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Overcoming Age: The Multi-generational Workforce, Part 2

My previous blog introduced a new, challenging reality of the workplace: multigenerational differences (and the subsequent responsibility of employers to bridge them).

In this post I want to further explore each of the generations more in depth in order to understand their respective points of view.

Let’s start with the values, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations of the five generations currently occupying today’s workforce...

The Pre-Baby Boomers, or Traditionalists, were born in or before 1945. Their childhoods were shaped by World War II, strong families, and parents that were strict and believed in strong discipline. Their formative era was marked by a strong commitment to family, community, soldiers, and country. They desire to work toward the common good and they value tangible rewards for service. They are good team players and loyal hard workers. They believe that hard work pays off.

The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 into an environment shaped by parenting that was more flexible in nature and more focused on self-worth, and optimism. Significant events in their earlier years included Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march on Washington and the assassination of President Kennedy. The air was one of economic rebirth and global rebuilding. Baby Boomers used their careers, their long hard hours at work, as a platform to prove their worth and influence decisions. They value job perks and promotions. They are competitive, have a strong work ethic, and are not afraid to challenge. Baby Boomers believe that the upcoming generations should “pay their dues”.

Then there is Generation X. They were born between 1965 and 1980. Most were impacted by divorce, either in their own or their extended families. More and more women were working outside of the home, kids were left alone to care for themselves, and the latchkey term became widespread. The Generation X era was full of let-downs, disappointments and failures. For example, most Generation Xer’s remember the Challenger, Chernobyl, and the 3-Mile Island disasters. There were massive corporate lay-offs, the stock market plummeted, and AIDS was identified. They heard their parents, teachers, and other adults voicing concerns about recession and inflation. They saw the fall of Reverends Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker along with President Nixon.

The mood of the time was very cautious. Individuals born during these years became very self-reliant, stopped believing in heroes, and became reluctant to give their loyalties away. They don’t trust establishments, they desire to be seen as leaders, they long for independence and work-life balance, and they value corporate training and investment.

And finally, we have Generation Y, or the Millennials. They were born between 1980 and 2000, were raised by very involved parents who have treated their children as much like friends, as kids. They were taught that they could talk about any topic and grew up in a much more casual environment. Many were required to do volunteer work and exhibit high levels of social concern with the belief system that he/she is special, and to “leave no one behind”.

During their childhood they experienced the release of Nelson Mandela, the death of Princess Diana, the Columbine High School Shootings, the bombing of the World Trade Center, and Hurricane Katrina. They desire to make a difference in the world and want to earn credit for doing so. They want to know that what they do makes a difference. They value new freedoms and flexibility. Millennials want to work for a place that can link their work duties to their personal and career goals.

Now we have the up-and-coming Generation Z. There is some discussion about the years that define Generation Z, but most agree their generation starts with those that were born sometime after 1995 and are just starting to enter the workplace. It is predicted that this generation will most greatly be impacted by the internet, social media, and the great recession, which could leave this group with feelings of insecurity. They are less likely to pursue traditional college because of the many opportunities they see through the internet. They will be less focused, better at multi-tasking, and better able to process fast-paced information. They value individuality, have higher expectations about what others, including their place of work, can do for them. They are more entrepreneurial and less likely to care about higher prices than their Millennial counterparts.

As employers learn about the multigenerational differences it is still wise for them to keep in mind that even within generations comes differences; and there can be similarities between the generations. But generally, understanding generational differences is starting point for bridging gaps.

My next blog will focus on how to do that through communication and work styles, priorities, and the work/learning approach.


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