Just minutes ago, a client asked me this question: “is there a page on your website that describes each generation?” I said, “sure. Let me send you the link.” And then after dozens of searches using a variety of keywords on my multiple websites, I had one of those blinding flashes of the obvious! After writing and publishing thousands of articles and newsletters, I never took the time to write one providing a simple, succinct description of all four generations. DUH!
So…here’s the fix. What follows are descriptions of the four distinct generations working side-by-side in the workplace along with their most significant values.
Who are the Veterans?
Born Before 1946. Veterans have a very strong work ethic. “Just git’er done” could be their motto. Give an impossible task to a Veteran and somehow, someway it will get done. Most have served in the military or been married to someone who did. As a result, Veterans tend to be very respectful of seniority, title and rank. Because their world outlook was shaped by the Great Depression and World War II, Veterans have a very practical outlook (make do, reuse, recycle) and know how to put money away for a rainy day.
Key Veteran values: Self-sacrifice and dedication.
Who are the Baby Boomers?
Born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers invented the 60-hour workweek. They are competitive to their own detriment at times with a “work-til-you-drop” work ethic. They have a history of turning endings into beginnings. Now entering traditional retirement age, they have no plans for porches, rocking chairs, or seats at bingo tables. Retirement is not the end of a career but the start of a career transition. They are optimistic about their own lives – they believe that if you set goals and work hard, you can achieve whatever you set out to do. Boomers have less respect for rank and hierarchy than their predecessors but still respect the hierarchy of leadership, especially when they can be part of it. They set long-term goals and have the “no pain-no gain” attitude to set them through.
Key Boomer values: Hard work and be a team player.
Who are the Gen X?
Born between 1965 and 1979. Gen Xs are the free agents of the workforce – independent, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial. Because they don’t find any value in wasting time with non-essential stuff, they shattered the management philosophy of “if ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Gen Xs grew up alone because both parents were working. In addition, 40% of their parents were divorced and/or lost their jobs during the ’80s and ’90s. As a result, Gen Xs are very concerned about life balance and fiercely protective of family time. They tend to be skeptical and pragmatic, and value leadership by competence. They have no respect for service, title or rank because their parents had all three and lost their jobs anyway. Their career paths create a mosaic of work, learning, family and even sabbatical. When they receive an email at 11 PM from their Boomer boss, they don’t think “Wow, she works hard” but “Wow, she might be over her head and can’t handle the workload.”
Key Gen X values: Life balance and respect for individuality.
Who are Gen Y (also known as Millennials)?
Born between 1980 and 2000. Gen Ys are very entrepreneurial. Most worked at legitimate jobs before they left high school. Gen Ys are technology-savvy. They’ve never known a world without mobile devices and 24/7 connectivity. They see themselves as citizens of the world and feel very connected through the Internet. Gen Ys fly to Europe to visit friends and family as easily as Veterans and Boomers crossed state lines. Family vacations take place on cruise ships instead of cabins by the lake. They have better relationships with their parents than many Gen Xs and Boomers, and have a strong interest in teamwork (although they define “team” differently than Boomers and Xers). And despite an ongoing debate about the human ability to multi-task, they seem to be creating a new frontier for juggling multiple activities simultaneously.
Gen Y values: Making a difference in the world and respecting diversity.
I’ve also excerpted the chapter from my book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization that describes each generation in more detail. To download a free copy of this excerpt, click here.