a fantastic opportunity,” that’s sort of infectious.

Pontius: Let’s talk about work-life balance. If you’re sick, do you call in or push through it? (I push through it.) Do you block “me time”? (Never do.) Do you check work email while technically on paid time off? (Always.) I’m curious to hear from the rest of you.

Frazier: [Laughter] I do feel like there is a belief from older generations that exhaustion equals success. But a lot of us millennials might say, “Look, if you want me to continue to produce, I’m shutting it down at 5 or 5:30 p.m.” But generations aside, especially after COVID-19, everyone now is like, “If you’re sick, please don’t come to the office.” With the emergence of remote work, if I’m sick—and it doesn’t require leave—I’ll just work from home. When I’m on leave, I’ll check my email a bit just so it doesn’t get overwhelming. And if it’s an emergency, I’ll respond. But I believe in balance so that you can come back fresh and be productive. If you’re carrying work into your vacation, you’re never fully resting, and that will definitely catch up with you later.

Kane: I had great mentors, one of them being Steve Francks, who just retired as CEO from Washington REALTORS®. He just said—and he didn’t mean this in a bad way— “Everyone’s dispensable. You can take your time off.” Also, I had a great assistant who started timeblocking my lunches on my calendar and adding 15 minutes of meeting prep time before every meeting. Because if you don’t take charge of your time, somebody else will fill it. As far as vacation, I’ll put one person to be the contact for my auto out-of-office [message]. Everybody knows if it’s an emergency, they contact that one person, and that person is going to text me and say, “Hey, building’s on fire. We need you.”

Creel: When I’m on vacation, my team knows me; they know to put an emoji of a dumpster fire​​​, and I’m there. I am definitely not the best example. I push my staff really hard to be the exact opposite of me: “You guys need to recharge. You need to take your time off.”

Sprague: One thing that’s different is the fact that a lot of us are taking care of elderly family. So, if you have someone who’s trying to push through and come in sick, it’s disrespectful to put co-workers in a position where they’re being compromised, which would compromise their family. On work-life balance, I’m the same way that everyone’s talking here [about struggling to detach from work]. Part of that is the fact that a lot of our members are small business owners, and their clock doesn’t stop. I’m sympathetic to that.

Emoji Reference Guide

Dumpster Fire emoji

Dumpster Fire

100 percent emoji


thumbs up emoji

Thumbs up

skull emoji


whale emoji


Pontius: Kind of interesting, since you mentioned emojis: When it comes to communication preference, what’s “in” for you, from how you prefer to communicate to the emojis that you use—or don’t use?

Sprague: I’m pulling up my phone right now. I used to be a big “100” emoji guy. I’ll respond a lot of times with the thumbs up, the skull for when I’m dying laughing, and maybe I’ll do the whale emoji if it’s “oh whale.”

Frazier: I am the youngest person on this call, and I don’t use emojis at all at work. And as much as I love to talk, I don’t really like spur-of-the-moment calls. Usually, it’s a request for something I have to then email or text. I prefer the latter two, because I can schedule things more efficiently and avoid drawn-out conversations.

Pontius: My kids just mock me constantly about texting, because I’m one of these people—my punctuation and my spelling has to be accurate. And they’re like, “Really?” I’ve gotten myself in trouble with emojis, so I use them very sparingly. I prefer just to pick up the phone and call people.

Creel: I think it’s about a style. For me, it’s over-communicating, right? I teach the team to do that. I teach our board to do that. You have to tell most people something seven times, seven different ways. So, I don’t care how we tell them. As long as it’s professional and we get them to hear us, I’m happy.

Kane: My favorite probably is texting, but that’s really because if I’m in a meeting, it’s easy to just respond. I also do appreciate emails if it’s really a question that I want to think about, so that I can make sure the wording is understood with the intent that I mean. If it’s a serious conversation, we’re going to schedule a time [to talk], especially if it’s a personnel issue.

Sprague: Millennials love efficiency, and in my email, I’ve built out a ton of ways to be efficient. Part of the problem is if I’m in a meeting like this, I’ll get a text message and I’ll glance at it, and then it might be a couple hours before I’m like, “Oh, I got a text message I need to respond to.” The other thing that I can’t stand is there are so many other methods to communicate—Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger. So, simplifying that back down is necessary.

Pontius: Now here’s a great question: How comfortable are you sharing personal experiences at work? Being the Boomer that I am, it was drilled into us growing up that you just didn’t talk about your personal life. You never asked any personal-leaning questions, right down to, “I know you were sick yesterday; how are you feeling today?” That was right on that fine edge.

Kane: I’m guilty of sharing both work and personal stories. The hardships our employees face are sometimes personal as well as work related. It really just comes down to supporting them in the moment and letting them know I care and understand.

Creel: I want staff to feel like they know me as more than just the lady in the office whom they have to give a report to. I want to have a relationship with them.

Frazier: I’m very much a people person. But I’m open [to sharing] as in, “What’d you do this weekend? How is your family?” Before the REALTOR® association world, I worked for two governors. So, I always have the hat on of everything you do represents whatever organization you’re with, so you have to be careful.

Sprague: I’ve looked at my old MySpace and Facebook and been like, “Ugh, should I purge that stuff?” But that’s part of what made me who I am today. I don’t mind telling the story of how that led to me here. I think it’s important to be authentic.

Pontius: Finally, what is one common generational misconception you’d like to debunk?

Creel: I want to fight for Generation Z, which is weird, but I have kids who are Gen Z, and there’s this idea that they only have a phone in their hands and that’s all they know how to do. But if you look at the stats, they actually like face-to-face communication more than some of the generations that precede them, especially when it comes to professional settings.

Sprague: Going back to working with my dad, that boomers can learn new tricks. [Pontius laughs.] When I first started here, I was breaking out in hives over how much inefficiency was going on. But as we started demonstrating we can break down headaches and barriers and make processes more efficient, buy-in started happening. Then we’ve got people who are just leaping up and owning those things that make your life easier.

Kane: Thank you, Derek, for that lead-in, because I was going to say the one that everyone thinks, that Baby Boomers don’t like technology and don’t adapt to it. We have probably had to adapt more than any other generation. I still remember rotary phones. We had to go from that and keep up with generations that have never known how not to make something happen by touching a screen. But as we get into the AI world, I just hope people don’t forget how to express their own thoughts and use their own words. And how to think before you speak.

Frazier: I’m 33 and already on career space No. 3, so I do think there’s a perception of millennials hopping around and not being committed to one particular job or space. I would challenge that. We want to have a lot of different experiences so that when we do get to that next job or next phase, we’re not only bringing in experience related to the role, but also taking what we’ve learned to hopefully then have a greater impact in the current role and the organization.

Pontius: From the baby boomer perspective, I will tell you, don’t take us at face value. We used to be very different people. I know I was. But we’re going to come back to that word “respect.” There’s wisdom among those who are older that I don’t think should be disregarded. Younger generations want us to hurry up, pick up and be gone, but with that goes an incredible amount of institutional knowledge, because nobody cares about what was, they only care about what’s coming.

I always liked what Harry Truman said: “There is nothing new, only the history you don’t know.” There are skills, and then there are abilities and intelligence. But ultimately the time factor has to come in to make wisdom.


Bonus Question: What helps fuel you?

Kane: Anything by Simon Sinek or Jon Gordon, in particular, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon and Ken Blanchard.

Sprague: Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

Creel: Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, but the biggest thing is networking groups and other AEs.

Pontius: National Public Radio and its website for everything from music to news to inspirational and motivational stories.

Frazier: Mindless television!


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