Chamber of Commerce discusses how to narrow the generational divide


Lesa Hanlin, executive director of Roanoke Regional Initiatives, informed chamber members how to bridge the generational divide in the workplace.
Photo by Aila Boyd

The Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce held its first Lunch and Learn event last Thursday at Ballast Point Brewery in Daleville.

Lesa Hanlin, executive director of Roanoke Regional Initiatives, shared her insights about generations in the workplace.

Unlike in previous years, there are currently five generations that comprise the workforce, which posses a unique set of challenges due to the fact that each generation brings its own set of attitudes and quirks into the workplace.

Hanlin, who holds a doctorate in education administration and policy studies from George Washington University, stressed the importance of avoiding the use of stereotypes and bias when dealing with different generations in the workforce.

“We’re trying to figure out how you can motivate and engage people in the workplace,” Hanlin said before starting her presentation.

Before discussing the five generations that currently make up the workforce, Hanlin asked those present to answer generational portrait questions. She asked people to name the television show or movie from their youth that most closely represents their generation’s view of the typical American family, what musical artist they consider to be the voice of their generation, and who they consider to be the most important leaders from their youth.

Hannah Emerson, marketing and events coordinator for the Botetourt Chamber of Commerce, discussed the purpose of the Lunch & Learn event series.
Photo by Aila Boyd


  • According to Hanlin, roughly 5 percent of the workforce is made up of Traditionalists.
  • Traditionalists, born between 1920 and 1945, are generally defined as “loyal stabilizers.”
  • The significant event that had an impact on the lives of Traditionalists was Pearl Harbor, which occurred on Dec. 7, 1941.
  • They are influenced by protocol and formality. As a result of their desire for formality, they dress up to travel and to attend church.
  • They prefer to take things slow, in addition to preferring things to be on paper instead of on screens.

Baby Boomers:

  • According to Hanlin, roughly 36 percent of the workforce is made up of Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are defined as “yuppies and boomers.” The term “Baby Boomer” came about because of the fact that babies were being born every 17 minutes for a roughly 20-year span of time.

  • The significant event that had an impact on the lives of Baby Boomers was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • They ushered in the end of rural, agrarian lifestyles.
  • They are seen as being part of a confident and expectant generation.

Botetourt Chamber of Commerce members enjoyed lunch at Ballast Point Brewery before listening to Lesa Hanlin’s presentation.
Photo by Aila Boyd

Generation X:

  • According to Hanlin, roughly 32 percent of the workforce is made up of Generation X.
  • Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979, are defined as “latchkey kids.” The term “latchkey” came about because a large portion of this generation was left home alone while their parents were at work.
  • The significant event that had an impact on the lives of members of Generation X was the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
  • Generation X is largely considered to be the first generation that worked to live, instead of living to work.
  • They typically exhibit a strong entrepreneurial spirit, but are poorer than their parents at the same age.


  • According to Hanlin, roughly 27 percent of the workforce is made up of Millennials.
  • Millennials, born between 1980 and 1994, are defined as “technoholics.”
  • The significant event that had an impact on their lives was the Columbine High School tragedy. Hanlin explained that following the shooting, students didn’t feel safe at school for the first time.
  • They are cause-oriented. Because of that, Hanlin said that companies should consider sponsoring charitable causes as a way of keeping Millennials satisfied.
  • They are financially challenged and dependent on their parents due to the fact that they entered the workforce during the time of the Great Recession. Despite entering the workforce during a recession, they are generally optimistic and progressive.

Gen Z/Homelanders:

  • According to Hanlin, Homelanders, born between 1995 and 2010, are just starting to enter the workforce.
  • Homelanders are generally cautious, much in the same way that Traditionalists are cautious.
  • They are described as being thrifty, self-educators, and globally savvy.
  • They rarely use email, but enjoy having whole conversations with just emojis.

After outlining all of the generations, Hanlin discussed ways in which the gap between generations can be narrowed.

She stressed the importance of engaging people within the organization by filtering in other generations, instead of filtering them out.

One of the common problems she sees when observing organizations is that the various generations don’t interact with each other enough. She explained that during lunchtime, members of various generations stick to themselves by grouping together, instead of engaging across generational lines.

Instead of trying to change the attitudes of each generation, Hanlin said that organizations should work to “leverage the attitudes of each generation.” One of the ways of doing that is through the “use of multiple communication channels for requests, sharing information, and reporting results.”

Hanlin added that mentoring, whether it be group mentoring or one-on-one mentoring, is a good way to have members of various generations interact and learn from each other.

“The older generations have a lot to learn from the younger generations too, because they hold the key to workplace success for the future,” Hanlin said, cautioning against the assumption that only Millennials and Homelanders can stand to benefit from mentoring.

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