The Generational Gap – Gaining Perspective

Last week, we started talking about the fact that, for the first time in history, we have 5 generations in the workplace.  Each generation has come through a different life experience and therefore views life, work, decision making, ethics, you name it, with a slightly different perspective.  To a degree, we can generalise about the experiences of each generation and theorise on the resultant implications of those experiences.  At the end of the day though, our main aim remains as it always is – to find a constructive way to allow each member to bring their strengths to the table and for everyone to work together as a powerhouse team.

Achieving this relies on the same criteria as always – gaining perspective, and then using that perspective to effectively communicate with each other.

This week, we’ll gather some perspective on the experiences of the generations that have served to form their general outlook so that we can get a feel for where they’re coming from.  The emphasis being on “general”.  We’ll use this perspective to build respect for the varied outlooks that may exist within our team and start a thought process about how to make best use of that variety.  We’ll remember to take into account that we tend to assume that everyone sees the world as we do, which just isn’t possible.

Next week, we’ll address the largest current dynamic – the relationship between Gen X and Gen Y (Millennials).

Let’s get busy with it.

The Traditionalists, or Silent Generation

Born: 1928-1945
Coming of Age: 1946-1963
Age in 2019: 74 to 91
Current Population: 41 million (declining)

Since this generation was born between 1928 and 1945, you don’t see many of them in workplace.  However, they still impressively make up around three percent of the workforce.  Growing up in conditions complicated by war and economic downturn, Traditionalist or Silent Generation children worked very hard and kept quiet.  It was commonly understood that children should be seen and not heard.  This was the time of the Great Depression, and the loss of wealth from those of all classes blurred the distinctions between the different social classes.

This is the generation who firmly believes in an “Honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.” They’re extremely loyal and enjoy being respected for that.  Since they’re conformists, they value job titles and money highly, as well as security, comfort, and familiar, known activities and environments.

The Baby Boomers

Born: 1946-1964
Coming of Age: 1963-1972
Age in 2019: 55-73
Current Population: 33 million

The Baby Boomer generation grew up in the aftermath of World War II.  After World War II the soldiers came home and began building their careers and starting families.  In fact birth rates went up quickly as there was a “boom” in the number of children born.  Baby Boomers are predominately well-established in their careers, and as such, hold positions of power and authority, such as law firm leaders and executives.

The core values of Baby Boomers include optimism, team orientation, personal gratification, health and wellness, personal growth, and involvement.  Boomers are often ambitious, loyal, work-centric, and cynical.  They prefer monetary rewards, but also enjoy non-monetary rewards like flexible retirement planning and peer recognition.  They also don’t require constant feedback and have “all is well unless you say something” mindset.

Since Boomers are so goal-oriented generation they can be motivated by promotions, professional development, and having their expertise valued and acknowledged.  Prestigious job titles and recognition like office size and parking spaces are also important to Boomers.  They can also be motivated through high levels of responsibility, perks, praise, and challenge.

Generation X

Born: 1965-1980
Coming of Age: 1988-1994
Age in 2019: 39 to 54
Current Population: 41 million

Sometimes referred to as the “lost” generation, this was the first generation of “latchkey” kids, exposed to lots of day-care, single parenting, divorce and homes where both parents worked.  William Morrow (Generations) cited the childhood divorce of many Gen Xers as “one of the most decisive experiences influencing how Gen Xers will shape their own families” and they’re often credited for bringing work-life balance.  This is because they saw first-hand how their hardworking parents became so burnt out.

Having spent a lot of time alone as children which created an entrepreneurial spirit within them, Gen Xers make up 55% of start-up founders.  Even if they’re not starting their own businesses, Gen Xers prefer to work independently with minimal supervision.  They value opportunities to grow and make choices, as well as having relationships with mentors.  They also believe that promotions should be based on competence and not by rank, age, or seniority.

Gen Xers are arguably the best educated generation with 29% obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher (6% higher than the previous generation).  And, with that education and a growing maturity they are starting to form families with a higher level of caution and pragmatism than their parents demonstrated.  Concerns run high over avoiding broken homes, kids growing up without a parent around and financial planning.

Generation Y or Millennials

Born: 1981-1994
Coming of Age: 1998-2006
Age in 2019: 25 to 38
Current Population: 71 million

Millennials are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce, and are beginning to come into their own.  Raised by parents determined to cushion their children from the evils of society such as divorce and absent parenting, Millennials are known as the first “child focused” generation.  They were seldom left to their own devices and were constantly occupied as children.

The largest generation since the Baby Boomers, Millennials kids are known as incredibly sophisticated, technology wise, immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches…as they not only grew up with it all, they’ve seen it all and been exposed to it all since early childhood.

Often raised in dual income or single parent families, Gen Y kids have been more involved in family purchases…everything from groceries to new cars.  Gen Y members are much more racially and ethnically diverse, less brand loyal and the speed of the Internet has led them to be similarly flexible and changing in their fashion and style consciousness.  They’ve also had constant exposure and access to every style of leadership example from Richard Branson to Mark Zuckerberg and therefore have high expectations of the style of leadership they’ll encounter in the their workplace.

Millennials thrive when there’s structure, stability, mentoring, continued learning opportunities, and immediate feedback.  Culture is also extremely important for them and they want to work in an environment where they can collaborate with others.  Flexible schedules, time off, and embracing the latest technology to communicate are also important for Gen Y.

Generation Z

Born: 1995-2019
Coming of Age: 2013-2020
Age in 2019: 0-24
Current Population: 23 million and growing rapidly

While we don’t know much about Gen Z yet…we know a lot about the environment
they are growing up in.  This highly diverse environment with higher levels of technology will make significant inroads in academics.  Gen Z kids will grow up with a highly sophisticated media and computer environment and will be more Internet savvy and expert than their Gen Y forerunners.

This generation is motivated by social rewards, mentorship, and constant feedback.  They expect structure, clear directions, and transparency.  They also want to be given responsibility, and prefer flexible schedules.
What’s most intriguing about Gen Zers is that 53 percent prefer face-to-face communication.

Motivating a Multigenerational Workforce

“To manage across the generations we have to learn to be mindful of each other and treat each other as individuals,” writes Bruce Mayhew.

“No matter what generation we are from, it’s too easy to keep doing what we are doing now and acting like each generation is (or should be), motivated by the same things we are.  Even if our professional management instincts say ‘no, of course we don’t do this,’ we have to be careful that our actions don’t demonstrate that we do.  We always have to be mindful of our actions and stay open to listening to each other.”

“Use everyone’s ability and goals.”

As a manager and leader, it’s still your responsibility to make every employee, regardless of their generation, feel engaged.  You also need to integrate them into your company’s culture and make them feel valued.
That may sound like a tall order to fill, but you can achieve that by first making sure that you’ve hired the right person for the job, and making sure that they’re a good fit within your company’s culture.  You also need to ensure that there’s purpose and meaning behind their work.

The secret here is age-old.  Observe, gain perspective and awareness and then use that to communicate effectively.  Invited collaboration.  Examine your team players and build collaborative relationships.  Consider cross-generational mentoring that works both ways.  Consider the life paths of every member of your team and inspire them towards growth accordingly.  Ask each team member what they see and then discuss that viewpoint.  Find ways for everyone to work together without having to all fit in the same box.  Remember that the outcome is what you’re aiming at, and that how each member gets there doesn’t have to look the same as long as you all arrive at the same destination together.

Different Motivations for Different Generations of Workers, by John Rampton
Millennials Are the Largest Generation in the U.S. Labor Force, by Richard Fry
Generations X, Y, Z, and the Others – WJSchroer
15 Influential Events that Shaped Baby Boomers, by Robert Tanner

by Christen Killick

October 28th, 2019

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