While some variations exist in describing the difference of age cohorts, more often the breakdowns are:
1). traditionalists/mature members (born prior to 1945);
2). Baby boomers (born between 1946-1964);
3). Gen-Xers (born between 1964-1980); and
4). Gen-Yers/Millennials (born between 1980-2000).
Various articles referenced at the end, describe how there are marked differences between these groups based upon the times when they came of age. According to varying statistics, approximately 5% of the workforce comes from the mature workers, 45% comes from boomers, 40% comes from Generation X, and 10% comes from Generation Y. Other sources cite the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, whose numbers show that for 2000, the numbers where 13% mature, 48% boomers, 22% Gen-xers, and 16% Gen-Y, and for 2010 the numbers are projected to be 3% mature, 37% boomers, 22% Gen-xers, and 38% Gen-Y. The growing size of the Gen-Y workforce and the static nature of the size of the Gen-X workforce is likely a factor to the smaller relative size of the Gen-X population compared to the Millenials.
While many projected attitudes are subject to over-generalization, some trends are noticed and broadly cited. Some of these trends may be subject to stages of ones' life station rather than one's actual age cohort. Are you how you are because you are 20, or because you are a Millenial? Likewise, it may also be as important regarding what one's parent's age cohort was, as is what your own is. Is a Gen-X whose parents were Boomers going to be similar or different than a Gen-X whose parents pre-dated WWII? However, with such caveats, the following observations are suggested.
Mature members made up "the WWII generation." They remember the issues associated with WWII and Pearl Harbor, might even remember the Great Depression itself or its impact on their community and young life. They often went through some of the toughest times, and consequently tend to be more stoic, not complaining openly about much and work hard toward their traditional views. They are more likely to be frugal, live more modestly, and see the need to save and reuse.
In the work force, while some have "retired" early in their 50's, often some of this cohort are still wanting or needing to work for various reasons. These workers are concerned about being downsized, and fear that they might have difficulty finding new work because of concerns of Ageism. Because many came of age under principles of respect for authority and are less willingness to "protest" loudly when slighted, the members may feel less valued by society, but are more silent about it. Such workers are driven by the integrity of the leadership, which is assumed, unless absolutely disproved. Because of the above concerns, some recoil from the use of the term "retire" and do not like to be labeled as "retired." Many also fear that the younger people discount their experiences and abilities, even though they might express concerns quietly about not being seen as relevant, but knowing that they have much still to give.
One person in this group I would note is my wife's Great Aunt Margaret. Margaret is awesome. She is in her early 90's and yet, as recently as her mid 80's, went whitewater rafting. If you did not know her age, she would likely come across in her late 50's or early 60's and "young." When Heather and I visited Margaret a few years ago in North Carolina, we really enjoyed talking with her. We went with her to Grove Park Inn, located in Asheville, and really enjoyed the trip. The hotel ironically was built around the year of her birth, and we got her perspective on that time. However, Margaret is very internet savvy and probably as inclined to participate on-line in activities as Millenials.
Another person I recently got a chance to talk to was a man named John, who is a member of the LBJ Future Forum with me. John appeared early at an event, as I did. I struck up a conversation and started asking him about his background. I found out that he was in WWII, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and had been in the Army for 30 years. John, as with other older leaders, was concerned that he wasn't "young" and seemed sensitive about Future Forum's younger demographic. I told him, he was definitely welcome in our group, and that people are as young as they want to be. John conveyed, in an understated way, that he was a widower for the last 18 years and wanted to find things to occupy his time. I tried to do what I could to be sure to introduce John when I could - so he felt welcome.
While this generation may have certain limitations, many are great assets that are too little appreciated or utilized for their relevance. While often this groups is not solely looking at earning money, although some do have this concern, it is often as much about feeling connected to life, and wishing to provide their insight and experience as being valued. One loss of our industrialized, urbanized economy is that the senior leaders of our community are not always engaged in the broader community as much as they could or should be. In pre-industrial society, such citizens often helped with child care, and even now, often grandparents help raise their grandkids. However, even in the business community, such leaders might be successfully integrated into boards or advisory boards for non-profits, businesses, or other entities.
Baby boomers came of age in the boom times of the 1950's when the U.S. economy was rebuilding Europe and Japan after WWII. They came of age when legal segregation was the norm, and were emotionally shaped by the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements, and by their efforts to break down and be liberated from traditional views. Their childhoods, however, were shaped by the concerns of nuclear war and assassinations, but equally by the hopes of the space race and the Gemini and Apollo missions, and by the hopes inspired by JFK and MLK. While they often had emotions and beliefs shaped by race riots or anti-war protests, many grew up in new suburban America living pretty simple lives and were the first of the TV generations. Some of those early TV experiences were as inclined to show the greatness or sorrow of their times, including Army soldiers guarding 6 young black children trying to get to school under the first desegregation efforts in the South and the coverage of the assassination of JFK.
However, by the 1980's Reagan years, many Boomers had become the Yuppies of Wall Street, while others saw "The Establishment" as still controlled by the corruption of Watergate, and still fight against the government and law enforcement. Boomers are more likely to spend time fighting politically for something rather than to be active in non-political civic involvement, like the Symphony, Ballet and Opera. Consequently, Boomers are more likely to want to ensure that Roe v. Wade is not changed, and that environmental issues are protected in their free time. Much of those social consciousness issues are conveyed to their children, the Millenials.
In work settings, many Boomers continue to hold positions of authority in both private and public entities. Boomers often had the benefit of coming up in those companies when fewer people had college degrees and having one was an advantage, and at times of growth and prosperity. Boomers were also the first to see large down-sizing, and collapses of whole sectors of the society. As with their young lives, Boomers often had the best and worse experiences in the work place - rode the highs and the lows. Some have done very well in their work, while others have been hit by such difficulties as Stagflation, the S&L crisis, the Oil Bust, and the economic collapse following 9-11.
Boomers have redefined what growing old involves, and as they have hit each age mark, they redefine what 40, 50, or 60 year olds can do. Currently, boomers are the largest group of identified leaders in many areas of the community and business. However, as the primary group of leaders, it becomes imperative for Boomers to maintain age diversity in their organizations. The older members can make contributions of wisdom and experience, and the younger members can provide enthusiasm and energy. Boomers also must ensure that the long-term health and stability of the organizations are maintained by bringing up those younger leaders who can ensure leadership well into the future.
Generation X, ironically enough, is often wrongly perceived to be the "Slacker" generation. A likely reason for some of this view was shaped by their parents, who more often members of the traditional generation that pre-dated the Baby Boomers.
Generation X were born in the last fleeting days of innocence, when it was ok to run around the suburbs for hours, and our parents never knew where we were. Many were latchkey kids, whose parents both worked, but when it was still acceptable for the kids to come home alone without CPS or the government saying something about it. We were solidly a TV generation, but prior to VCR's (which only came in larger numbers in 1984 or so). We remember when some movie would premiere on network TV and it was an event. We still saw Saturday morning cartoons, and can sing School House Rock by heart even today. We wore Polos and Izods in the 1980's, and many of us were preppy in "junior high" (prior to "middle schools") and high schools. While there were some "punk rockers" and "kickers" in schools, they were frequently not the primary groups. Most kids were pretty basic in what they wore, and did not worry about style until teen years.
We also grew up when school shootings were not occurring and our childhoods felt relatively safer. Consequently, we still could bring backpacks to school and didn't have medal detectors or police on campus. The only "security" at schools was a small little sign at the external door politely asking "visitors" to check in at the office. Outside of school, during the summers we put together groups of neighborhood kids to play "kick the can" or "midnight ghost" in the summers, or "hide-n-seek." Often I remember running with kids in such groups and playing several blocks away even at dark in the summers – which our parents allowed "as long as there were other kids around.” And while there were definitely some who were rumored to use drugs, many of these activities really were innocent and nothing objectionable was occurring.
However, despite being relatively conservative ourselves, our parents constantly reminded us how we were spend-thrifts, and "money doesn't grow on trees," how life was in the Great Depression years or WWII, and "we should be more appreciative." We had winners and losers in school, and probably still had "Track and Field Day" in elementary school, and there were definitely blue and red ribbons given only to the winners. Additionally, many of us grew up when art and music classes had full-time teachers, and many of us in elementary school had classes where you would sing John Denver songs or other similar ones. Often our elementary school years were involved with "developing creativity" in some way or another.
Our parents likely tried to make sure we didn't repeat the excesses of the 60's and 70's. It was only rumored that some guy had seen something pornographic, but it was very rare, and often involved veiled references to sex or maybe only bare breasts (which would have earned a movie an R rating, maybe even an X). Generation X had few if any tattoos or piercings, except girls with a single piercing for their ears (if they were lucky), and it was scandalous for a guy to have one. Generation X was the first to be "bussed" in large numbers after many towns lost 30 year court and legal fights to desegregate. In Austin, Court ordered bussing started in 1980 under slogans of "Hell No, We Won't Go," but we did. In larger suburban areas, we were also the first generation to inter-racially date in large numbers, and developed friends from other races and background – because of bussing.
As Generation X came of age in college, we experienced the hard economic times at the end of the 1980's from the S&L Crisis and oil crash, and hard time even after many of us got graduate degrees in the early 90's. It was not uncommon for Gen-Xers to have difficulty finding jobs with a down economy, although some experienced the boom times of the 1980's. When you did get your first job, the pay was low, but we were happy to have a “job.”
In work places, because of this background, Generation X find acceptable that those able to do something should prevail, but do not automatically conform under unclear authority. However, being more conservative in many ways than Boomers or Millenials, Generation X often will strongly follow and support leaders who are perceived to be heroes or protective, but are also willing to leave jobs if they are not inspired by their bosses. As such, Generation X thrives and seek out mentoring and leadership/job development. Gen-Xers are often noted to be innovative, independent, creative, and willing to demonstrate leadership, and are more willing to accept management opportunities - either as their own bosses, or working for others. The days of running around the neighborhood without parents, making up games, taught many of us the creativity to develop their own rules, and then get a group together to follow them. Consequently, such workers can be very loyal to their bosses if they receive mentoring and development. Others have noted that Gen-Xers can tend to be pessimistic about their jobs, often due to concerns of their place between the Boomers and Millenials.
Generation Y, ironically enough, are largely the kids of the Baby Boomers, with some exceptions. Generation Y barely remember the Reagan years, and are more likely to have become aware during the Clinton Administration and its booming economy. Since the Yuppies often delayed having children until the 80's, their parents were often older, more established, and wanting to be "involved" with their kids. Often suburban innocence was gone before this generation grew up, when some story or another was in the press of a child being killed or disappearing. Kids no longer ran unsupervised around the neighborhood, and often were not even allowed in the yard to play without visual supervision (and if they were, likely CPS or the government told the parents to stop it!).
Being children of the Bill Clinton era, such kids came of age hearing about things on morning TV that the mature generation had never done sexually. With parents that were themselves "flower children," this generation also came of age with graphic internet pornography, and often were more willing to pierce, tattoo, or do other things in multiple places, disturbing places (from the point of view of Gen-X or the matures). Many of Gen-Y often exceeded some excesses of even their parents. To their benefit, they were also raised to recycle and care about the environment, and probably have far fewer stereotypes based on race, religion or sexual orientation, thanks to shows like "Will & Grace."
While this generation lost the creativity of neighborhood play, the generation also lost much of the creativity in school. Many schools had lost one or both of their art or music teachers with budget cuts and the need to focus on "core curriculums" like math and science. Many Millenials grew up at a time when school was all about teaching to standardized tests, which students had to pass, and teachers and schools were graded on their performances. There was little time for "Track and Field Day" in elementary schools, and since creativity was not testable, it was less likely to be developed. It was far more important, however, to know by your 9th Grade year, what AP classes you would be taking, and how that would impact your college. In Texas, the pressure was on early to know if you would be in the Top 10% of your class, since some colleges might not be able to admit you if you were not. While there were definitely "winners" and "losers," many teachers and parents wanted to stress the importance of "everyone is a winner," joked about in pop culture that "everyone gets a ribbon.”
The good side of the "helicopter" parents (Boomers who wanted to be more connected to their kids and hover over them) is that many parents talked to their kids about sex and all sorts of issues very young, and many kids probably knew more before middle school (the name "junior high" had passed on) then many of Gen-X knew on graduating from high school. However, the bad side of the "helicopter" parents is that many of these kids did not grow up making their own decisions and showing initiative, and living with the consequences as lessons in learning. They likely were booked by their parents into so many after-school activities that there wasn't time to organize any neighborhood events, nor would they be allowed to go outside unsupervised. Rather than playing outside, riding their bike miles away from house, their parents were far more likely to get technology to entertain them. Computer games were far more complex than Atari, with DVD’s, cable, satellite TV, IPOD’s, plasma and large screen TV’s, and all the other electronic toys, so playing inside was the norm. Millenials often had cell phones and pagers in high school, and rather than seeing “email” as new, it is seen as old-school, and the new way is IM and text messages.
While the generation has been blessed in many ways by the benign state of foreign affairs during their time, some dramatic events have also affected them. The Millenials saw the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, even though they may have lacked awareness of its significance. Much of their life was not shaped by a significant nuclear fear in the community, but with relatively good economic times generally. The worst event of their time would be 9-11, the largest source of American casualties from a foreign enemy on American soil since Pearl Harbor. With its occurrence, this generation also makes up the men and women who joined the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq as volunteers. Many of this generation have shown incredible patriotism and commitment to defend and protect the country, even if their first patriotic shirt was from Old Navy on the 4th of July.
In the work place, Millenials show much of their attitudes from this background. They have less creativity and less likely, as a group, to be entrepreneurial. They are more likely to require far more interaction from managers, and want more validation and feedback. Many also are inclined, from the good times, to have high expectations of their financial status, and expect that those high goals will be easily met.
Some have noted that Millennials’ attitudes holding them back. They often lack the skills or experience to be put directly into management, but often believe that they should have such opportunities. They may be angered by older members of society in seeing them as “flaky,” but without experience, they might in fact overextend themselves in credit or otherwise – and some will actually be flaky. As an example, there was one leader I talked to many years ago about the concern that the community at large are less likely to invest in “young professionals” since they perceive us to be flaky. He stated he was highly offended by my comment, that he was not flaky, and that no one he knew was flaky. Within 2 months of that conversation, however, he unexpectedly quit his leadership role because he was over-extended. He had done nothing in the position and required the organization to try to find a new leader on short notice. Classic! I wondered why some older people might see young people as flaky? Imagine.
As the kids of Boomers (who themselves questioned authority), Millenials also may not have much respect for management teams, now made up of Boomers. One commentator on the internet wrote that Millenials might view Boomer as those “who they view as workaholics and, subsequently, the poster children for how not to build a successful career. This lack of respect for their elders is causing a stir. Boomers see Millennials as spoiled and lazy, and thus not worthy management material. The two groups’ have vastly differing definitions of key workplace terms like loyalty, professionalism and responsibility. The result: boomers who don’t want to spend time training Millennials, and Millennials who don’t think boomers are worth listening to.” Millennials change jobs at a rate as high as once a year, causing companies to be concerned about the cost of training such workers, while not benefiting from their skills in subsequent years.
However, in areas of technology, Millenials are by far more proficient. As a generation that often had laptops in classrooms (many college classes are wired so everyone can have a laptop open during class), they are the generation that were as inclined to send instant messages to their classmates, either helping with answers, or ridiculing others with the rest of the class in real time. They are not intimidated by technology, and probably as capable of taking it apart and end-running it.
As such, one observation about Millenials is that they can apply what is called “swarm theory” better than anyone else. A friend recently recounted an event he attended, where a large numbers of Millenials disagreed with the speaker. Apparently a large number coordinated their beliefs and opinions by text messaging each other, and then proceeded to pepper the speaker with harsh comments and questions, supporting each other’s efforts. By the end of a long period of this, the speaker was apparently visibly shaken. While there were no winners or losers among Millenials, with the skill of technology they may be able to generate a hive mindset with efficiency and effectiveness. The phenomenon of Facebook and MySpace show also that their generation may at times value superficial contacts and not always strive for deeper connections. The fact that many see “friends with benefits” as an acceptable way to have relationships shows often the casual nature of their connections. The result is that they do have the capability of directing much energy very quickly at efforts and achieve results in numbers, even if the effectiveness of any one person is diminished. Senator Obama’s political movement seems to have tapped into this effort.
The attention span of Millenials can also be a challenge in work situations. In a very short-term culture, Millenials often are more inclined to text over email – since email takes too much time. Needless to say, likely few Millenials will consider reading this blog. This also is a factor in the frequent job changes. One friend I know approached me because she wanted to develop a group of young leaders to discuss political affairs. I agreed to meet her for coffee and we discussed it. In talking with her, I quickly thought this idea sounded like what the LBJ Future Forum currently does here in Austin, and suggested she might look at their efforts and simply join them. She noted that she was aware of the Future Forum (run largely by Gen-Xers), but disagreed with its format. She noted that the Future Forum would deal with a topic like the Iraq War for an entire program (1 hour or so), and that was more information then she was interested. She envisioned someone standing up, giving a 6 minute update on one topic, and another person standing up and giving a 6 minute update on another, and so on. When I asked how anyone could discuss something like the Iraq War in such a short time and the concern of vetting all the view points, she was not concerned. When pressed further, I noted my concern that this would be discussion “by sound bites.” She said, “exactly!” While I know plenty of Millenials who are very much into topics at a deeper level and my friend was likely an extreme, news by sound bites might apply to more in the generation.
Should we be surprised that Millenials have short attention spans? If you watch TV shows or movies from 20-30 years ago, you will notice the slow pace of the plotline. Dialogue was far more developed then, and rather than quick edits, the shots were usually long and sweeping without cuts. The actors took pride in the craft of having long shots without cuts. Special effects where cumbersome and limited. Even if you look at the difference in “Star Wars” (now known as Chapter IV) and “Revenge of the Sith,” Lucas was forced to develop acting and plots in the original – but disregarded those in favor of special effects in the later ones. Also largely thanks to shows like Miami Vice and music videos, now the norm is far faster cuts and edits, often with shots that last matters of seconds only. Is it any wonder that we have developed a generation with short attention spans, often hyperactive, who easily get bored?
At work, therefore, Millenials might also get easily bored. However, the upside is that Millenials are probably less intimidated by “newness” and probably more quick to be willing to jump into situations without delay. Also as noted above, Millenials are likely to be willing to develop a more cohesive team of workers, and willing to rapidly coordinate their efforts.
Multi-generational team management.
Because of these various dynamics and the reality that Millenials will quickly become a large percentage of the work force, even as the Baby Boomers are leaving certain sectors and older workers are trying to remain relevant, many businesses and community organizations recognize the need for Multi-generational team management.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Cookie Ruiz, the Executive Director of Ballet Austin. Cookie has long been active with young professionals, through her daughters JR and Boo, but also independently through mentor relationships with Gen-X and Gen-Y leaders and organizations. In talking with Cookie, I realized the benefit of using her term of“Age Diversity” in leadership, over what I had been using, “Leadership Succession Planning.” Cookie noted that for Baby Boomers and Mature leaders, the term “leadership succession planning” played into their fears and concerns, that younger people are telling them they are no longer relevant and they ought to step aside.
Instead, Cookie noted the huge benefit that she has had with “age diversity” on the Ballet board. As much as 10 years ago, she would actively recruit young 30-somethings onto her main board. She has focused on keeping as many people below 35 on her board and those over 65 years old. She wants a good cross-section of people, young, middle-aged, and older leaders. She finds that the dynamic that develops utilizes each group for their strengths while helping other groups offset their weaknesses. While Cookie is well aware that young people may not have as many financial or community resources as older members, she does not dumb down the process too much, although recognizing such limitations as issues – looking for a good balance of the issues. She seems to have achieved that balance. Rather than young leaders feeling they are not there on merit, they are contributing members, but Cookie is able to use the vehicle to develop their leadership further.
This posting has attempted to put in context the differences between generational age cohorts, and identify their strengths and weaknesses. All can be relevant in organizations, and those with long-term views ought to be identifying the best and brightest in each group – and cultivating them. While I have a bias to Gen-X and believe we are leaders that can assist Boomers now in leading, while also sharing enough qualities with Millenials to connect to them, in time I am sure that there will be ample Millenial leaders who come up and show incredible ability. I know many who fall into that category. But the final point I would make is this. If we as a country are going to compete internationally, we need to ensure that we are identifying all who can contribute on the team, and make sure to put them in the right position and letting them be relevant, while at the same time ensuring that we can have those positions filled in future seasons. Greatness is not established overnight – but can be achieved through deliberate recruitment AND retention of all valued members of the team.
For articles available on the website on similar topics, and as references, see:
or google your own resources.