Are There Generational Work Style Differences?
By Angela Rose, Hcareers.com
A generation may be defined as an identifiable group of individuals that share birth years/age group as well as exposure to significant historical events at certain stages of their development. Any company’s workforce may be comprised of employees from four generations: Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. While the exact birth years defining each generation vary across sources, it is safe to assume a possible 50-year age difference between the youngest employees and the oldest within any organization.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding work style differences between these generations –as well as attempts to study and document the differences. Here’s a brief summary of some of these speculations and studies.
Traditionals (Born before 1945)
This generation makes up a smaller portion of today’s workforce, as most have reached retirement age. However, some are not yet ready to exchange corner offices for lives of leisure, so they remain at work. Members of this generation were shaped, somewhat, through experience of the Great Depression and World War II. The work hard and have a great deal of respect for authority. They prefer hierarchical organizational structures, are committed to their jobs, and loyal to their employers.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
There are roughly 78 million members of the Baby Boomer generation in the United States. Shaped, in part, by their experience of the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, Kennedy assassination, Woodstock and the ‘60s, Baby Boomers were raised to respect authority –though they may not trust it. They see work as the primary measure of self-worth and, as such, they work hard and make sacrifices for success. They are also receptive to teamwork and believe in loyalty towards employers.
Generation X (Born 1965-1979)
The individuals comprising Generation X grew up during a period of societal insecurity. Many had parents who were laid off and then struggled in a stagnant job market. Divorce rates were high. Generation X yearns for work/life balance. Because many were raised in broken homes, they are extremely loyal to family and friends –and less so to their employers. They are self-reliant, and question authority. Unlike previous generations, they are less motivated by money and more motivated by flexibility.
Generation Y (Born 1980-1999)
Generation Y has been shaped by technology and affluence. They are the most highly educated generation as well as the most comfortable with technology. While they value work/life balance, much like Generation X, many in Generation Y are postponing starting a family and are therefore more likely to make sacrifices to achieve success. They also embrace diversity, value teamwork and are extremely adaptable to change.
While there may be work style differences between generations, there are also many similarities. For example, across all four generations, the reasons cited for remaining with an employer are the same. These include advancement opportunities, learning opportunities, respect and recognition. Employers who treat their employees well, offer them opportunities to learn on the job and advance their careers, and recognize achievement and hard work will appeal to all generations. Embracing the similarities of different generations while finding ways to capitalize on their differences can result in a productive and fulfilling work environment.
About the Author
Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for Hcareers.com.