A key factor in motivating employees of all different ages is to understand their generational cohorts. These cohorts are characterized by the simple demographic of age, but more specifically the psychographics that define their age group. The time period within which a person grew up is paramount to understanding what motivates and appeals to them. In this article, we will explore the different generations and their characteristics within the workplace.
The Silent Generation includes people born in the early 20th century through the early 1940s. This generation defines themselves by their experiences growing up and living during World War II, and thus are very loyal to their country. This generation is characterized as being very hard-working and silently carries out its duties hence their title of “Silent.” They tend to be incredibly workplace loyal and value seniority and hierarchy within the workplace the most among the generations. This generation tends to also be very respectful towards authority. The Silent Generation has a strong affinity for teamwork and developing their interpersonal communication skills.
The Baby Boomer generation consists of people born from 1946-1964. This generation was heavily influenced by the nuclear family model, suburban sprawl, the advent of television, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. This generation is the first generation to value work over personal life. Unlike the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers tend to be suspicious of authority and large power structures. This generation, also nicknamed “the Me Generation,” is renowned for its personal interest. Baby Boomers have a reputation for being selfishly motivated, which stems from their strong appreciation for individualism. This individualism explains their confidence within the workplace which can often be mistaken for entitlement. This generation, unlike the Silents, does not adhere to hierarchy, is receptive to change and are adaptive within the workplace.
Born between the mid-60s and just before the 80s, Generation X grew up in the era of emerging technology, Watergate, MTV, and increased divorce rates. This generation is often referred to as “latchkey kids” in reference to their time spent at home without parents, contributing to their independence. To complement its independence, this generation highly values self-reliance and autonomy. Generation X is sometimes referred to as “the Slacker Generation” because they do not place the same importance on work that the Baby Boomers do. However, this nickname can be attributed to their low work priority which is rooted in their desire to maintain a balance between work and life. In the workplace, Generation X is very adaptable to change, has strong technical skills as a result of growing up in a time of great growth in technology, and tends to be very productive.
Making up a whopping twenty five percent of the U.S. population, Millennials are a difficult but important generational cohort to understand. Not only are Millennials the largest generation but they are also the most highly educated. This high level of education leads to a strong desire within Millennials to do meaningful work and receive frequent feedback. Born between the tail end of the 1970s and the turn of the century, Millennials grew up in a time of instant communication made possible by constantly-improving technology. This generation, despite growing up amidst threats of terrorism, violence, and drugs, also places great emphasis on the importance of diversity and is considered a global generation. Millennials are sometimes compared to the Silent Generation in terms of their values as they place a great deal of value in the safety and security they find in their families.
Considering generations can be an important factor in explaining the values, motivations, and other workplace behaviors of different age groups. Having a basic understanding of these different cohorts is invaluable to improving workplace success. This information can be a pathway to understanding your employees better as people, and will furthermore help you optimize your workplace for the variety of generations that work there.