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  • Sher Lynn

The Four Generations

meet 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

- Media

- Formal and informal education

- Church/religion

- Income

- Geography

- 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.

Generational Characteristics:

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

  • Very competitive

  • Personal growth

  • Their work defines who they are

  • Celebrate individualism

  • 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

  • Entrepreneurial spirit

  • Independent, resilient, and adaptable

  • Global thinkers

  • 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 or text/call her at 469-971-3663.

#Millennials #generationalDNA #generationaldynamics

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