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Notes from Christopher P. De Santis - PRSA Houston July luncheon - Generational Differences in the Workplace

“From Xer to Boomer to Geezer--Generational Differences in the Workplace”
Christopher P. De Santis
Management & Organization Development Design and Delivery
Independent Consultant

Four Groups:

Traditionalists – birth year 1922-43
Boomers – birth year 1944-1960
Gen X-ers – birth year 1961-1980
Millennial’s – birth year of 1981-2002

These are the four stages of life. A generation is a 21-year window.

Members of each generation have the same values and behaviors and BELIEVE they’re part of that group.

We all make first judgments of a person:

1. How old are they?
2. What are my expectations of this age?

Traditionalists = the adaptive generation

Image of their Youth: They were raised on the edge of the depression - War

Thought Processes which make up their general ideals (as a result of what they went through in their Youth: 
- must do without
- save
- sacrifice & endure hardships
Thoughts/Ideals brought about by the War :
– sacrifice,
– loyalty,
– role of the male (Head of the Household, disregarded work done by women during the war as they quietly took their places back in the home.)(Men didn’t talk about things (their jobs, feelings, etc. – They were taught “Loose lips sink ships” propaganda during the war)

“Rosie the Riveter” ( – small women’s movement blip, but they then receded back to the home

Expectation of business after the war – that they take care of you for life

Now we see the separation of the generations.  Families now have money to separate from the family (their elders) and move into their own homes – leading to the creation of suburbs

Moving to the late 1950’s…

TV is here!

Young people are getting a sense of money and are seen as materialistic

In the 1960’s we have the Boomers = seen as an idealistic generation

Questioned institutions:
- As opposed to their parents who were tight lipped (didn’t share their feelings) & who also trusted that their government (like their jobs) would take care of them.
- As the War starts to fall apart, and the President lies to the people…the people question truthfulness of the government, and the legitimacy of the war.
- Is it right to do this? People question it and are looking at the bigger issue.

Enter Protest Era– challenging the government – cyclical – every 100 years

First major recession … Led to downsizing & layoffs
- SO, while they believed in the message of their parents and government, their world was shaken as these ideals fell through.
o Businesses were no longer taking care of their people, and the government had lied to them.
o Can’t trust the government or business. Nixon thought (Why aren’t people loyal anymore?) versus FDR thought (traditionalists; loyal to the people)
o Families start talking at the dinner table about work, layoffs, discontentment – and the children listen.

– idea of work is to stay put!
– Boomers love titles!
- Entitlement versus Earning
- The workaholic emerges – because there are more people, there’s more competition, so people must work harder. Also, they now have a taste for material things & must keep working to keep these.
– Boomers love teams & getting acquainted. 
o Lots of people, thus bigger classes, meaning teams and Teamwork
o However, the teams are very competitive/political (unlike the constructive nature of today’s teams.), and children must be keenly aware of how to get ahead, b/c there are so many of them.
o There’s more of a challenge to excel in groups

Gen X =
- more transactional. 
- involved in personal security and will only stay at a job as long as they are learning.
- more disconnected.
o Because their parents weren’t there (The Boomers, who were workaholics) – They had to suffice on their own…Enter Latch-key kids.  Their parents weren’t there, but their peers were…They have a very strong connection to peers.

The Difference? For the first time a generation (Gen X) has taught the generation before them! (ie: the boss asking for help with computer problems)
>>So, how do they feel about this? How does this change relationships?
- Feeling smarter than their elders
- Feeling of entitlement
- Set off their own entrepreneurial spirit
- Distrustful, feeling used by their employers
o Distrustful &/or focused-- What does this have to do with the work I am doing?
o Chatting around the water cooler has very little value to them
- They will only open up when there is proof that they can associate you on a peer level
o Because they are more disconnected to their elders, they associate/connect better with their peers.
o This crowd requires you to let go & step back.
o They do not like to be micro-managed, especially when this generation sees the previous generation as one they must teach.

Good things to know when working with Gen X-ers

- We go from the cow on the milk carton >> to the missing child on the milk carton – indicates a society of fear and distrust.

- This generation is more self sufficient. Mom and dad both are working – we have the concept of the latch-key kid and you’re on your own.

- Feeling of social responsibility. Entitlement. Technology.

- Generational differences result from each generation attempting to make up for the deficiencies in the previous generation.  However, eventually the generations cycle through and you see repetition from the previous generations…this happens relatively every 4 generations.

- The concept of work/life balance comes into play– a very positive trait

o Gen-Xers aren’t changing within the system – they’re just opting out of the system.

- The symbols/titles that were so important to the Boomers are lost on Gen X.

- Operationalize your words/language instead of assuming they mean the same thing. The Goal is to maximize productivity for Gen-Xers, they want distinct language which will tell them what you’re looking for – what will get the job done.

Millennial’s =

- Big on teams, not as big on competition.
- Child in charge – children are consulted as part of the decision making process, and since they have so much interaction with elders (they are considered part of the team), they get along very well with adults.
o Also, Millennials are born to older parents
- Multitaskers
- Image of Their childhood:
o Reagan – hero 
o Parental attention
o Most scheduled generation
o Focus on the Child (governmentally): Child Labor Laws are enacted, and Boys/Girls Clubs emerge to solve the problem of the latch-key youth.

- Here the idea of the cyclical generation comes into play.
o GI generation (gen. before the Traditionals) = millennial crowd

Good Things to Know When Working with Millennials
- Like structure & more professional endeavors
- They will leverage technology more.
- Employer/manager must be very clear on the rules with them – quantifiable – “loosey goosey” doesn’t fly.
- High moral competency – if you can’t answer the question of what good you are doing as a company, you won’t do well with them
o Big on fun & tolerance. If they see a workplace that is too homogenous or intolerant, they leave.
- Rewards are important to them…this is the Gold Star generation that is use to being applauded and showered with attention.

How rewards for time/longevity effect different generations: (ie: A watch for 10 years of service to a company, etc.)

Traditionalists – That gold watch is very important.  They want to know that their years of service have been appreciated, and that they are being taken care of.

Boomers – Want to be rewarded for longevity and are big on equity. (ie: Be transparent with the company’s measurements of what deserves a reward; use equivalencies)

Xers –– rewards for longevity don’t work

Millennials – longevity with a company is not important, although they are very loyal.

How Feedback affects different generations:

Boomers want to know who’s better – they started feedback

Gen X – expect quarterly feedback – things happen faster = they need it immediately
Be very vocal about your feedback…they talk (Boomers don’t talk).

Milennials – Similar feedback requirements, be specific and applaud loud! (although they are still young to determine this).

Kelly Papinchak
(281) 497-1083
Author: Kelly Papinchak
Fax: (281) 497-1083
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