GENERATIONS AT WORK:

Managing the Clash of Veterans,
Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace

 

Zemke, R., Raines, C., and Filipczak, B. (2000), New York: American Management Association

 

 


INTRODUCTION

 

The legions of ancient Rome were composed of ten cohorts each: cohesive units of 300-600 men. The cohorts' training and socialization equipped them to behave as a single mind in battle. Social demographers use the term cohorts to refer to people born in the same general time span who share key life experiences. The size of the cohort itself influences it's characteristics, as well as political, social, and economic trends.

GENERATIONS

 

          Veterans and those born during the war years (the Civic Generation and the Silent Generation) faced rich opportunities until the 1980s with the increasing competition from Japanese productivity.

          The current generation (Generation Xers) are the most highly educated, technologically savvy cohort group to enter the workplace in significant numbers. However, they exist in a workforce of limited upward mobility that none of the preceding generations can comprehend.

          Baby Boomers had many career choices, with an emphasis on life, work, and team as interchangeable terms.

          Generation Xers feel the need to be flexible and spontaneous with opportunities, since the economy and job market have experienced such rapid changes. This has presented challenges with more limited career opportunities.

 

Generations are shaped by common experiences, defining moments, history, demographics, economics, and culture.

 

 

THE FOUR GENERATIONS

 

The Veterans (1922-1943):

They came of age before, during, and right after WWII, and before the arrival of the Baby Boomers. They are characterized by All-American values, civic pride, loyalty, respect for authority, being true traditionalists, "keepers of the grail" of yesteryear, a pain at times to the action-oriented Boomers and the technology-crazy Xers, good "soldiers", solid performers, Gray Panthers (own billions of dollars in real estate in the Sun Belt, are a political force through the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and are CEO's of many Fortune 500 companies).

 

The Veterans' Generational Personality

          Veterans like consistency and uniformity

          Veterans like things on a grand scale

          Veterans are conformers

          Veterans believe in logic, not magic or art as leaders

          Veterans are disciplined

          Veterans are past oriented and history absorbed: they look to the past to find precedents and use data to make choices

          Veterans have always believed in law and order

          Veterans spending style is conservative

 

The Veterans On the Job

Assets

          Stable

          Detail oriented

          Thorough

          Loyal

          Hard working

Liabilities

          Inept with ambiguity and change

          Reluctant to buck the system

          Uncomfortable with conflict

          Reticent when they disagree

 

The Veterans' Work Ethic

          Loyalty, dependability, stick-to-it-ism

          Work hard to get things accomplished

          A job is something to have over the long haul

          Value the team over individualism on the job

          Duty before pleasure

          You can't have it all

 

The Veterans' Leadership Style

          Directive style

          Standard operating procedures

          Command and control leadership

          Lombardi, Patton, and MacArthur

          Take charge, delegate, and make the bulk of decisions themselves

          They enjoy working with large teams; they enjoy baseball and football

          Use of the personal touch; not as excited about e-mails, voice mail, or faxes

 

 

The Baby Boomers (1943-1960):

They came of age in the 1950s and 1960s with many options and choices, but with the Vietnam War as a major factor. They are characterized by a passion for participation and spirit in the workplace, bringing heart and humanity to the office, about creating a fair and level playing field for all. They are the civil rights, empowerment, and diversity generation. They have great energy and enthusiasm for causes. This is the cohort that invented: "We are grateful that it is Monday, so we can begin the work week".

 

The Baby Boomers' Generational Personality

          They believe in growth and expansion

          They think of themselves as the stars of the show

          They tend to be optimistic

          In schools and at home, the Boomers learned about teamwork

          They have pursued their own personal gratification, uncompromisingly, and often at a high price to themselves and others.

          They have searched their souls-repeatedly, obsessively, and recreationally

          The Boomers have always been cool

 

 

First Half/Second Half: The Boomer Dichotomy

 

The Older Boomers: came of age in the 1950s and early 1960s.

          They tend to be more idealistic

          They are more likely to be workaholics

          They are more likely to put their careers first and their family second

          They were influenced by the anti -Vietnam War movement, the Women's Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and other societal changes

          They are driven to achieve economic success (the "Yuppies")

 

The Late Boomers: came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s

          They feel less driven for material success

          They make decisions based on the family, rather than the career

          They see parenting roles as emotional and involving

          They had experience with downsizing; causing them to feel less gung-ho about management and more cynical

          They feel that good work habits and positive mental attitudes are not always rewarded

          They sometimes identify with Generation Xers who cite Dilbert as their cultural hero

 

Baby Boomers on the Job

Assets

          Service oriented

          Driven

          Willing to "go the extra mile"

          Good at relationships

          Want to please

          Good team players

Liabilities

          Not naturally "budget minded"

          Uncomfortable with conflict

          Reluctant to go against peers

          May put process ahead of result

          Overly sensitive to feedback

          Judgmental of those who see things differently

          Focused on self

 

Leadership styles

1.      Collegial, consensual

2.      Concerned about participation and spirit in the workplace, heart and humanity in the office

3.      Creating a level playing field, influenced by the civil rights movement

4.      Believe in the magic and art of leadership

 

 

The Xers (1961-1980):

They came of age in the 1970s and 1980s when the economy was going through difficult changes with the move to a global economy, and the technological revolution. They are characterized by being the new change masters; masters of technology and its applications; wanting to have balance in their lives; a need for feedback and flexibility; and are generally positive about their futures.

 

The Generation Xers Generational Personality

          They are self-reliant

          They are seeking a sense of family; small group activities, concept of "Friends"; creating nuclear families out of a group of strangers

          They want balance: reaction to the workaholic Boomers; their parents lived to work; Xers want to work to live

          They don't buy the Supermom and Superdad theory that you can have it all

          They have a non-traditional orientation about time and space: they would like to do work at home, during odd hours, use the cell phone, and telecommute.

          They like informality: casual days are taken very seriously

          Their approach to authority is casual: formal hierarchical relationships are lost on Gen Xers;

          We all put on our Dockers one leg at a time".

          Are skeptical: they watch to see if words meet actions; they are told "be careful out there, it's a dangerous world".

          They are attracted to the edge: the "X" games were named in their honor (their sports are related more to individual challenges).

          They are technologically savvy: played video games, operated the microwave, and programmed the VCR when little.

 

Gen Xers's Core Values

          Diversity

          Thinking globally

          Balance

          Technoliteracy

          Fun

          Informality

          Self-reliance

          Pragmatism

 

Gen Xers's On the Job

Assets

          Adaptable

          Technoliterate

          Independent

          Not intimidated by authority

          Creative

Liabilities

          Impatient

          Poor people skills

          Inexperienced

          Cynical

 

Gen Xers: First -Half Generation "Please sir, can I have some more?"

          Came into the marketplace during a severe downturn; downsizing, layoffs, parents having economic difficulties, no stabiltiy

          Everyone needs to watch out for themselves

          Whole generation of corporate nomads

          Only ticket is to develop real skills on the job: recent jump in internships in college (10 years ago 3% of college graduates had internships; now closer to 33% had internships)

          Many college graduates needed to take low paying jobs outside their field, particularly Liberal Arts majors

 

Gen Xers: The Gold-Collar Workers

          With the labor shortage reaching a peak in 1997 and the explosion in information technology, a high premium is being placed on people knowledgeable about technology/computers and/or willing to learn

          The gold-collar workers are college graduates trained in computers

          They would like to bring pets to work, work odd hours, work fewer hours, and have fun at work

          They are in the driver's seat with respect to the hiring process, since there are many unfilled technology positions.

          They know that work is no guarantee of survival, that corporations can downsize at any time

 

 

Gen Xers Leadership Style

          Skilled at supporting and developing a responsive, competent team of people, changing direction or projects on a dime

          Egalitarian, rather than hierarchical

          Interest in promoting involvement and participation

          Leadership is a job, not magic

          Competent, fair, straightforward leaders

          Create circles of people into "campus cultures", with recreational opportunities

          Communication through listserv, email, chat rooms

          Need to reinforce that some administrative and/or repetitive aspects of jobs are necessary; detail needs to be paid attention to; and there needs to be checking on the quality of things done

          Need to provide as much freedom as possible; help to develop a broad range of diverse skills

          Keep training materials brief

          Provide constructive feedback

          Provide multiple tasks

 

The Gen Xers: Messages that Motivate

          "Do it your way"

          "We've got the newest hardware and software"

          "There aren't a lot of rules here"

          "We're not very hierarchical"

 

 

The Nexters (1980-2000):

They came of age in the 1990s when the technology revolution was expanding; the oldest are now beginning to enter college. They are characterized by: support and protection from parents; optimistic; civic minded; barriers of time and space appear to be less absolute for them (ie. emailing internet pen pals in Asia); "good scouts"; willing to work and learn; and are recycling back to the Veterans and the Civic Generation.

 

Nexter's Generational Personality

          Technological sophistication: can process large amounts of visual information; advanced motor, spatial, and strategy skills via game technology

          Positive expectations

          Apparent bent for collective action

          Emphasis on civic duty

          Confidence

          Achievement oriented

          Sociability

          Morality

          Street smarts: knowledge about the dangers of gangs, guns, aids, anorexia, etc.

          Diversity

          "Soccer moms" as involved parents

          Feel more comfortable with style of the Veterans, not the Gen Xers or the Boomers

          Look like a modern, new version of grandparents and great-grandparents: belief in collective action; optimism about the future; trust in centralized authority; a will to get things done; and a heroic spirit in the face of overwhelming odds

          Have a stricter moral code/center

          Sacrifice personal pleasure for the greater common good

 

 

 

Nexters on the Job

Assets

          Collective action

          Optimism

          Tenacity

          Heroic spirit

          Multi-tasking capabilities

          Technological savvy

Liabilities

          Need for supervision and structure

          Inexperience, particularly with handling difficult people issues

          Howe and Strauss predict Nexters will demand pay equity among all workers; will create fewer job definitions; reestablish the middle class; downgrade exorbitant CEO and executive salaries; create trade barriers; create more government regulations about labor standards; and will revitilize labor unions.

 

The Nexters: Messages that Motivate

          "You'll be working with other bright, creative people"

          "You and your co-workers can have a large impact on our work"

          "You can be a hero here"

 

 

Guidelines for working with multi-generational workplaces: The ACORN Principles

 

          Accommodate employee differences: personal scheduling needs; work-life balance issues; and non-traditional lifestyles.

          Create workplace choices: casual dress policies; foreshortened chain of command; change is an assumed way of doing business.

          Operate from a sophisticated management style: ACORN leaders

       Their supervisory style is not fixed. Control and autonomy are a continuum, not solitary options

       Their leadership style is situationally varied. Some decisions are consensual, some are less so.

       They depend less on positional and more on personal power

       They know when and how to make personal policy exceptions

       They are thoughtful when matching individuals to a team or a team or individual to an assignment

       They balance concern for tasks and concern for people

       They understand the elements of trust and work to gain it from their employees.

          Respect competence and initiative.

          Nourish retention

 

Questions

 

          What are the implications for working with our student leaders?

          What type of leadership/supervision are they looking for?

          What types of things are they most likely to challenge? support?

          How can you be most successful as a leader/supervisor based on these generational characteristics?

          How do you best prepare for the transition between Gen Xers and the Nexters?