First of all, it is important to understand that there are no hard-line cut-off birth years to define the different generations in today’s workforce. The range of birth years for each generation is disputed by several sources and researchers and there is no definitive right answer. However, generations are being shaped by specific factors influencing them during the defining years of their lives. These factors can be social, technical, economic, political or cultural in nature. Therefore, whenever we talk about “generations” we can only refer to generalities and certain stereotypes that most people born in a specific era are likely to have in common. It is not our intention to squeeze anyone in a limiting box – in fact, it is very possible that someone being born a few years before or after the stated beginning or ending of a generation timeline identifies more with the characteristics of the generation before or after their actual birth. Nevertheless, we base our understanding of Gen Y and of the other generations on trends and traits identified by legitimate researchers and consider them valuable indicators on how to effectively provide leadership development options for people of different age groups.
Now that we have clarified how generations are delineated, we welcome you to our Gen-timeline tutorial!
At GAIA Insights, we use the following birth year ranges for the four generations present in today’s global workforce:
Depending on different sources, some alternate names are in use, especially for Generation Y (e.g. Millennials, Digital Natives, Net Generation) and for the Traditionalists (also known as Matures, Veterans, Best Agers). However, for our intents and purposes, we are going to use the terminology stated above.
So what are some key characteristics of each generation?
The Traditionalists (born 1922 – 1945)
This group survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and a World War that shaped today’s political, economic and military powers. Patriotism, rules of conduct, discipline, respect for authority and following directions mark this generation. Given the devastating aftermath of the Depression and World War I in combination with the hardship faced in World War II, people also had to learn to work together and to focus on the task at hand to rebuild their lives as well as their economies.They simply rolled up their sleeves and did what had to be done, which over time resulted in huge accumulated wealth, including financial savings, real estate and business ownership.
Traditionalist employees are the keepers of an organization’s history, of its founding goals and beliefs. A lot of large corporations have senior board members or directors who are Traditionalists and who still set the tone of a company’s culture. As with all generations, their personal values and leadership styles directly reflect their experiences during the defining years of their lives.
The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Growing up in post-war optimism, this generation was inspired by a sense of stability, possibilities and prosperity. With increased educational, financial and social opportunities, Baby Boomers poured into schools, universities and onto the labor market, pursuing higher education, relocating to suburbia and seeking classic career paths in the footsteps of their parents. However, due to their sheer number competition was fierce and only the best succeeded in the traditional career model. Those who became discontented with their world developed differing views on politics, war and social justice. The emergence of disjunctive perspectives gave rise to budding social conflict.
So while this era was the dawn of space exploration, accessible long-distance travel, pop music and economic prosperity for many middle class families, Baby Boomers also faced divisiveness. From literal separation such as the Berlin Wall construction, to figurative boundaries like those fueling increasing racial tensions in the United States, they saw families, ethnic groups and even countries break apart. Conflict grew, ignited by events such as the murder of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. The emergence of the Vietnam War, the Cuba Crisis and the Cold War, with its constant threat of atomic attacks between East and West, brought issues onto the global stage once again. Clashes sparked violence, but also gave rise to the peace movement of the 1960s. Overall, this generation experienced dramatic shifts in educational, economic and social paradigms which also changed the workplace from a fairly homogenous, paternalistic environment to one of increased racial and gender diversity.
Generation X (born 1965-1979)
As Baby Boomers took their time to grow up in a world that appeared bright and appealing to them, Generation X was pushed toward adulthood at an age earlier than any other recent generation. While Baby Boomers lined up for gas in the mid-1970s, Gen Xers watched from the back seat wondering what the future held. The oil crisis, Watergate and the arms race of the Cold War were still fresh in people’s minds, when incidents like the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Challenger explosion, Chernobyl, the Northern Ireland conflict or the ETA- and RAF terrorism in Europe further shattered society’s belief in political and institutional competence. During the economic decline at the end of the 1980s, this generation realized that they would not be able to replicate the prospering lifestyle of their parents.
Generation X also spent less time with their parents than any previous generation. Coining the term “latchkey kids”, this generation was left home alone and took care of themselves and their siblings while their parents worked. Divorce, single parents and patchwork families became more frequent. Gen Xers were not coddled for every emotional need and want. Autonomy and self-reliance, rather than respect for authority, was a natural byproduct of the Generation X childhood. No wonder Gen X grew up highly skeptical of promises made to them. The 1986 music video “Land of Confusion” by Genesis beautifully captures this Generation X attitude.
However, Gen Xers also grew up in an era of emerging technology, music television and the fall of the Berlin Wall, finally ending the Cold War. Whereas computers were unimaginable for Traditionalists and had the size of a cubicle for Baby Boomers, the computer now became a desktop machine and a household appliance. Increasingly open frontiers, a growing number of television channels and various entertainment options brought different cultures into the lives of this generation. Gen Xers grew up embracing diversity and had to learn independence early in life, both of which they turned into valuable hallmarks as they progressed into the working world.
Generation Y (born 1980-1995)
Enter Gen Y. (And you better take a close look at them because they will shape and transform your organization not too far from now!)
Whereas the future was bright for Baby Boomers and disheartening for Generation X, Generation Y questions whether they will actually have a future. Global warming, environmental challenges, increasing natural disasters, school shootings, 9/11 and related terrorist threats deeply affect this group. However, instead of turning their fears into frustration and resignation as their generational predecessors, Gen Yers decide to live life to the fullest. No wonder marketing slogans like “Live for the Moment” and “Just Do It” define this generation’s attitude, beliefs and behaviors, both in lifestyle and at work.
Trying to give them all the attention and recognition they had missed themselves, Generation Y’s parents have nurtured, entertained and protected their children, providing for their every emotional, educational and physical need and want. Gen Yers were praised and rewarded for minimal effort, resulting in high expectations for recognition from others on their part. They tend to maintain close relationships with their parents or grandparents, often continuing to live with them and to be supported by them as they enter the workforce. They seek their advice and rely on their guidance, looking to managers and supervisors to provide the same nurturing protection, feedback and approval in the workplace as their families have at home.
At the same time, Gen Yers watched their parents struggle to balance work and family, as they rose to the top of the corporate ladder. Often times, these efforts were not reciprocated and their parents lost their jobs as a result of companies’ downsizing and reorganizations. Clearly, Generation Y is not willing to make the same sacrifice. For this generation, work is temporary and a way to express themselves; not a means to define them. They are less committed to employers and to long-term employment in general. Generation Y is all about lifestyle and instant gratification. They will job hop whenever necessary to meet their immediate wants, needs and goals.
Last but not least, Generation Y grew up in an era of technology. They have always known email, smart phones, satellite television, video games, laptop computers and the internet. Technological advancements in real-time media and communication drive their expectation for immediacy. Growing digital social networks and economic globalization seem to shrink the world for this generation, with emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India or China becoming more important players in the global workplace, generating a new level of commercial competition but also an abundance of opportunities totally unknown to previous generations.
And yet, while all their physical and tangible needs and desires are fulfilled superficially, Generation Y craves a deeper sense of satisfaction. Many Gen Yers find themselves searching for meaning and emotional engagement beyond all the commodities and distractions that are easily available at their fingertips...
To watch this video, click on PLAY.
Traditionalists (born 1922 – 1945)
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Generation X (born 1965-1979)
Generation Y (born 1980-1995)
For more information and background on Generation Y and the other generations in today’s workforce, contact us. We look forward to sharing a compelling presentation with your audience to give you the full picture. We’ll illustrate the trends and traits of each generation and then go beyond the Gen Y landscape to explain how you can best leverage their particular strengths across your organization. We will shed some light on developmental activities that appeal to Gen Y talent and focus specifically on how to attract, retain and develop them. After all, they are your next generation of leaders and will become the foundation of your business sooner than you might think...