By Marie Zimenoff
Career Thought Leaders & Resume Writing Academy
It is a common topic on popular media that causes anxiety in people when they think or talk about others in different generations. No matter who you are or how great you think you have done at addressing biases in your life, there are still some generational issues that can catch you out because they are so prevalent.
What is a generation?
Most people define a generation by the formative experiences that happen when they are young, so this can be between age 10 to 20. There was something that happened when we were in that age group, where we were just starting to pay attention to the world around us.
We have these experiences that in some ways impact everyone in our age group in a similar way. There is that overarching experience that we all have around that same age. As we talk about generations, there is just as much differentiation within a generation than there is between generations.
These experiences have an impact on how we show up everyday at work and how we interact with others at work. There are also external experiences such as the interaction with technology which is a huge differentiator between these generations. It influences the way they interact with each other, the way they communicate, and prefer to communicate with each other.
Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials
When we talk about the generations, we start with the Traditionalists or the Silent Generation who were born before 1945. Some of them may still be in the workplace and leading companies. Some might have stepped down into a part-time role. They are still in the workplace and bringing a lot of value from their worldview.
Baby Boomers (1945–1960) are the second largest generation. Generation X (1961–1980) often get passed over, especially in popular media articles addressing generations. It was the smallest group among the Baby Boomers and the Millennials (1981–1995). However, as the Baby Boomers retire, Gen X is starting to level out in terms of the percentage in the workforce among the 3 groups. The average age of an executive is around 56 – now Generation X instead of Baby Boomer.
Experts often split Millennials into 2 groups – Gen Y1 from the 80s and Gen Y2 from the 90s. This can be an important distinction as there were significant different experiences between those born in the 2 decades, especially in terms of the technology they used in their formative years.
What formed these generations?
Each generation is formed by significant experiences in their teens and early adulthood. For the Silent Generation, it was World War 2. They had clearly defined gender roles and experienced gender in a very clear blue and pink kind of way. The Baby Boomers had the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Flower Children.
Gen X had the ideas of Apollo, moon landings, Woodstock, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. They also had working parents – the “latch-key generation” – and early mobile technology but not yet smartphones. When did you get your first mobile phone? Gen X got theirs when they were in their late 20s or 30s.
The Millennials had 9/11 in the United States, social media, and the invasion of Google – experiencing the internet in a whole new way. Many of them have never known another phone than a smartphone enabled with the internet at their fingertips.
Gen Z is just coming up. They have never lived in a time when they did not have access to that technology. We do not know yet what all of their formative experiences are. Their difference from Gen Y can be caused by the economic downturn, which they will experience as young professionals trying to get into the workplace.
How do generations prefer to communicate?
When we think about the other person’s preferred way to communicate, we have better communication. Baby Boomers like to call, while Gen X loves to email, and Millennials prefer text messages. How will you connect with them and how can you do that in a way that fits their communication style?
Marketing and product development trends can give us hints as well. Experts in these areas are talking about how to get people’s attention and how it differs for each age group. Generation Z, along with younger Millennials, are moving away from email and onto instant messaging. Gen X and Baby Boomers are also accessible through messaging, but still base buying decisions of more personal recommendations rather than online recommendations.
How do generations prefer to buy?
When you are interviewing, job seeking, building a marketing program, whether it is for pay or not, how do people buy what you are offering and what might be of interest to them?
Based on research data from costa.com, those from the Silent Generation, who are now at 70 or above years old, have that sense of value. They had lived through the Great Depression, so they are used to rationing, saving the rest of the food for tomorrow.
The Baby Boomers, who are from late-50s to 70 years old, are into downsizing and using technology to purchase, which is kind of novel for them. They like locally sourced goods, and they tend to not be as into texting. They are using social media, such as messaging on Facebook.
Gen X has a lot to spend. They are in their early 40s to mid-50s and have good income. Their kids may be starting to go to college and get out of the house. Gen X is big on loyalty to brands and they love their digital coupons.
Millennials use technology to shop and save. They are big on apps and driven by coupons and speed. They expect to get everything quickly and prefer variety than brand loyalty. There is some great research data that shows what age groups are using what technologies.
Generational clash or learning opportunity?
Every generation goes through the same lifespan, development problems, and challenges, these are developmental issues rather than generational issues. When you start thinking about having “generational issues” with a person, ask yourself first if it is perhaps just a learning issue and an opportunity? To help that person learn these skills is a matter of communication.
We simply need to talk about how we are going to communicate with each other, what tools we are going to use, and how we can adapt to each other’s style. If we assume positive intent, it will help solve some of these generational issues that come up at work.
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