Talking 'Bout My Generation...

I like a good discussion.

Recently, I have responded to several questions about generational differences and leadership in the workplace on various forums.

This topic has had my attention over the years.

I am sharing an edited and expanded version of my thoughts below.

Two Caveats

  1. I am only talking about differences which can be demonstrated and measured by objective means. I don't care what a pop culture meme says about any groups.
  2. I am referencing the United States in my comments. All bets are off regarding generational differences when we extend this discussion to a hemispheric or global level.

Three Compelling Reasons Why This Is Important

  1. We now have five generations mixing in the same workplace. This is not creating a competition for jobs among the generations, as some have claimed, because significant differences exist between generations based on general experience level, skill sets acquired, and the rapidly changing world of jobs. My grandchildren will compete for jobs which I cannot name at this time. The skills they may need to compete are not yet identified. The challenges they may face are unknown to us all.
  2. Generational generalizations are generally, general. In other words, any attempt to describe a cohort of millions of people will be both very accurate and very inaccurate. When I describe my fellow Early Boomers, born 1946 to 1956, I can fairly say both that we were inspired by political events and the Vietnam War. However, some of us wore a uniform and served, while others railed against any military connections. Some of us became outrageously conservative as we aged, and others became hysterically liberal , in all cases based somewhat on how we experienced those early shaping events.
  3. While we work with others who have characteristics of whatever groups to which they belong, we always end up interacting with an individual who might be as unique and different from the generational description as we all know we are. Recognizing our uniqueness is easy for us when we think about ourselves, but becomes much more difficult as we consider others, and the further away from US the others are, the harder it is to see them as individuals.

Generalizations, if accurate, are valuable for the broad view of a group of individuals. While all members of any group, generation, or identity do not fit the accepted description, we can still use these high-level views for general purposes. If it is true of most, we can make some general assumptions based on that.

Generational events is a sociological term for those major happenings that occur and leave a lasting impact upon a generation, especially for those who are adolescents and young adults, roughly 13-to-25 years old at the time of the event. We are at a particularly impressionable place in our human development during those years and things etch themselves more deeply on our minds, our hearts, and our souls.

However, at some point, we have to start focusing on sub-groups. The Vietnam War affected most of my generation, but not in the same way. A world of difference exists between my fellow Boomers who were in uniform and those who protested during this turbulent time. I also notice that every generation has Liberals and Conservatives, albeit in different percentages and with different issues.

Eventually, or sooner if our work requires us to deal with individuals, we come face to face with a person who is a member of some identified generation, but is a breathing and unique individual. Nobody fits the generational generalizations to a "T".

In my opinion and based on my experiences, avoiding assumptions at all levels, but especially at the individual relationship level is very important.