Every generation makes its mark on the world, and every generation is influenced by the world they grow up in. In this lesson, we will look at the different generations and compare and contrast worldviews and values in the workplace.
What Are Generations?
Each one of us is a part of a generation, or a group of individuals living at the same period of time. That time frame, or period of time, is usually considered to be roughly 30 years, primarily because that is enough time for individuals to grow up and have children of their own, thus starting the next generation. That time frame can be as low as 23 years, depending on the situation.
A generation typically shares values and viewpoints of the world, and as a new generation comes along, those values and viewpoints change. This means that every generation looks at the world differently. Regardless of the generation you are in, you'll have different values shaped by what your generation experiences. Those values, in turn, will shape your place in the workforce.
The Different Generations Identified
Now that we understand what generations are as a definition, we need to understand what time frames they cover and what the characteristics of each generation are. There are four basic generations that we can recognize and discuss:
- Traditionalists: Over the years, this generation has become the result of blending the Greatest Generation (1901 - 1924) and the Silent Generation (1925 - 1945). Traditionalists experienced things like the tail end of the Great Depression and the two World Wars. They experienced tough times when younger but began to see some prosperity toward the end of the period.
- Baby Boomers: Many of us have heard this term used, and it relates to the generation born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers are individuals that were born during a period of increased birth rates following World War II. Their experiences helped to shape our country; issues such as the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, and the emergence and development of civil rights also shaped how these individuals think and view the world.
- Generation X: Gen Xers, as they are called, are individuals born from 1965 to 1980. These individuals experienced, in many ways, a very tumultuous time, with the issues of the day being things such as Watergate, the development of 'latchkey kids' (children who came home from school and did not have a parent home when they got there due to dual-income families), and the energy crisis.
- Millennials: Millennials, sometimes called Generation Y, were born during the time frame of 1980 to the year 2000. They saw an explosion in technology but also saw many issues of the day that most certainly impacted how they view the world, including issues such as AIDS, school shootings, and terrorist attacks.
As we look at these generations, it could be argued they have many things in common such as war or terrorism or sexual revolution or AIDS, but the fact is each of these generations look at the world very differently than the next due to what they experienced in their formative years to their young adult years. What each experienced shaped who they are as individuals, and in many ways, those experiences are what define the generation gap that is prevalent between generations.
What Are the Values of Different Generations?
Just like different issues or aspects of life shaped each generation's viewpoint of the world, it also shaped and molded the values of each generation. It is not hard to understand that if you grew up during world war, you would have a very different set of values than if you grew up during the digital age and of cellular phones. Those different values are what make each generation unique. Some of the values that we can identify for each generation are:
- Traditionalists: Adherence to rules, discipline, family focus, hard work, and trust in the government
- Baby Boomers: Anti-war, anti-government, equal rights, involvement, and personal gratification
- Generation X: Balance, diversity, lack of loyalty to an organization, and a global mindset
- Millennials: Achievement, fun, civic duty, sociability, and self-confidence
So as you can see, while there might be some similarity between the values of different generations, the main glaring issue is how different each generation's values are. The variance in values is another driver of the generation gap. Think how challenging it is for a manager who might be a Traditionalist (though due to the times they were born, there are not many of those left) to understand the work ethic of a Gen X'er. The two sets of values are so far apart, it's almost impossible to find common ground. Thus, the generation gap that we are all so aware of is always present.
Generational Work Ethic
Just as values are different and viewpoints are different, it is not difficult to understand that work ethic, based on these values, is different for each generation. This is not to say one generation's work ethic is better than another's - they are just different. And it is these differences that become apparent in the workplace.
For example: Traditionalists have a work ethic that shows they are dedicated, work hard, respect authority, and expect age to equal seniority. In comparison, Baby Boomers commonly demonstrate work ethic by being workaholics and gauging their worth by their work ethics. Generation Xers have work ethics that focus on being balanced, self-reliant, and eliminating risk. Finally, Millennials have a work ethic that shows itself through ambition, multitasking, and more of an entrepreneurial spirit than the other generations.
With such a wide expanse of work ethics, we can see how the workplace can become a very diverse environment as it relates to work ethics. That diversity, while embraced in many business cultures today, makes it challenging for managers as they have to recognize their viewpoints and work ethics are not going to be the same as another generation's. That single difference, this blending of values and ethics based on generational aspects, makes the modern-day workplace more diverse and challenging than ever before.
Generations will continue to be born and evolve. It is a cycle that cannot be stopped as it is, simply put, a part of life. The goal is to understand and recognize different generations for how they view the world and the workplace in an effort to develop harmony while producing a final product that the company can be proud of.
Let's review each generation.
- Traditionalists: Experienced things like the tail end of the Great Depression and the two World Wars. They experienced tough times when younger but began to see some prosperity toward the end of the period.
- Baby Boomers: Experienced many different aspects of life and shaped our country. Issues such as the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, and the emergence and development of civil rights also shaped how these individuals think and view the world.
- Generation X: Experienced a very tumultuous time, with the issues of the day being things such as Watergate, the development of 'latchkey kids' (children who came home from school and did not have a parent home when they got there due to dual-income families), and the energy crisis.
- Millennials: Saw an explosion in technology but also saw many issues of the day that most certainly impacted how they view the world, including issues such as AIDS, school shootings, and terrorist attacks.
Each generation makes their mark on the world in many ways, and the world makes a mark on them. It will be interesting to see what the next generation will be and how it will be shaped by the events of the day.
After you finish this lesson, you should be able to:
- Define generation
- Name and describe each of the four basic generations