Talkin’ ‘Bout Four Generations

In Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace (American Management Association, 2000), Ron Zemke, Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak describe the characteristics of the four groups of employees in today's workforce.

Veterans 1922-1943

This group, also known as Traditionalists, Matures or the Silent Generation, lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They tend to be stable, thorough, loyal, private and hard-working. They believe in paying your dues, in duty before pleasure and having patience. They trust leaders, respect authority, and value formal dress and communication. Contrary to popular belief, Veterans like to take training courses if the classes are handled properly, and many want to continue to work part time after they've retired. Research shows that older workers are just as productive as young ones.

Messages that motivate Veterans:

  • "Your experience is respected here."
  • "It's valuable to the rest of us to hear what has-and hasn't-worked in the past."
  • "Your perseverance is valued and will be rewarded."

Baby Boomers 1944-1960

Unlike their Veteran parents, Boomers didn't have to endure economic hardships and could focus their energy on themselves. On the job, Boomers thrive on change and are willing to go the extra mile. They are optimistic, team-oriented and into wellness. Boomers in general put a premium on developing relationships, but many don't like facing conflict and are very sensitive about feedback. Boomers think they changed the world and nobody could do better.

Messages that motivate Boomers:

  • "You're important to our success."
  • "You're valued here."
  • "Your contribution is unique and important."
  • "We need you."

Generation X 1961-1980

Xers tend to be economically conservative because they grew up with double-digit inflation. They've seen their parents get laid off from jobs that were supposed to be secure, and won't rely on any institution for long-term security. Xers value the entrepreneurial spirit and will invest in their own development rather than the organization's. This group is adaptable, techno-literate, independent and not intimidated by authority. On the other hand, many of some of them are impatient, inexperienced and cynical. They prefer to manage their own problems but seek continuous feedback. Xers seek a balance between work and play.

Messages that motivate Gen Xers:

  • "Do it your way."
  • "We've got the newest hardware and software."
  • "There aren't a lot of rules here."
  • "We're not very bureaucratic."

Generation Next 1981-

Nexters grew up during the high-tech revolution and have never known a world without video games and CD players. They are tenacious, optimistic and even more technologically savvy than Generation Xers. Diversity, morality and street smarts are core values of this group. But they need supervision and structure to do well at work. Because they are so young, they have little experience dealing with people issues.

Messages that motivate Nexters:

  • "You'll be working with other bright, creative people."
  • "Your boss is in his (or her) 60s."
  • "You and your co-workers can help turn this company around."
  • "You can be a hero here."
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