The X, Y and Z’s.
No, in this case it’s not Muhammad Ali, a late ’70s British AOR band, nor the last three letters in alphabet soup. More than likely it’s you, dear reader, it’s definitely me, and it’s a gigantic collective of us. For the first time in our country’s existence, it’s reported we have five generations cohabitating and hopefully collaborating as co-workers.
What an incredible opportunity! So much learned and shared knowledge! Years of discovery and innovation! Views and values unique to each generation, all gathered together, in one, tight, steamy, clinch … of …
… collected differences.
Yeah, lately differences are handled so calm and collectedly everywhere you look.
”People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.Linda EllerbeeJournalist
So how do you ensure your teeming group of generations becomes a team grouped with common goals? It’s certainly a challenge, but to take your collected force forward you might need to meet each generation where they stand. Not reaching across the years to recognize and appreciate different age groups can be just as bad as not reaching across company divisions, departments or silos. It seems obvious, but disengagement generationally can result in a seeming disinterest in “them,” leading to one group’s ultimate disinterest in company objectives. Understanding generational influences, beliefs, motives and modus operandi help us grasp and embrace diversity, and more importantly, discover commonalities.
So, who are these g-g-g-generations we’re talkin’ about?
Here comes “The Greatest Generation!” (aka the “Silent Generation”)
Tom Brokaw brokered in the “TGG” moniker through his 1988 book. However, I prefer to use the “Silent Generation.” Trust me, silence is golden, especially since I constantly tell my pre-teen son that because you can talk doesn’t mean you need to always talk.
Born between the late ’20s and 1945, The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression and the Second World War. Therefore, as they became young adults, the Silent Generation was more focused on hard work, careers, conventionality—the common good—and, at that point, they valued not necessarily speaking out. This generation was (and is) nothing if not direct, preferring the simplicity of crystal-clear objectives and a direct line of communication. Which still serves up a great amount of wisdom along with a constructive, well-defined work ethic.
”They (Greatest Generation) married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.Tom BrokawThe Greatest Generation
Up next, “The Baby Boomers”
… and “Boom Goes the Dynamite.” Between ’46 and the Beatles’ American invasion, there was a noticeable increase in newborns, hence the “BOOMer.” In 1946, nearly 3.5 million babies were born in the U.S. alone (a new one-year record, yea!) and the numbers kept climbing—yearly. By the end of 1964, more than 76 million kiddoes were born during this generational span. There were many reasons for the sudden increase … but really? Let’s face it. We were special! WWII was over! Income was up! And consumerism hit full throttle, baby!
”Now, do I think the Baby Boomers tend to be self-absorbed? I do.P. J. O’RourkeAuthor, Journalist & Political-Satirist
This writer—born in ’61—can also tell you we had a lot to look forward to: Multiple assassinations. Televised war protests and, well, televised war. The first U.S. presidential resignation. Disco. (We did have the occasional hero like Neil Armstrong, who was gallant and greedless enough to step on the moon and not yell, “GENERAL MOTORS!”)
That said, I can also add that this group got (or always thought they got) the promise and power of change, and they take it personally. There was an ever-growing sense of revolution, shaking up established norms and, oddly enough, a sudden awakening of identifying all of “us” generationally.
Lock your doors, it’s “Generation X!”
Say hello to the “latchkey kids.”
From the mid-Sixties to the early ’80s, an increase in divorce put more moms back in the work force, full force. So gaggles of kids had to walk home from school, lock the doors, and do homework (riiiiight). But it was also the “MTV Generation,” grungy and hip-hoppy, which means the single-parent home partly helped usher in those merchants of this unique generation, with more channels than ever, a personal computer, the internet and email.
”I picture Generation X as young adults living in a state of perpetual adolescence.Chris EigemanActor
With this g-g-g-generation there was a shakeup of a different sort, a growing focus on having ambitious (perhaps too-aspirational) innovation and ideas lead priorities. Gen Xers wanted utopia. Just “more,” in their lives, at work, as well in altruistic accomplishments worldwide. In fact, a Millennial Branding/Monster.com survey noted that over 40 percent of Gen Xers actually consider themselves entrepreneurs. “Hey there dot-com, pre-bust.”
This instant—right now—meet “Generation Y”
Or, as it’s known on the hit FOX show, “Ugh, The Millennials.” Between 1981 and 1997 a generation of children were born with seemed similarities from the previous two time spans. They too believed in success, clear evaluation of advancement or retreat, along with important and consequential feedback. However …
… they were instant media consumers and communicators—gotta be “social.” But at this point, and this isn’t really a joke, it was actually still meaningful contact. These media-minded interactions weren’t yet the minefield of phantom bullying and slings and arrows of outrageous anonymous opinions that have built walls the past few years. Research has shown this generation was much more tolerant of races than previous groups, agreeing with preferential treatment to improve minority lives … uh, as well as their own lives. Bloomberg reports this generation has racked up over $1 trillion in student debt.
”Every generation trash-talks younger generations. Baby Boomers labeled Generation X as a group of tattooed slackers and materialists; Generation Xers have branded Millennials as iPhone-addicted brats.Neil BlumenthalCo-Founder & CEO, Warby Parker
Ladies & Gentlemen, the awkward stylings of “Generation Z”
If you were born after 1997, good luck.
Sorry, what I meant to say is that you’re completely encompassed 24/7 by ones and zeros, 1,078 television channels with programming on demand, laptops, mobile devices and texts and apps and … well, as I said, good luck.
Having been birthed in the aftermath of the Debt Crisis and the “Great” Recession, this is a generation experienced with what should be valuable monetary lessons—as in saving money, when to spend it, as well as the reason debt is bad. And with the aforementioned techy acuity, finding a job is more of a snap (or a swipe). Fun fact: Members of this group are expected to have more than a dozen jobs in their lifetimes, because a long-term career means less to them than making a “mark,” somewhere/anywhere, as well as creating and producing work that is consequential. That said, a Robert Half survey recorded that nearly 80 percent of Gen Zers believe they will need to work harder compared to those in past generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling professional life.
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Can’t we all just get along?
So, where have the last few wildly over-simplified paragraphs of generational generalities led us? Hopefully to underscore the statement at the beginning of this blog excursion: In the workplace, it helps to understand how speaking to different age groups can unite age groups.
The different communication styles between older and younger generations has become a comic cliché, a stand-up comedian’s sure-fire knee-slapper. But for a moment, consider the concept that it really does matter for e-suite leaders to lead accordingly, to build bridges by appreciating the different life experiences from disparate peer groups. And most of all, to avoid the negative stereotypes sometimes assigned to generational communication styles.
The Greatest Generation still has a wealth of experience to share, so invite them to mentor.
Boomers really do tend to be optimistic (regardless of the author’s cynicism) and have a distinctive sense of what is right and wrong. So perhaps guide this collection by giving them a little freedom and getting out of the way—simply watch over their progress and lightly steer when needed.
As stated, Generation X isn’t into life-long company loyalty as the two previous generations. Sure, communicate directly, but leave a little room for (even misguided) input.
Surprisingly, you might find more connection with Millennials than you ever thought. They need to know their job matters, and their multicultural mindset means they’re more interested in making a difference, not only companywide but globally. And since they value more of a work/life balance, they’re unusually (and slightly incomprehensively) adroit at speaking to generations that bracket their own, not only as friends but also mentors.
And simply help Generation Z workers understand their place in the big picture—lead them by letting them know how what they do matters for the environment, their lives, and the lives of their teammates. Hmm, sounds very Greatest Generational.
”Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.Henrik TikkanenAuthor
The celebrated author Robert A. Heinlein had a disarming way of predicting what lay ahead. He once wrote, “A generation which ignores history has no past—and no future.” The same might be said of a company which pays little attention to its multi-generational makeup yet somehow expects imminent prosperity.
It’s said the differences in dialect, values and work practices are becoming starker between younger and older co-workers. If that’s the case, what do you have to lose by trying to lead with the language each generation understands and prefers? It’s proven throughout our history that all ages working together can achieve greatness. Potential has always been more potent when everyone experiences a goal through shared, ageless eyes. So, BRING THEM TOGETHER—you Mr. CEO, and you line-worker 107 in sector 12.
If this website has said it once … well, we’ve said it more than once: Experience is the best teacher. But shared experience can be even more powerful. And bringing together your company by addressing their generational differences from the top down, helping them understand unique generational experiences from side to side, then engaging in experiential moments to … introduce them to each other’s non-offensive peccadillos (volunteer work anyone?), could lead to your critical unified workplace. A respectful, flexible, open—and involved—workforce will always be your company’s best weapon.
We’ve got more thoughts on how to tackle a multigenerational environment if you’d like to get t-t-t-talkin’ ’bout ’em*
”Experience isn’t always natural or easy, but it’s always beneficial.Mark OlsonSVP of Business Development, Encore Live
*No disregard or disrespect to the band The Who, its members, or the song “My Generation” was intentional nor meant to offend (quite the opposite), and all rights and privileges wherein lyrics are thematically regarded and semi-quoted are not related to respective generations we are talking about, nor people trying to put us down, nor people trying to cause a big sensation, nor things people do that look awful cold. Experiential Review also sincerely and stringently petitions and requests no one die before they get old.