Generations in the Workplace – Where Do You Fit?

It’s a hot topic – Generation Y this, Generation Y that. Why? Because due to their sheer numbers as the echo of the post-war baby boom, and the massive technological advancements and social change they’ve grown up with, their entrance into the workforce is having a huge impact on workplace harmonics. They are so different that it has created the mother of all generation gaps in businesses with up to four generations in the workplace, trying to co-exist.

So where do you fit in?

We’ve all heard of the baby boomers, Generation X and Y. There have been famous books like Boom, Bust and Echo. All are attempts to group people together that were born and raised in similar periods, shaped by similar world events and popular culture, leading to base stereotypes. Not everyone fits the mold of course, but I’m sure you’ll find yourself below.

Generation Y looks like babiesGeneration Y or Millennials

Generation Y was first coined by an Ad Age editorial in the early ‘90s referring to pre-teens at the time. Because of their large numbers, independent and privileged upbringing, they were already a significant consumer group. In Canada they were born between 1983 and 2000, making them now 13-30ish. They’re known as the echo of the baby boom for two reasons: 1) their parents were likely boomers; and 2) It was simply reminiscent of the post-war baby boom when birth rates jumped in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Experts have differing and often conflicting opinions on Gen Ys: they’re narcissistic but expected to become a civic-minded generation. They’re highly educated but lack basic problem-solving skills. There’s a sense of entitlement but lack of independence. The main influences in North America were 9/11 and the ever expanding world of technology. They are able to comprehend complex ideas and have an almost innate ability to multi-task, they expect to change careers several times. However, bosses often view them as unfocussed.

They are entering the workforce and the older generations don’t know what to do with them. They’re known as the most difficult to integrate of generations in the workplace. Bosses can either be frustrated with their differences, or learn to make the most of them.

Generation X, a.k.a. The Responsible Generation

Generation XThe term Generation X was coined much earlier to describe a new and unknown generation popularized and assigned to those born between 1961 and 1981 in Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Canadian author Douglas Coupland‘s 1991 novel about young adults during the late 1980s. Though nothing like Gen Y, the Xers are fairly tech savvy as they were born around the inception of Apple and Microsoft, coming of age with the first personal computers.

Many significant political, social and scientific events have shaped their lives, like JFK’s assassination, the moon landing, Vietnam war, the fall of the Berlin Wall right through to Bill Clinton and the 1990s economic boom. They experienced the AIDS epidemic, the DOT-com bubble, the emergence of new music genres… the list is huge.

They were known as being disenfranchised slackers, with a chip on their shoulder about what older generations did to the world. But now as adults, business-owners and parents they are known as being highly educated, family-oriented, active and balanced people. As they are now of parenting age, also taking care of their aging parents and, in the business world facing mass exodus of retiring boomers, they’re smack dab in the middle of two strong generations in the workplace and considered the responsible generation.

Baby BoomerBaby Boomers

We all know Boomers as the result of the huge increase in births following the Second World War, between 1946 and 1964. From a post-war era, they are known for rejecting or redefining traditional values. In North America and Europe this group is also associated with privilege, having grown up in a time of government subsidies, post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence.

There were seventy-six million children born between 1945 and 1964 in the U.S., creating a group that is significant based on size alone. Because of their sheer numbers, education and availability of basic needs, they expected the world to improve and had the numbers to create change. Boomers are known as a demographic balloon that transformed society as it passed through.

Boomers grew up during dramatic social change that included everything from the Vietnam War and Cuban Missile Crisis to Beatle-mania and Woodstock. They instigated major movements including civil rights, environmental and women’s. They created hippies, workaholism, keeping up with the Jones’s, the mid-life crises, and a strong division between conservative and liberal thinkers.

Today they are thought to be retiring imminently. Their sheer numbers lead to the prediction of an economic slowdown in the late 2000s when it was estimated that 25% of the North American workforce would be over 55 and beginning to retire. The general economic crises have meant many could not retire as early as expected. The practical problem still looms and will mean a dynamic shift of generation in the workplace.

Don’t Forget the Silent Generation

Also known as the ‘Postwar (WWI) Generation’ and even the Air Raid Generation, they are said to have been born between 1925 and 1945. They grew up during the Great Depression and the Second World War, and fought in the Korean War. They were called the Silent Generation because they were considered grave and fatalistic, but worked hard and said little. They were not political or social activists. They were cautious, kept their heads down and expected bad things to happen.

They’re also known as the ‘Lucky Few’ generation because for the first time in a long time, their generation was smaller than the one before it, meaning there has been more to go around their whole lives. Because they were born during a time of crisis, they are known as being particularly adaptive, advocating fairness and inclusive politics and buoyant in the wake of failure.

Today there are very few of these Generations in the workplace remaining, but they are still there, particularly in family-owned businesses.

While ‘Generation Y’ tends to dominate conversation as they are currently being integrated, if you’d like to learn more about how to integrate multiple generations in the workplace, join us April 10 for a panel discussion. Or, read some of the books written by our expert panelists.

3 thoughts on “Generations in the Workplace – Where Do You Fit?

  1. Rohan Jayasekera

    I’m a Boomer, but I actually mostly hang out with Millennials (because my fellow tech startup people are largely Millennial) and find that I have way more in common with them than with most people my own age! I think this is for two reasons: (a) like the typical Millennial but not the typical Boomer I grew up online (I’ve been online since 1971, a result of pure luck) and use technology the way they do, and (b) I’ve never had kids so I’ve never “moved up a generation” and while most Boomers have accepted being “older” because they have kids, I haven’t. Becoming friends with lots of Millennials has been great for me: we treat each other as peers (I love Millennials: they tend to take people on their own merits instead of pigeonholing by age, sex, race, etc.) and since I stay away from topics where there won’t be much commonality (music, relationships) we all forget each others’ ages. I feel younger now than I did ten years ago! Millennials also restored my faith in the future of humanity, after the sour attitude of most Xers — though I’m happy that Xers have since turned into “the responsible generation”!

  2. Tim Rutledge

    The most salient feature of us baby boomers is our sheer numbers. We didn’t ask to be so numerous, but we are, and our fads became national trends. The oldest boomers are now retiring, or becoming eligible to retire. Most of us will retire, if we can see our way clear financially.

    I think that we will soon see two kinds of boomer retirees: those with defined benefit (DB) pensions, and those without. DB pensions pay benefits for as long as the retiree lives; live as long as you can, the money will just keep on coming in. Those without DB pensions, like me, have to decide when we’re going to die, because whatever retirement money we have is finite; we might outlive it.

    So most DB pensioners will retire and enjoy a relatively comfortable lifestyle. Other pensioners will find it necdessary to continue to work for a living just to make ends meet., and to ensure that their money doesn’t run out before they do.

    Something that many people forget is that we boomers own most of the wealth. Chiefly in the form of real esate and retirement savings, we’ve got the money! Advertisers cheerfully ugnore this (except for cruise lines, pharmaceuticals and other health care products), and continue to try to attract youger people, based on the belief that Generation Y hasn’t made permanent product choices yet.

    They are missing out. Gen Y doesn’t have very much money. Boomers do, and we are not as set in our purchasing ways as you might think. I bought my first laptop, and launched my first we site, after my 55th birthday!

    So we’d better get used to the idea of baby boomers working after their 70th birthdays. And advertisers should stop picturing us sitting on benches playing checkers and feeding squirrels. We’re still consumers, and will be for years to come.


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