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Thriving in a multi-generational workforce

For the first time ever, we have four generations in the US workforce at the same time. They are, by years of birth:

Traditionalists (Parents of the Boomers): 1922-1945
Boomers: 1946-1964
Generation X: 1965-1980
Generation Y (Children of the Boomers): 1981-2000

Each of these groups has their own way of looking at their careers and lives, and this can lead to confusion and conflicts. It’s important for us to develop a multi-generational lens, to be able to interpret others’ perspectives and recognize how the different generations act and interact.

Some very brief descriptions of the generations are:

Traditionalists

There are two groups within this generation, those who remember the Great Depression and those who don’t. This event had a profound impact on those who experienced it directly, and their children heard their memories. Recycling was driven by direct need and shortages.

This generation is hard-working, loyal and they tend to be “command and control” as bosses, as well as more formal in their workplace interactions. This generation also witnessed the larger introduction of women into the work force, and they are the first generation to receive Social Security at retirement.

Those born later into this group saw huge shifts in the workplace and daily life, with antiwar protests, the Cold War and civil rights.

Boomers

This is the largest generation, with about 80 million members. They have high aspirations for their careers, and can be quite competitive. They expect to be fulfilled in their lives, and they work long and hard in search of this fulfillment.

They are redefining retirement, as they stay in their jobs past the typical retirement age. And many management consultants and researchers are sounding an alarm if large numbers of the boomers left jobs at the same time, without transferring their knowledge and experience.

Socially, this generation saw the profound upheavals of the 60s, and the ongoing cultural changes. While many of them have good computer skills, they also remember the world before the internet.

Gen X

This group, about 46 million, was named by the media in response to Douglas Coupland’s book: “Generation X.” This referred to the group that moves away from class, status and money. Gen X people
saw the high divorce rate of their parents, and many vow to not repeat this due to pressures of the work place. This does not mean that they are slackers, but their priorities are more rooted in a family focus.

They grew up surrounded by technology and are very comfortable with it as an integral part of their work and social lives.

They are described as the generation that “works to live, not lives to work.” They want flexibility, and are more focused on career than a particular job. This may be a reaction to seeing their parents’ loyalty rewarded by layoffs.

Gen Y

Also called the Millennials, they are the children of the Boomers. They watched their parents work hard, and they were frequently sent to day care as both parents worked. They also had highly structured youths, with team activities and learning to be part of a group. This can enable them to work very well in teams.

They are also skilled at “multitasking,” technically impossible but generally accepted as a way of life. This includes listening to music at work, talking on phones while doing other things. This can mystify members of other generations, both at work and at play.

Gen Y members are avid users of social media such as Facebook, and are sometimes called the “look at me” generation. They also express a high desire to become rich and famous, and can be demanding of their employers. (Source: “Work With Me,” by Debra Magnuson and Lora Alexander, PDI Ninth House.)

So what does this mean?

First and foremost, it is important for us to understand those behavioral styles that are defined by a generation. This includes our own styles, as well as others, and to know when this style might not click with another generational style.

With this knowledge base, we can hopefully gain a greater understanding and avoid those conflicts that arise from generational roots. We can devote more of our time and energy to the positive resolution of conflicts that will yield forward progress.

Saying of the Month

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.” -Wayne Dyer, Author and Motivational Speaker

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