Generation Gaps Part 1

October 2010

We hear much about the demographic heft of the baby boomer generation. As boomers retire, there will be shortages of skilled workers across the work spectrum, but there are two other factors to consider: cultural and attitudinal differences between boomers and generations X and Y.

It is a slight generalization but for the most part, boomers have been a hard-working and dedicated bunch, some of them known as type As. Baby boomers, born, roughly, between 1946 and 1966, likely get this work ethic from their parents, who told them you have to work hard to be successful in life, to be committed to your job and your employer, work long hours and be there when your boss needs you. Generally, boomers crave growth, change and expansion. They are competitive and loyal. They respect authority but require mutual respect from that authority. What many did not see coming was the impact of this work ethic on their family structure and personal lives.

By contrast, members of generations X and Y have completely different attitudes about work. Gen X, those born between 1967 and 1979, are the children of workaholic parents. They are self-reliant, individualistic and determined to maintain a workplace balance. Their workaholic parents had social problems—they saw that their parents had difficulty sustaining personal and family relationships, and while they acknowledge that work is a big part of who they are and what they do, they also set limits around work to create a stable personal and family life.

The workers from this generation are not as invested in one company as much as they are their own career and their own career path—and are always looking for opportunities. They are willing to be mobile to get what they want out of work and life.

Meanwhile, members of gen Y—those born between 1980 and 1995—are really looking for employers who are going to help them develop themselves as professionals. This is the generation that first asks the workplace, "What can you do for me?" They are technologically savvy, well-educated and worldly, so they have high expectations and minimal experience. This is also a generation that wants to make a difference. In addition to developing their careers, they want to contribute to society. Their perspective is more global than the boomer generation; they are interested in sustainability and will ask questions about the company's environmental policies and priorities.

Clearly, there is merit and value in every generation. But because of these differences in work ethic, there is potential for conflict in the workplace. It is important for HR to understand the generational differences at play in your company, but to also understand what they can do for you.


How? Stay tuned for Part 2 in the November/December issue.

Antoinette Blunt is the chair of HRPA's board of directors.

HR Magazine October 2010

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