For the first time in history, there are four different generations in the U.S. workplace—each shaped and defined by specific perspectives, values, attitudes toward work and needs as they progress through the career process. Such differences can affect how people approach recruiting, training, building teams and retention, to dealing with change, motivating, managing and productivity. Often, differing generational perspectives do not mesh, causing friction and bias among those who do not share similar leanings.
Understanding how to approach and work with different generations is both challenging and crucial to career management and career success. This is particularly true for younger members of a work environment, but older members of an organization can benefit as well.
With the caveat that not all traits ascribed to a generation apply to everyone in that generation, here are the four distinct generations represented in today’s workplace:
Traditionalists (born before 1945) are loyal, dedicated, hardworking, financially conservative and believe in the strength of institutions and hierarchical structure. If you are working with a traditionalist, honor the chain of command, offer them job security and show them how you value their legacy, value their experience, and appreciate their dedication.
Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) feel compelled to challenge the status quo. They are competitive, energetic, hardworking, politically adept and loyal. Their identity is related to work, and work is serious business. If you are working with a baby boomer, show respect, choose face-to-face conversations, give them your full attention, be diplomatic and learn the corporate history before you suggest change.
Generation Xers (born 1965-1980) change jobs to move ahead and link success to money. They’re technologically savvy, skeptical of big business and institutions, trust only themselves and do not expect employer loyalty. If you are working with a Generation Xer, get to the point, use e-mail, give them space, get over the notion of “dues paying” and lighten up—work can be fun.
Millennials (born 1981-1999) are collaborators and favor teamwork. They keep their career options open, seek balance between work and family and are technologically astute and wired. They are used to guidelines and structure, ask questions, and possess fewer social skills. If you are working with a millennial, expect lots of questions, provide clear guidelines and policies, challenge them, provide technology, find them a mentor and provide timely feedback.
Further compounding the situation are “cuspers,” those born near the beginning or end of two generations, who can identify with both groups. They may be catalysts for understanding between generations.
The Alumni Career Services Center (alumni.virginia.edu/career) is available to alumni and their spouses. For information, contact Carter Hunter Hopkins at (434) 243-9018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.