Are you Generation X, a Baby Boomer or a Millennial?

Societal change since the Second World War has been rapid, and is reflected in the values and attitudes of different generations. Do your homework if you’re managing a mixed-age team!

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

How many generations are there in your management team?

In most teams, there are likely to be three, but where founders stay on until they drop, it can be as many as five.

Since the Second World War, the world has gone through change at a pace never before experienced. Each generation from this period brings its own unique values and attitudes into an organisation – a recipe for conflict and dysfunction if not carefully managed.

Researchers have been struggling to make some sort of sense of the key characteristics of people from different eras. Their findings coincide with common sense in most instances, but there are a few surprises…

Traditionalists
Born before the end of the war, in a time of strict adherence to rules and respect for authority. Hard-working and loyal, they believe that duty comes before personal leisure. We still see them in their late 70s and even 80s putting in a daily appearance at the office!

Baby Boomers
Born between the end of the war and the mid-1960s. Having lived through a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, they are now settling into retirement with more luxuries and comforts than their parents ever enjoyed.

But many continue to occupy senior management positions. They believe in hard work, long hours and the importance of education. They are team workers and appreciate face-to-face meetings between members of their teams.

Generation X
Born between 1965 and 1980. They are sceptical of authority, hierarchy, status and title, and want a better work-life balance than that of their parents and bosses.

They prefer an informal workplace, where everyone is on first-name terms and dresses casually. Typical characteristics are self-reliance, preference for minimal supervision, and the fewer meetings, the better.

While highly productive and quality conscious, their focus is on getting the job done as fast as possible and freeing up leisure time.

Whereas Baby Boomers could expect to do better than their parents, this generation is aware that the tough economic times we are living through mean things may be different for them, hence their suspicion of authority.

Millennials
Also known as Generation Y. Born between the early 1980s and 2000, they grew up during the new wave of digital technology and are tech-savvy and permanently ‘connected’.

They are optimistic, confident, civic-minded, have high moral and ethical principles and expect full communication and speedy decision-making. Work for them is a means to an end.

Generation Z
Born since 2000. With lives shaped by the digital age, these are the earners and managers of the future, and this group is of great interest to researchers. They have ambitious personal goals and seek employment that helps them achieve those goals quickly.

One of the surprising findings is their conservatism. Contrary to expectations, for example, they show a strong preference for advertisements in traditional rather than digital media.

As a manager, you are likely to encounter people from most of these generations.

No one has ever had to deal with a more diverse set of employees. Moreover,
although it’s possible to identify the key characteristics of each category, it’s unlikely that everyone will be exactly as described and ‘tick all the boxes’. Individuals may also have values drawn from a number of generations.

But whether you’re dealing with Generation X, a Baby Boomer or a Millennial, an appreciation of the differences between the generations and the difficulties you may face in reconciling them will make you a more successful manager.