Managing Four Generations at Work

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The other day I heard a friend say, “I can’t work with THEM. THEY are the problem.” Was my friend discussing race, gender or ethnicity? No, she was talking about Gen Y.

And later I overheard a similar discussion in an elevator, with one Gen Y’er saying to another, “I can’t wait for THEM to retire, so we can take over.” Was that Gen Y’er discussing race, gender or ethnicity? No, she was talking about Baby Boomers.

The generational issue at work causes emotions to rise. It can also create polarity and discord. It’s not as if Baby Boomers and Gen Y are a different species; they’re both creative, hard-working human beings. However, they also have different perspectives on life, based on the events that shaped and influenced their formative years.

If we could understand each generation’s perspective, we could then start to understand the generations better, and eventually work with them better. So let’s take a broad view at each of the four generations at work, what shaped them and what they value:

Traditionalists: born between 1922-45
This generation was shaped and influenced by WWII and the depression. Therefore this generation values loyalty and civic duty.

Baby Boomers: born between 1946-64
This generation was shaped by JFK, 1968, Man on the Moon, prosperity, Vietnam, and the women’s movement. So this generation is optimistic, driven, consensus driven and works well as a team.

Generation X: born between 1965-1980
This generation was influenced by Ronald Reagan, the Gulf War, MTV, high divorce rates, and women in business. Consequently, this “Generation Me” is skeptical and individualistic; they also value material goods and distrust hierarchy.

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