In my last blog, I noted a company could have as many as 4-5 generations working together. As leaders, we are responsible for effective communication with and between our employees. We also know motivation and influence are crucial to our roles and they happen differently for each person. Because of this, understanding common attributes of each generation can accelerate this effort but should be complimented by taking time to also know each person individually. Having learned about the Traditionalist generation in our last blog, let’s pick up with the Baby Boomer generation and unpack the remaining three.
Again, here is the list of the five generations:
- Traditionalist – born prior to 1946 (ages 68-100)
- Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 58-67)
- Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 41-57)
- Generation Y (millennials) – born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 26-41)
- Generation Z – born between 1997 and 2012 (ages 10-25)
Baby Boomers were the product of post-war efforts to absorb soldiers returning home from battle. The government passed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, which gave soldiers a means to obtain a home, job and start a family.
The result was a boom in childbirth, which is where the title Baby Boomer is derived. Baby Boomers grew up in an era of prosperity and growth in the United States. They grew up mostly in suburbs and experienced similar education and upbringing.
Baby Boomers grew up in the year of innocence during the 1950s seeing model lives portrayed on television through shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver.” Television was a large component of the Baby Boomers’ upbringing. As mothers began working outside of the home, they grew up more and more with television.
As the Baby Boomers moved through the 1960s, their generation was becoming more defined. The 1960s brought about social changes like Civil Rights, a different kind of war in Vietnam, and rebellion against established institutions through the Hippy Revolution. It was a transitional generation ushering in changes in society, beliefs, and attitudes.
Baby Boomers are known to be confident and independent. They were exposed to a changing world where challenging the established culture was normal. Baby Boomers are willing to confront others and they will challenge the status quo.
Baby Boomers are well educated and are exposed to more financial resources than the prior generations. They are hard-working and often define themselves by their careers and professions. Baby Boomers tend to be highly disciplined and mirror some of their parents’ work ethics.
Since Baby Boomers run many businesses and for now make up most of the working population, it is more difficult for non-Baby Boomers to affect the organization. On the other hand, Baby Boomers support change and will advocate for it if they see it being a benefit to the viability of the organization.
Baby Boomers are work-centric. They are hard-working and they are typically motivated by bottom-line results and incentives. Baby Boomers tend to be workaholics and think that everyone should do the same to advance in their careers and life. As a result, retirement can be extremely difficult with so much of their personal identity tied up in their role and accomplishments. Their work often becomes their identity and legacy.
- Baby Boomers tend to be career-focused and enjoy achieving at work.
- They like doing complicated work that makes a pragmatic difference.
- They are often very competitive, measuring self-worth by their results, status, and position.
- Baby Boomers are resourceful and look for different ways to win personally and professionally.
- Baby Boomers prefer a hierarchal work structure and may find it difficult to work in a flexible environment.
- They value loyalty, giving it to their company with long tenure and expecting it from others.
- Finally, Baby Boomers tend to favor face-to-face interaction instead of remote/digital means, especially when expressing gratitude. However, with COVID, this has changed some.
Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. They are the generation right after the decline of the baby boom post-war era. Generation Xers grew up during a time when the country shifted from manufacturing to services.
This generation grew up with technology as a part of their lives. They experienced the first computers, video games, cell phones, email and much more. They have seen the evolution of technology and understand its origins. Generation Xers also experienced difficult times in the late ‘70s and ‘80s as latchkey kids raising themselves in many ways or by daycares because most had either a single parent or two working parents. They also experienced a rise in divorce rates, drug use and violence. As a result, Gen Xers were accustomed to risk and didn’t mind taking it. The silver lining was it led to arguably the most prosperous period in US history where risk-taking was rewarded with explosive growth in company start-ups and career advancement. This also ushered in the explosive growth of the self-help industry. Their background contributed to new characteristics that went against the Baby Boomers.
Generation Xers tend to be very individualistic and independent. They are self-sufficient and flexible. This character trait enables them to change jobs more frequently than the previous generations. They usually see this as a way of accelerating their career path and moving up the corporate ladder.
This generation is more ethnically diverse and is better educated than the previous generation with college degrees becoming more of a norm than an exception. More than half of Generation Xers attended college.
Generation Xers also believe in more balance between their work and home life than the previous generation. They’d rather focus on family than work and value jobs that allow flexibility in their schedules to meet the demands of their family. And because they grew up with so little structure and protection, many overcompensated with their children, millennials, which we’ll discuss next.
Generation Xers are more willing to try new things because of their technical experience and they welcome new technology into their lives easier and adapt to them quickly. They tend to be more tolerant of other lifestyles and foster a more accepting work environment.
Generation Xers enjoy freedom at work. They crave responsibility and politely reject authority and fixed work schedules. This generation does not do well in micro-management, preferring a workplace where leadership allows them to complete their tasks without too much supervision.
Generation Xers will be the first ones to take advantage of technology and incorporate it into their work. They see technology as a tool and a way to do things more efficiently.
They are less committed to their employers than the Baby Boomers and will look for other employment opportunities if it promises advancement in their career. On the other hand, Generation Xers adapt well to change in their workplace and are key drivers of change.
Finally, Generation Xers believe in a healthy balance between work and their personal life. They like to have fun at work, adopting a work and play hard ideal. They like a dynamic and challenging work environment that also supports their need for fun and a balance between work and home life.
Generation Y (Millenials) Background
Generation Yers are those born between 1981 to 1996. This generation is making up some of the youngest in corporate America right now. Technology was a normal part of life growing up and they do not know what it is to be without a computer, cell phone or any other electronic devices the older generation had to adapt into their lives.
This generation thrives on electronic communication and prefers it over face-to-face. Generation Y also prefers using the internet as a means of learning and making purchases. They were exposed to vast amounts of digital information, music, and media, unlike older generations. Because of their parents’ affluence, this generation was also exposed to more group interactions through playgroups, team sports and other organized activities than the previous generation. They are familiar with working in a team model.
Finally, this generation is also used to getting what they want when they want it. As mentioned earlier, Gen Xers overcompensated by giving their children what they didn’t have, like time, attention, recognition, resources, and safety. Those are now expectations in the workplace. Also, the speed of technology and information coupled with rapid delivery systems has made this generation expect things to be done faster and better. This includes career advancement.
Generation Y (Millenials) Characters
Generation Y is prone to communicating via electronic devices and is capable of multi-tasking while carrying on a text messaging conversation. This generation relies on technology to do their jobs and expects to have digital resources available when they are at work.
Generation Y is family-centric, valuing family over work. They want flexible schedules at work, remote work opportunities and work/life balance. And while money is important to them, they are willing to take less pay for these benefits.
This generation is achievement-oriented and confident. They will question authority without fear, challenge ideas and question motives. At the same time, they enjoy meaningful work and enjoy learning new information and skills.
Because Generation Y works well in a team environment, they also seek positive reinforcement from others and believe no one should be left behind. They often prefer slowing the process down to give a teammate the opportunity to catch up.
Finally, Generation Y appreciates feedback and being kept informed about the goings-on within their company. They need to know they’re valued and receive periodic recognition and praise for their work.
Generation Y (Millennials) Work Style
Generation Y’s working style is vastly different from those of the previous generation in that they are motivated by flexible schedules more than monetary gain. They are not happy with long working hours and this may send the message that they do not care about work or are lacking discipline. However, they prioritize family over work and will push back if it crosses this boundary.
This generation does expect a lot from their employer in terms of new challenges and the opportunity to achieve things. They see promotions and career advancement as evidence of their worth.
Generation Y tends to be loyal to their employer if they feel purpose in their work, are challenged to grow, are connected to their peers, are valued for their efforts and like their boss. On the other hand, they also see changing employers as opportunities to advance their careers by themselves which is an individualistic perspective held by the younger generation. They will call attention to themselves by suggesting bold ideas and challenging the status quo. However, they do become concerned with what others think about them and need affirmation every so often. Consider how many use social media to satisfy this need.
Since this generation is still relatively young in the workplace, there is a need for mentoring. They see this as a norm and expect it from their leaders. They like guidance and development when it comes to their careers.
Generation Zers are those born between 1997 to 2012 and have just begun to enter corporate America over the past 4-5 years, most recently in a COVID remote work environment. While Baby Boomers grew up with television, Generation X with computers and Generation Y with the explosion of the internet, Generation Y experienced all the above from the start but grew up in an “always on” technological environment. They were constantly connected through cellular services, social media and on-demand entertainment. This is the digital generation. Recent research shows significant shifts in behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles from previous generations, but more is needed to understand the long-term implications.
Generation Z is about the individual expression of one’s own truth and especially their identity. They tend to be radically inclusive and prefer dialogue over confrontations. This generation wants to live life pragmatically, preferring evidence to theory. They continuously consume unprecedented volumes of information and influence, mostly through digital means. They view their lives and bodies as places to experiment, test and change. As such, Generation Zers tend to be quite sensitive to messaging they regard as macho, racist or homophobic.
Understanding Generation Z’s working style will take some time and more research. From what we do know about this generation, their work environment will need to be highly inclusive, sensitive to individual identity and more influential than directive. They prefer change through dialogue and tend to be more tolerant of company failings.
Since Gen Zers have immediate access to mountains of information, they tend to be more pragmatic and analytical in decision making. They want to know what’s going on in their environment and feel in control.
Finally, Gen Zers are proving to be savers and tend to value job stability over high salaries. This generation seems to be fans of regular and steady employment in contrast with the attitude of many millennials.
As you think about leading across a multi-generational workforce, it’s important to be self-aware and know how you’re wired to influence and get the best from them, regardless of their age. We’ve developed a powerful and complimentary “Confident Leader Insight Assessment” to help you discover more about the way you perceive and lead your people. Click HERE to take this brief but powerful assessment. The report is immediate and if you’d like a little more interpretation, click the button below to schedule a complimentary laser session to go over the key results and how to be more effective in leading across generation gaps.