Generational Differences

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted with another mind than the one where they sprang up.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

During the last decade, I’ve coached a diverse group of people. While my targeted client base most often finds me working with the “chronologically gifted” (a.k.a. Baby Boomers), I’ve enjoyed engaging with a cross-generational mix, all of whom have benefitted from coaching collaborations.

As time passes, my understanding of and appreciation for generational differences has become increasingly important and pronounced. Quite often, I need to listen for what is not being said, as well as what is being verbalized. Listening is an essential coaching skill, as what is being expressed differs between generations.

This post scratches the surface of a fascinating area of study (at least to me). And I suspect I’ll write more about it in due course. Yet even a most cursory glance at the topic yields obvious spheres in which differences lie, including:

  • Cultural awareness
  • Technological adaptation
  • Social consciousness
  • Personal values
  • Willingness to change
  • Defining events (specific to each generation)
  • Trends
  • Meaningful experiences
  • Expectations
  • Preferences
  • and Wellness

In an ongoing quest to learn more about this subject, I recently found a 2009 University of Iowa (U.S.) School of Social Work research piece on Generational Diversity. Of course, there are hundreds of similar studies, so I glean from this with a grain of salt. Still, it presented some defining (and clarifying) characteristics of generational cohorts. One of the characteristics I found interesting was the core values associated with each of the four groupings.

The Silent Generation (born 1922-1946) has common among them a respect for authority, loyalty, hard work, and sacrifice for the common good; “Live to work versus work to live” was a generalized motto.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) grew up with a sense that security was taken care of – left room for exploration and protest; place high value on youth, personal gratification, health, and material wealth. They were/are generally optimistic, value hope and peace, and believe their generation changed the world.

Generation X (born 1965-1980) desire balance in their lives. Diversity is viewed as norm, they’re motivated by money, self-reliant, value free time and having fun. They shifted the mantra to “Work to live, not live to work”; assumed gender equality in the workplace and are the first generation to embrace the computer and Internet (you know, the tubes). 🙂

Millennial Generation (born 1981-2000) has become the most globally oriented. They have a combined work ethic of Baby Boomers with the can-do attitude of the Silent Generation/Veterans and the technological savvy of Gen Xers. They value health, exercise and body adornment.

There are a plethora of qualities, attributes and tell tales aligned with each generation. And it’s not uncommon to see some of them bleed across one or more of the four. Ever shifting, this makes what I do to earn a living exciting and challenging. Just because I’m a Boomer doesn’t mean I always know how people from other generations are feeling, thinking and acting.

In addition to ongoing change in attitudes and beliefs, our conscious deference to the uniqueness of generational differences helps to keep communication channels open. It also fosters heightened awareness of what and why different ‘things’ are valued across generations.

We are all in this together, aren’t we?

22 thoughts on “Generational Differences

  1. I have 5-6 team members from Millennial generation, but as far as expectations are concerned, What to say of generational differences, I find intra-generational differences too. If one of them wants to be in the loop all the time, other whom I perceived as an independent self-sufficient type wants me to be protective towards her, another feels I micro-manage and the 4th one wants me to spoon-feed. So managing people is tricky. Shall wait as you explore the topic more in future posts, to get insights I can use.

    • Absolutely. Intra-generational differences very much exist and can create similar tensions that span the four cohorts. How to manage and optimize intra- and inter- generational characteristics in the workplace is a real challenge. I look forward to sharing more thoughts on this in future posts. Appreciate your reading and commenting!

  2. I disagree with your Millennial Generation diagnosis. I believe that they, as a group (as I have no qualms about gross generalizations), tend to have more symptoms of acute narcissism and a strange need to be the next Hunter Thompson.

  3. It wasn’t my diagnosis, Scott. It was extrapolated from a U/Iowa study, as cited. Were I to interject my observations/opinions with posts, I’d only be expressing a singular (and possibly biased) opinion.

  4. Great post, Eric. I’ve always found it interesting the differences between generations; and find that the differences are even more pronounced as time marches on. Personally, I waver between the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, and the Gen Xers, strange as that may seem. But I look forward to your further discussion on the matter.

    • Interesting, indeed. Appreciate your commenting, Bloke. As with you, I tend to exhibit characteristics from each generation. Ascribed labels don’t sit well with this writer; preferring the unique mix that I am. Why be typecast with just one, based on a birth year? More perspectives in due course…

  5. I have a brother who is 18 years my junior. I am so impressed by how focused he is on his career. He has the drive and focus that I am just now getting in my late thirties. That’s why I too feel that it is so important to open yourself to a variety of people and experiences.

    • I agree with you, completely. Bravo for choosing to be open to others and their journeys and circumstances. Consider letting your brother know how impressed you are with his work ethic. 🙂

  6. Great post Eric. I’ve had to come up against generational differences when managing younger people in their 20s. Unfortunately, hard workers seem to be the exception, not the norm, but I’ve definitely had both. Cheers.

    • Thanks for commenting. I believe many of us have had similar experiences when working across generations. One of the keys is to acknowledge that differences do exist and thus, so do sensitivities. There will always be a focused and diligent workforce. There will always be slackers, too. It’s good that we’ve experienced both (I think).

  7. I found this fascinating. If I can figure out how to tweet this from my iPad as a passenger in a moving car, I will do so. Being a baby boomer with adult children who are millenniums I exist in both worlds, doing some things better than others. Here’s hoping for success.

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