The Four Generations
For the first time, we have a workforce comprised of four generations and soon to be a fifth.
Today’s multi-generational environment brings an interesting set of dynamics for organizations and leaders. The demographic composition of the working population has been evolving and changing since I authored Ties to Tattoo’s: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage in 2009. People are living longer than ever before, which means that most companies’ teams now consist of four generations. In the past, the typical generational span for an organization might encompass three or maybe four generations but today, most organizations are supporting employees from Traditionalists through to Millennials.
The Four Generations are:
Traditionalists: Born before 1944
Baby Boomers:Born between 1945 and 1964
Generation X:Born between 1965 and 1979
Generation Y/Millennial:Born between 1980 and 1996
People born between two generations are referred to as “tweeners”. Typically, they possess many similarities of the preceding and succeeding generations and are considered forerunners, pacesetters, and trendsetters. They can easily adapt to the differences between two generations, and make good leaders-seeing both points of view and providing a voice for those who are not heard.
Growing up in schools and environments that fostered teamwork, collaboration, and even consensus, Millennials crave belonging and fitting in. They also want to have fun and live for the moment, combining working, learning, and playing, and that includes socializing and forming friendships with co-workers.
Armed with the latest and greatest electronic devices, tablets, laptops and cell phones, Millennials demand immediate gratification and tend to be impatient when they do not get what they want, when they want it!
"They expect things to happen quickly, and they resent being told they 'have to pay their dues'”, Bob C, age fifty-eight
Generational collisions are becoming the norm in the workplace. These are the new faces of the workplace that will create new unique challenges for organizations now and well into the future. For years, Baby Boomers have dominated the workplace, but this is changing.
As time passes, the proportion of each generation in the workplace is evolving. It is projected by 2020:
Traditionalists will make up 1% or less of the workforce
Baby Boomers will make up 22% of the workforce
Gen X will make up 20% of the workforce
Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce
Gen Z will make up 7% of the workforce
There is no shortage of coverage and conjecture about the Millennial generation. The attention paid toward this generation is unprecedented. At the time of this blog, over 50 million Google search results are returned with the term “Millennial.”
Within the field of learning and development, almost every trade magazine, conference or blog provides guidance about specialized design approaches and engagement strategies to gain the acceptance of Millennials. In many instances, a hyper-fixation on Millennials has grown within the human capital and diversity and inclusion fields, affecting just about every facet of talent management: recruitment, engagement, development, diversity, performance management, and succession planning.
Beliefs and Values
A high percentage of learned behavior and attitude patterns in adults are directly correlated to their formative years. According to Morris Massey, author of The People Puzzle, the major factors influencing value development are:
- Family and friends
- Formal and informal education
- Teachers, formal and informal
The most influential period of our value development takes place during the first ten years.
For example, look at your own experience. What happened to you when you were a child? What was going on in society, your home that shaped your values? According to Morris Massey, the first 10 years of a person’s life are the most influential years and shape the individual’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. These include defining moments in our environment that influenced people at every age, such as wars, historical or political events, the financial climate, and popular heroes.
Personally, I remember when I was 8 years old, I distinctly remember overhearing my mom and our neighbor crying hysterically. They had just heard on the radio that Elvis Presley had died. To an eight-year-old this made no sense, why would they be so upset and who was this Elvis guy anyway?
While people of all ages are experiencing these things simultaneously, younger people who are in the value forming stages are most likely to be significantly shaped by the influences surrounding them. Massey identified the stages of value development as follows:
Birth to 7 years: Imprint by observation or patterning. What a child experiences are accepted, internalized, and considered to be right and normal.
Age 8 to 13 years old: Modeling by heroes or identification. A child starts to make their own value decisions. He or she will look outside of family—people he or she wants to be like. The child observes qualities that he or she wants to emulate and internalizes them and imitates them.
Age 14 to 20 years old: Socialization by peers or significant other. Teens will seek their peer group and society to try out their values, experiment, observe, and make decisions about what is right and wrong, good or bad. They will start making choices about what kind of people they will be and what they want to do for a living.
Age 21 and above: A significant emotional experience may change or replace values. Without that, values are now set.
Established values shape and guide people and will be the basis for our decisions unless we have a Significant Emotional Experience. A S.E.E. can occur anytime in life, but the earlier it occurs, the more significant the change will be. Some examples of significant events range from a bad divorce, death of a close friend or family member, a financial crisis, a spiritual awakening, or even a conversation that influences how you may think or act.
Traditionalist (born before 1944):
Worked together toward a common goal and mission
Believed in delayed gratification
Self-sacrifice for greater good
Loyal to God and country
Tend to be conservative
Dependable, reliable, and self-reliant
Strong work ethic
Value dedication and commitment
Baby Boomers (born 1945 to 1964):
Believe in growth and expansion if it is up the corporate ladder
More liberal and idealistic
Their work defines who they are
Pursue personal gratification at expense to others, including family
Gen Xer (born 1965 to 1979):
Think and act according to their instincts
Self-reliant and resourceful
Independent, resilient, and adaptable
May appear disillusioned, defensive; expect high quality of life
Millennial (born 1980 to 1996):
Civic-minded and likely to be involved in several causes
More narcissists than previous generations; not good at taking constructive feedback
Displays confidence and sense of entitlement; have high expectations of self
Desire to know they are making a difference, both locally and globally
40% raised in single parent households; are 4-5 times more likely to have experienced divorce than previous generations
Bridging the Generational Gap
Identifying generational distinctions can provide a useful framework for building awareness and understanding the different viewpoints, attitudes, needs, and experiences among generations as well as the future changes in the workplace. Understanding these unique generational differences can become a competitive advantage for organizations in terms of higher productivity and increased employee engagement. Also, the long-term costs related to loss of top talent, higher payroll costs, poor customer service, derailed careers, knowledge transfer, and stress-related health issues are enormous.
Through these distinctions may rise concerns about stereotyping, some generalizations can be made. Neil Howe and Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, state that although everyone in a particular generation does not hold the exact same values and beliefs, overall people share similar formative experiences, thus creating a generational identity. A generational cohort shares a common history and collective knowledge that define and shape who they are. The work expectations and the influences of a generation are often a byproduct of that generation’s unique upbringing and life experience.
According to several experts, each generation adopts it generational identity through people, places, events and conditions that become reference points. For example, historical events such as the Vietnam War, President Kennedy’s assassination, and the Clinton scandal, or conditions of forces at work such as the Cold War, Great Depression, and 9/11, or other changes in family structure such as divorce, marriage, or single parenting, have affected millions of people. Baby Boomers, who are well known for challenging the status quo, have a different point of view than their parents—Traditionalists—about patriotism. Traditionalists, although too young to participate in World War II, are nevertheless very patriotic—a by-product of their parents’ upbringing and strong belief in a national pride and sense of duty.
To bridge the generational gap, organizations can provide opportunities for employees to share insights and resolve misunderstandings, “clear the air,” and remove age-based prejudgments that can hinder successful working relationships. In my book Ties to Tattoos, I share proven strategies that will provide your organizations with key questions that will enable you to evaluate your generational gap. Generational assessment questions are:
What is our generational makeup and what has shaped each generation's perspective?
How does the generation's work history impact behaviors at work?
How do you effectively bridge the misunderstandings and remove barriers across the generations in order to produce more successful relationships?
How can you leverage each individual’s contributions and unique traits?
What skills and competencies do your leaders need to possess to effectively lead and manage across multiple generations?
What critical multigenerational challenges demand your immediate attention? And so forth.
By understanding, acknowledging and honoring the differences and strengths of all generations, organizations can leverage and maximize learning, productivity, and increased customer service.
Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Generational Guru is an award-winning speaker, professional business consultant, and published author who energetically engages international audiences with her practical strategies for attracting, growing, and retaining top talent and loyal customers from every generation. Sherri brings over twenty years of hands-on experience to support you in designing generational solutions that address:
Cross-Generational Leadership Challenges
Generational Blind Spots in Sales
Effective Recruitment and Retention
Marketing to Millennials
For more information, please contact Sherri via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text/call her at 469-971-3663.