Posts tagged ‘Millenials’

Today’s Four Generations

Generally, the concept of a “generation” is attributed to social scientist Karl Mannheim from his work in the late 1920s.  Grounded in shared life experiences and defining historical and cultural events during individuals’ formative years, each generation has different collective memories, expectations and values. As such, a generation is defined as an identifiable group that shares birth years and significant life events at critical developmental stages.  At the same time, it is very important to avoid stereotyping people from different generations. For example, research shows that people born at the beginning or end of a generation (referred to as “tweeners”) can exhibit values and attitudes from two different generations. 


Generalities about generations can provide insight on values and expectations in the workplace. The oldest generation, Traditionalists (also known as Veterans, Matures, Depression Babies) grew up following the worldwide economic depression, with World War II as the major event in their childhood. They view work as a privilege and have a strong work ethic grounded  in discipline, stability and experience.  The Baby Boom generation, born after World War II, is the largest generation in the United States and has had a significant impact on societies worldwide. Defining events of this generation include the space race, rock and roll, and women’s liberation. Baby Boomers tend to be idealistic, driven and optimistic.


Different experiences have shaped Generations X and Y. A much smaller generation than the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers were known as “latch-key children” with both parents working. They grew up during the time of high divorce rates and massive job layoffs of the 1980s. They are independent, creative, skeptical and distrustful of authority. In contrast, the younger generation (known as Millennials, Generation Y, Nexters) experienced terrorist attacks in their formative years, including September 11th, and technology has always been a part of their lives. They are confident, team-oriented, patriotic and social minded. Since their parents typically planned their activities, they are accustomed to having structured lives.


An extensive study on generational differences found that leadership style preferences are reflected in selected admired leaders of each generation. Baby Boomers, for example, prefer leaders who are caring, competent and honest, as reflected in their choices of social leaders: Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Generations X and Y want leaders to challenge the system and create change: Ronald Reagan, Tiger Woods, Bill Gates. Each generation ranked honesty, competence and loyalty among the top leadership qualities, with honesty being the most important. For HR and organizational leaders, this means that firms need to recognize and understand the differences and similarities among generations regarding leadership qualities when it comes to the creation of leadership development programs for current and future leaders.


Excerpted from the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) Research Quarterly
“The Multigenerational Workforce: Opportunity for Competitive Success”
First Quarter – 2009


September 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm 2 comments

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