The Silent Generation Meets Generation Y: How to Manage a Four Generation Workforce with Panache – Part 3

Experiences of the Four Generations

In order to understand the distinctions between the four generation cohorts and understand what is driving their expectations, one must examine the historical, cultural context that shaped each cohort.  Figure 5 shows each of the four generations currently in the workforce.       

Traditionalists  Traditionalists, born between 1928 – 1945, were raised in homogeneous families and neighborhoods.  This generation witnessed the rise of the white collar job and a strong commitment to higher education. Traditionalists have a respect for authority and place a lot of value in receiving financial rewards and having security.  A good example of the focus on security needs can be seen in how important health care is to this generation.  

Boomers  The baby boom generation, born between 1946 – 1964, was shaped by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.  Boomers are more suspicious of authority than their parents as a result of events like Watergate and unpopular wars.  Boomers are competitive by nature, but they do show some commitment to making a better world.  

Generation X  Generation X’s were born between 1964 and 1980 – the oldest Gen X’s are in their early 40s now.  This generation saw the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  They were the first to experience high divorce rates amongst their parents, and most had some exposure to parents or relatives losing jobs to the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. The growth of the Internet and global access to information created a generation that is information rich.  Generation Xers asked the question, where can I get the information?  Generation Xers are self-reliant and have clear tribal affiliations.  To illustrate the importance of the tribe to Gen X, Casey recounted a story about how one of the Big Four Accounting firms planned to recruit and hire several Generation X accountants.  The firm was interested in hiring three Gen X employees, but was aware that the three were part of a tribe of six individuals who were very close.  In an effort to hire the three desired individuals, the accounting firm made offers of employment to the entire tribe of six friends.  The accounting firm was unsuccessful in hiring any of the six individuals, however, because the firm had failed to realize the existence of a seventh member of the tribe.  All were lost to a competitor firm who had been successful in wooing the entire group.   

Generation Y  Generation Y, born after 1980, is challenging traditional hiring and recruiting practices.  Companies don’t have a lot of experience with this generation and are still figuring out what motivates this group.  There will be a struggle for some time as to how to manage Generation Y, which comprises not only the largest consumer group but the largest employee group as well.  Gen Ys are the children of the Boomers and the siblings of Generation X.  Generation Y’s are very upbeat and optimistic despite having been exposed to routine violence in schools, and terrorism. Events such as the Columbine school shootings and September 11th terrorist attacks created an almost constant state of vigilance for many of these young people.  Exposure to technology became ubiquitous for this generation and the comfort level with the use of technology is unprecedented.  The family-centric model created a very pro-child environment; Generation Y listens to their parents and respect authority. Generation Y are pro-learning, spiritual by nature, socially conscious and have very high self esteem.  They like to be mentored by Boomers rather than peers; and while they have a high respect for older and more authoritarian role models, they don’t have a high regard for organizations.  As a result of the culture and influences that have shaped Generation Y, they are trustful of authorities, respect their parents as role models and recognize that work is just one priority in life, not the priority.  The diversity in background, experience and expectations of the four generational cohorts, require different approaches to managing them in the workplace.  The key to managing different generations lies in understanding the drivers of the differences and leveraging unique characteristics to create win-wins for employees, their cohorts and their employers.  Managing the multi-generational workforce requires that each distinct cohort in the workforce be considered individually from the standpoint of career expectations, mobility, development and recruitment.  To ignore the needs and wants of one cohort over another is a very risky practice.  


One Response

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