Do Workplace Generations Really Vary? A Personal Perspective as a "Millennial"

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generation X

The name was popularized by Canadian author Douglas Coupland's 1991 novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, concerning young adults during the late 1980s and their lifestyles. While Coupland's book helped to popularize the phrase Generation X in a 1989 magazine article he erroneously attributed it to English rock musician Billy Idol. In fact, Idol had been a member of the punk band Generation X from 1976 to 1981, which was named after Deverson and Hamblett's 1965 sociology book Generation X – a copy of which was owned by Idol's mother.

Over the past month there has been significant social media chatter in regards to workplace generations. Much of the chatter was in regards to the opinions of non-milleninnials about millennials. To my surprise, social media followers got extremely heated over the differences between workplace generations. This led me to think back on my personal experiences and provide my own perspective in regards to workplace generations. To do this, I feel that it is essential to identify the actual research based “differences” between generations, and then from that research tie in my own two-cents in regards to the outliers that don't fit with the research.

How many of you can sit back, list off the exact workplace generations and their identified research characteristics?

Unless you're a workplace generation expert, you probably

Generation Y

The phrase Generation Y first appeared in an August 1993 Ad Age editorial to describe children of the day, which they defined as different from Generation X—then aged 11 or younger as well as the teenagers of the upcoming ten years. Since then, the company has sometimes used 1982 as the starting birth year. In 2012, Ad Age “threw in the towel by conceding that Millennials is a better name than Gen Y,” and by 2014, a past director of data strategy at Ad Age said to NPR “the Generation Y label was a placeholder until we found out more about them”

can't do that right off the top of your head. Going to Google really fast and typing in a keyword and then saying you know it doesn't work either. The bottom line is that although many would like to say there are significant differences, many don't put forth the effort in really researching, reviewing, or trying to know those differences. Why? Who knows. Perhaps, you may use a stereotype of a generation to continue with one-upping another generation. In my experience, people stereotype miss many opportunities to learn, respect, and interact with a diverse group of individuals. I think you can tell that I get annoyed that this even an issue. Regardless, it is one, and really with some respect, research, and an open-mind, I feel everyone could benefit from learning more about each other, and will find that not all research or experiences are right, nor do they make up an entire generation. Even if that learning doesn't align with your own personal opinions, but if you give it a shot, you may learn something that you didn't know, and may learn more about another generation that you did not know. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are currently 5 generations in the workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Gen2020. 

How are the generation categories broken down and what characteristics are associated each category?  Perhaps at this point your curiosity is peaked about the generation characteristics. Before getting into the details, I would like you to think about people that you grew up with. Were they all the same? Did they act, look, or have the same level of work ethic as you? Did you ever notice differences between those that you grew up with that appeared to have more personal drive, work ethic, and interpersonal skills? See just those questions there can create outliners that do not fit the run of a mill research standard. So, as with all things, the key is to recognize that theory is simply theory, it may or may not fit completely with an entire generation, and certainly not for each individual.

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So, now that we've added the importance of perspective and open-mindedness let us turn our eyes to the research. According to Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd, Co-Founders of Future Workplace  and Workplace Generation Diversity Experts as cited in their Harvard Business Review article identified: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, GenX, Millennials, and Gen2020.

 

What are the characteristics associated with each generation category? There is significant data available in regards to characteristic online about generational differences. For purposes of this post, the scope of the data is narrowed down to workplace characteristics. If you would like to expand your generational differences learning, I would encourage checking out the Pew Research Center – Social & Demographic Trends.  The following table is a brief summary of common generational workplace characteristics. Keep in mind, the Gen2020 doesn't have much information because of the newness of this generation, and that generation at this point and time are not active enough to be measured. This makes sense because if we do the math, 17 would be the oldest age in Gen2020. Therefore, the table doesn't represent Gen2020 because the data is limited and what information there is would be relatively speculative.

Brief Breakdown of Generational Workplace Characteristics

Traditionalists

Baby Boomers

Generation X

Millennials

Gen2020

Birth Years

Before – 1945

1946-1964

1965-1980

1981-1997

1998 – After

Current Age (2015)

70+

69-51

50-35

34-18

17 – Younger

Work Ethic

Loyal, Company First, Seniority

Driven, Workaholic, Work = Self-Worth

Balance, Structure, Skeptical

Ambitious, Multi-Tasking, Entrepreneurial

TBD

Workplace Routine

Task Specific

Tasks & Outcomes

Relationships & Outcomes

Relationships & Outcomes

Environmental, Relationships, & Innovative

Workplace Focus

Quality

Long Hours

Productiivity

Contribution

Innovative

Use of Technology in the Workplace

Adapted

Acquired

Assimilated

Integral

Wired

Workplace View of Authority

Essential & Based on Seniority

Based on Experience

Sketical

Test & Mentor

Collaborative

Workplace View of Hours Spent at Work

Till the Job is Done.

Workaholoic

Project Orientated.

Done at the end of the Shift.

TBD

Workplace View of Training

Benefits the Company,

not the Individual.

Important, but not as important as Work Ethic.

Skills impact efficiency, which helps increase Balance.

Motivated by Learning and Outcomes.

Essential. Recognized as one of the Highest Educated.

View on Work / Life Balance

Job Security = Hard Work

Work First due to Fear of Being Replaced.

Work – Life Balance is Essential

 Work-Life Balance, Community, and Self -Development

TBD

Work Ethic & Attitude

Compliance, Likes Conformity, Dedication,

Company First,  Attendance,

Practical Knowledge

Dislikes Conformity and Rules, Relationship Centered,

Questions Authority, Heavily Focused on Work

Project Based Outcomes,

Work-Life Balance

Meaningful Work and Work-Life Balance

Environmentally, Economic, and Socially Focus

Preferred Work Environment

Conservative

Hierarchal

Democratic     

Flat

Functional

Positive    

Fast Paced

Collaborative

Diverse     

Creative   

Flexible

Innovative Collaborative

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My personal perspective of generations in the workplace…Although there is research about characteristics that are identifiers to specific generations, which I can respect, I do feel that rather than categorizing people by the year that they were born and labeling the entire generation is risky business. People are people. We're all different. We all have specific individual characteristics that make up who we are, but our behavior shapes our habit, which shapes our performance in the workplace. To me, the issue should be learning and respecting everyone within an organization, not trying to “one-up” another generation or stereotype generations. Hatred or lack of respect toward a generation is a result of a bad experience and then labeling everyone into that category is just ignorant. If you would read the characteristics associated within each generation category, you may find that you're a hybrid of all the characteristics, however, your behavior may still be different than those categories. For example, I had my first Uncle Sam job the day I turned 14 (that was the earliest you could work in Ohio) and worked throughout high school helping to support my family. I worked 72 -80 hours a week to put myself through college (working in an office during the week and stacking toilets on pallets on the weekends)  while maintaining Honors at the university and being active in extra-curriculur activities and volunteering. Then throughout my career aiming in the top 10% performance of every organization that I have worked with over the past ten years. Along with working, respecting, and learning a great deal from the diverse team of people, clients, and community members. I am a “Millennial” or “Generation Y” (which is actually now a part of  the Millennial category). So, would you categorize me as a no-good Millennial, or you and your generation is taking our nation downhill. Heck no.

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In conclusion, my personal perspective is that generations may vary in terms of when people were born, however, in terms of the workplace does one generation perform better or worse than another, I would say no. Workplace performance is a culmination of individual performances. Individual performance varies in every generation. No one generation has the same work ethic across the board. That just doesn't exist. What you do have are individuals in every generation that contributes with their specific talents.  You have good people doing good things. Bad people doing bad things. Lazy people being lazy. Blamers that blame. What we need are doers, believers, and lovers that support one another, our diversity, and society. So, if you've every found yourself stereotyping or judging individuals or generations, I ask you to ask yourself why? Why would you be quick to judge? What benefit does it serve? Judgement doesn't serve anyone. It wastes time, talent, and resources. Educating oneself on generation differences is one thing, categorizing and labeling others negatively is another. The key to our success as an organization, society, and nation is respect, understanding, accountability and working together to reach goals.

All my love to each of you. I am so happy and grateful to work alongside talented men and women from every generation. I believe every interaction has taught me so many lessons and has contributed my understanding of Oneness. Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Wisdom is knowing that we are all One. Love is what it feels like. Compassion is what it acts like.” – Ethan Walker, III. 

 

by Katie Doseck, PhD MBA

Chief Visionary and Strategic Ace Up Your Sleeve | Viral Solutions LLC

Copyright 2015 by Viral Solutions LLC

Dr Katie Doseck, MBA, PhD Viral Solutions

Katie Doseck, PhD MBA | Chief Visionary & Strategic Ace Up Your Sleeve. I catapulted my experience with extensive education, trainings, and personal coaching; earning a PhD in Organizational Management with a specialization in Human Resource Management, MBA in Organizational Leadership, and BA in Law & Liberal Arts. Subject Matter Expert (SME) areas: Human Resource Management, Employment Law, Organizational Change, Change Management, Resource Planning, Strategic Planning, Talent Management, Selling & Sales Management, Training & Development, Decision Making Models, Project Management, Customer Relationship Management, and Motivation. Dr. Doseck is based out of Logan, Utah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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