Classifying and understanding people on the basis of when they were born is a very old and popular concept. It makes intuitive sense. A population that shared historical experiences will tend to be affected by those experiences in similar ways. This may cause them to see the world through the same lens.
While this concept has been sometimes been abused or overextended, everyone has witnessed first-hand the conflicts and misunderstandings that can result from generational differences. This is a crucial concept for you to understand because there’s a good chance that you lead an organization made up of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials as well.
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s review the most common generational groups in an organization today:
In general, baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values; however, many commentators have disputed the extent of that rejection, noting the widespread continuity of values with older and younger generations. In Europe and North America boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of affluence. One of the features of Boomers was that they tended to think of themselves as a special generation, very different from those that had come before them.
The 2011 publication “The Generation X Report”, finds that Gen Xers are highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family oriented. The study dispels the materialistic, slacker, disenfranchised stereotype associated with youth in the 1970 and 80s. In the preface to Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, a collection of global essays, Professor Christine Henseler summarizes it as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all.”
Jean Twenge, the author of the 2006 book Generation Me, considers Millennials along with younger Gen Xers to be part of what she calls “Generation Me”. Twenge attributes confidence and tolerance to the Millennials but also a sense of entitlement and narcissism based on personality surveys that showed increasing narcissism among Millennials compared to preceding generations when they were teens and in their twenties. Studies predict that Millennials will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Generation X due to their great expectations.
Based on the descriptions that you just read, what generation do you suspect that each response to the questions below is supposed to characterize?
What do you want out of a job?
- “I see my work as an important part of making my community function.”
- “It’s important to me that what I do allows me to feel fulfilled as a person.”
- “My work needs to provide me with enough income to provide for my family, maintain my standard of living, and pursue interests outside of work.”
You’ve done a great job this year. How can we best reward you?
- “A raise and a promotion.”
- “More vacation and the freedom to work from home once a week.”
- “A raise and a new title.”
What really upsets you at work?
- “When people don’t fulfill their duties.”
- “When something is not fair.”
- “When people don’t listen to my ideas.”
The point here is not that someone can be entirely understood based on how old they are. Nor should we should attempt to assimilate ourselves to the generation-based worldviews of others. The point is that we can better communicate with and motivate people who are older or younger than us by suspending our judgments about their values and making an effort to imagine how they see the world from their generational perspective.
“Senior Man With Tablet Pc” by Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at FreeDgitalPhotos.net