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How do different generations differ in the workplace?

July 2015 | Servcorp

For things to go smoothly in the workplace, workplace inter-personal relationships are of the utmost importance. While it goes without saying that everybody's compatibility is different, it's safe to say that everybody has experienced difficulties with differences in each generation's values and approaches to hierarchy. Given this concept, we surveyed 400 workers, including both experienced employees in their 40s-50s as well as younger employees in their 20s and 30s, asking about the “type of person you like to work with” and “difference in work values based on different generations.” The goal of this survey is to provide some insight on how to interact with other employees and how to build better relationships with others.


Personality preferences

survey showing results of a working survey

The results of the survey show that “talkative people” were preferred to those who are quiet at 60.3%, as it seems that people want a work environment in which they can communicate with others. Also, “people who always agree” were less preferable to their contrary counterparts (at 66.0%). Furthermore, people who tend to “become silent” were much preferred to those who get outwardly angry (69.6%). Therefore, it appears that people who have their own opinions and can speak their mind are preferred over “yes-men” (people who tend to say “yes” to anything); however, most would like to avoid people who become outwardly angry.

Conversely, on the business operations side of things, “people who remember things slowly but never forget” were preferred to the fast but forgetful at 71.3%. In addition, people “who work slowly but produce good quality” were preferable to those who are fast and sloppy at 74.5%. The takeaway is that it seems everyone can appreciate quality and content more-so than speed alone.

Lastly, those “who prioritize efficiency and logic” were supported more than “people who value human nature and emotions” at 62.0%. At the same time, there seems to have been a fairly even split between “people who put emphasis on the process” versus those who “put emphasis on the end-goal” with the latter having received more support at 57.3%. Here we see that people value getting work done efficiently, but not necessarily at the cost of ignoring the entire work process.


Drawing the Line

a graph showing the result of a survey that show where people draw the line between work and private life

Where does work end and private life begin? Just how much should we be going out with people from work? Sometimes it's hard to tell where we should draw the line. According to our survey, it seems that those outings with partners from work weren't much important to most. 71.0% said spending time with co-workers on holidays is “not important” while 76.1% of respondents said that spending leisure time with their boss “is not important”.

However, that's not to say we keep our work and home lives separate. Matters related to extending work-related conversations were all mostly considered important. That being said, we tend to prefer talking to our co-workers rather than bosses. More specifically, we value chatting with co-workers (about family, hobbies, etc.) (66.8%) over going for lunch with co-workers (64.6%) or going for drinks with co-workers (64.3%).

While it may be hard to tell what kind of relationships we should have with our co-workers, other practices seem to be clearer. For example, “greeting people in the workplace” and “keeping a clean desk” both had over 90% of respondents saying they were important. Here it seems as working adults there are rules and manners we must observe.


Different strokes for different age groups

Findings based on different age groups

a chart showing whether people think having lunch with their bossa chart showing whether people think it is important to go our for drinks with their boss during non-business hours

What it means to have good communication with one's boss seems to have differed among the different age groups and while it sounds safe to assume that it's the older generations that value this old ethic, surprisingly the results show that younger people actually thought it was more important to engage in activities like “going drinking” and “having lunch” with one's superiors. The survey showed that as respondents got older, they tended to answer that these activities were “not important”. We can expect that this may be because those who have been around for longer have better understandings of their role at work, as well as how to interact with others.


Work values

graphs showing whether people work well with those that don't share the same work values

Opinions toward bosses and experienced employees

“I want them to stop changing their attitude just because they're in a bad mood.” (46/Female/Tokyo)

“I wish they ccould think more about their subordinates and stand up for us.” (31/Male/Nagasaki)

“I would them to refrain from working individually.” (27/Male/Ibaraki)

“I'd like for them to be better at dividing the work properly and also improve on making unbiased allocations of work.” (29/Female/Tokyo)

Opinions towards co-workers

“I would like them to work efficiently.” (31/Female/Kanagawa)

“I know some people like things to ‘just be a certain way', but I would prefer that they keep that to themselves.” (29/Female/Kyoto)

“When it comes to work, I'd rather people not try to get their personal feelings involved.” (30/Male/Tokyo)

Opinions towards subordinates and younger/less experience employees

“I like them to consider how they ask for things, their attitudes, and how they should deal with people before they act.” (44/Male/Kanagawa)

“I would like them to think about things more flexibly.” (29/Female/Tokyo)

“I would like them to be more independent.” (28/Male/Kyoto)

Overall, the majority of people responded that things are going well with those who don't share their work-values, but over 20% of people in their 20s and 30s and over 30% of people in their 40s and 50s responded that they did not think things were going well.

| "I wish my boss would see the big picture."

Looking at the free-responses, there was a tendency for people to hope for more from their bosses with responses like, I wish my boss would “see the big picture”, or “not determine things emotionally”, and “think about the team rather than themselves”. And, concerning the boss's role as a coach and mentor, there was a good amount of people who wished that their bosses would, as one respondent said, “not just shoot [them] down but remember to give more constructive advice as well” (28/Female/Osaka).

And concerning opinions of those who were in similar level positions, people tended to hope that their co-workers would “do their jobs efficiently” while “not forcing their values” on them.

Also, they feel that there is a lack of “a sense of responsibility towards work” in subordinates and younger/less experienced employees such as lacking initiative, aggressiveness and proper manners.  

| "I don't want people to use their own standards to measure our work"

When it came to people's values among different occupations, there seemed to be some friction with people saying things such as, “I don't want the company to just follow company policy, I want them to give priority to making a better working environment for researchers” (53/Male/Akita) and “when it comes to sales, I don't want people to use their own standards to measure our work” (39/Male/Chiba). Overall, it seems that most want others to take pride in their work, be able to effectively communicate with others, and be able to make decisions objectively.

Furthermore, when comparing different generations, it's important to notice that those in their 20s and 30s responded more positively than those in their 40s and 50s saying that things “were going well” by over 10 percent. So, for those who are saying that things are “going well”, just how are they interacting with those at work that have different work values?


How are we dealing with it?

a graph showing the ways in which people deal with a co-worker that may not share the same work values as them

Here, we'll look at the methods of people who responded with either “things are going well” or “things are going pretty well”.

Firstly, for those who are in the 20s – 30s age group, the most popular method, at 34% of respondents, was to conform to the person who does not share the same work values. Basically, they change their own behavior to match the person's that they may not get along with.

On the other hand, most of the experienced employees in their 40s and 50s responded that they would rather try to make an effort to convince others to “understand their own preferences”, with about 34.2% of respondents in this category.

Experienced employees and people in the management level also have a duty to guide those under them, so they tend to make effort to get others to understand the big picture and the overall company goals. Therefore, compared to the younger people, the experienced/managerial employees tended to possess more experience and confidence in their voice while having the skills to persuade people they may not get along with. Oppositely, younger people may have the tendency to agree with their bosses and think that “it's just easier to go along with them on this one”.

Lastly, over 20% of experienced employees as well as younger people answered that they would try to “avoid the person”. It may be that the phrase “a wise man keeps away from danger” rings true when dealing with someone who never listens to you anyway.



Even if there's someone you might not get along with, if you can't get your work done smoothly, you run the risk of losing your reputation in the company. In the case of young people, those who try their best to absorb lots of different things at work are usually loved and grow because of their flexibility. And in the case of the experienced employees/managers, while they have the power to influence others, the ability to understand others is desired at the same time.

Of course, using any of these methods to deal with those that “don't share the same work values” may be effective in helping things go smoothly, but if you change your ways, people around you tend to change their ways as well. In other words, performing in a way that is respected by your peers, bosses or subordinates, may be the best shortcut to building good lasting relations at work.