In the workplace it is useful to understand other people’s worldview, and to make sense of what motivates them and their behaviour. Here, generational theory can be a useful starting point to understand how the era in which a person was raised could impact his or her approach to things.
Generations (1991) is the first book by William Strauss and Neil Howe in which they explore the generational theory. Generational theory is based on the premise that the particular generation that a person is born and raised in can shape his/her values, beliefs, needs and aspirations. A generation is typically a 20-year period (the estimated time from birth to the ability to give birth to a new generation).
Let’s explore the different generations:
The Silent Generation (born 1925 – 1945)
For the Silent Generation key events that have shaped their worldview are The Great Depression (1929 -1939) and World War II (1939 – 1945). This generation is described as grave, fatalistic and conventional. They obey authority of any kind. Stability and consistency are important values. The Silent Generation is also modest and do not condone excessiveness (a “waste not, want not” attitude).
Baby Boomer Generation (born 1943 – 1960)
This generation is named after the post World War II boom in births. Major events that inform the Boomers are Vietnam, Woodstock and the first man on the moon. They reject traditional values and rebel against authority. They are also called the “Me generation” as they believe in personal power that includes image, personal growth and self-expression. They also aspire to youth. They are workaholics, driven, goal-orientated and love to buy things to show their wealth.
X Generation (born 1961 – 1981)
This is the era of crises which include Watergate, Aids, 16 June 1976 (Youth Day), the energy crisis, the collapse of communism and the high divorce rate. X Generation members are seen as independent, resourceful and self-sufficient. They value freedom, flexibility and “work to live rather than live to work”. They ignore authority and have an entrepreneurial attitude that embraces taking risks. Being the first generation to grow up with personal computers makes them techno savvy.
Y Generation (born 1982 – early 2000)
As the first generation born in the new millennium they are also known as the Millennials. The 1986 Challenger explosion, 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the First Gulf War and 11 September 2001 bombings have been major events during this period. They are also known as “Generation Why?”, demanding reasons and rationale, so the traditional “because I said so” isn’t going to cut it with them. They have a short attention span and seek instant gratification. They are highly networked and collaborative. They are seen as optimistic and confident, and believe that they are “masters of their own destiny”. They grew up with technology and are plugged in all the time, relying on technology to make them more effective.
This is just a short overview of the events that shape different generations and the major descriptors of each generation. In next month’s article I will explore the how the expectations and behaviours of each generation play out in the workplace.