Are you saying everyone in a generation is alike?
No, we’re not. We recently did a study of 462 working people and found that there is a statistically significant relationship between birth generation and values. That means when we’re trying to understand someone so that we can work more effectively with them, generation is a good place to start. But we found that 59% of respondents identified with one of three other values systems–not with the values group for their birth generation. That is why we designed the Values & Influence Assessment™. It goes beyond birth year to identify personal values.
What do you know about the generation after the Millennials?
They’re being called Generation Z for now. Eventually, they will be named–or will name themselves–for an event or trend occurring around Year 2020. The worldview they adopt and values they embrace will depend on world and national events that occur over the next decade. You can read our predictions for them in Claire’s article, 10 Predictions for Generation Z.
Wasn’t the baby boom from 1946 to 1964?
Yes, you have your dates right. The post-war boom in births began precisely nine months after the end of WWII and continued through 1964. But most people who study the generations find that the Baby Boom perspective is found in people who were born in the early 1940s. That group of people went to school with the Boomers, listened to the same music, and shared the same heroes. On surveys, the majority of them say they identify more with Baby Boomers than with the older generation. On the other end of the birth curve, we’ve found that people born in the early 1960’s, though officially considered Boomers, identify far more with Generation X. They weren’t old enough to be aware of JFK’s assassination and they didn’t feel a part of the sixties, a decade Boomers typically associate strongly with. That’s why we usually say the Baby Boom profile begins around birth year 1940 and runs through about 1960.
Where did the title “Generation X” come from?
It comes from a Canadian writer by the name of Douglas Coupland who wrote a novel called Generation X. He’d heard his generation called “Twentysomethings,” “Thirteeners” (because they’re the thirteenth generation since the Declaration of Independence), “Post-Boomers,” and “Baby-Busters.” He didn’t like any of those titles. They were all inventions of Baby Boomers, and he, like many others, felt the Boomers had been especially judgmental of his generation. He was looking for a generic title, sort of a non-label, and that’s how he came up with “Generation X.”
Isn’t this an age thing?
Aren’t you just talking about life stages? No, it has to do with far more. In fact, each generation approaches each stage of life with its own unique style. For example, the Baby Boomers are very different seniors than their World War II generation parents. They sign up for far more adult education courses, serve in parks and recreation departments, and join in entrepreneurial start-ups. Today’s Millennial Generation twentysomethings are more optimistic and have more heroes than the Gen X twentysomethings before them.
Isn’t this stereotyping?
Our generational data comes from a variety of sources, including demographic surveys of tens of thousands of people. It’s a matter of how the information is used. If we use it to stereotype and pigeonhole others, it can be extremely detrimental. If, on the other hand, we use the information to look at ourselves and find ways to be more effective by developing empathy and understanding, being better listeners, and communicating with others in mind, then we’ve spent our time well.
Don’t the generations have more commonalities than differences?
They do, and it’s important to remember the commonalities, but it’s the subtle differences that cause conflict at work. That’s why it’s important to understand and deal effectively with the differences.
How do race and ethnicity factor in?
All members of a generation grew up in the same era. As a result, most of them saw the same news events on television, read the same headlines in the papers, and went to schools using similar educational practices. However, racial and ethnic differences, along with socio-economic differences, are every bit as important, probably more important, than generational differences in shaping our perspectives.
You talk about adapting your management style to the needs of each generation. But don’t you think good management, getting to know people as individuals, and treating everybody respectfully cuts across the generations?
Learning about the generations doesn’t mean managers don’t need to get to know people as individuals. That’s still required. But what it means to “treat people respectfully” varies from generation to generation. Many Gen-Xers would say that respectful treatment means being direct and straightforward, while someone with WWII Generation values–no matter their age–might define “respectful” as using good grammar, “Sir” or “Ma’am,” and “please” and “thank you.”
I was born in 1939. Don’t some of the experts put me in a generation of my own?
Yes, some demographers call the group of people born between 1939 and 1945 the Sandwich Group.
Don’t the generations actually overlap?
Yes, generations overlap by as much as 7 or 8 years. Just as eras don’t have start and end dates, a generation doesn’t end one day and another begin the next. That’s why a lot of people identify with at least two generations.
Aren’t there a lot of people who don’t fit the profile for their generation?
There are. When we talk about generational profiles, we’re talking about the millions of people in the middle of the bell curve. The information about those millions is tremendously valuable in all aspects of business: running meetings, communicating with colleagues, resolving conflicts, making sales calls. There are lots of people out on the tails of the curve, though, making it essential we get to know people as individuals.