4 Generations of Workers – Can You Relate?

Today’s workforce is a diverse mix of generations that each come with their collective background and value systems. Understanding their unique perspectives is important in a large organization where they are likely to be working side by side. Professor at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, Spain, Cristina Simón’s study Generation Y and the Labor Market: Models for HR Management, address differences in generational values. Simón looked at our generations of workers, analyzed their values and suggested ways for businesses to get people working together.

Four Generations and Their Values

Traditional Workers (born before 1946/over 60) value loyalty and discipline. These workers tend to respect authority. They have accomplished a lot and contributed to success under hierarchical systems of the past. Raised during wartime and the postwar period, they adapted to an environment of scarcity, valuing austerity. Social goals of peace and national prosperity are important to this group. As a rule they are pragmatic and disciplined.

Baby Boomers (1946-1960/late 40s and up) expect success. These are the people running the major corporations right now. They invented the workaholic, or at least a lot of them suffer from its effects. Baby boomers created strong social change including the hippie movement, feminism, and civil rights. They are optimistic and self-motivated. Management ranks today are dominated by Boomers and older Gen Xers. Together, they define corporate cultures and success within them.

Generation X (1961-1979/30s and 40s) has the advantage of the best academic training and international experience in history. They are breaking with traditional patterns, including creating informal work environments and transforming corporate structures from hierarchical into horizontal and flexible entities. Personal initiative and a healthy dose of skepticism toward large organizations has produced a lot of entrepreneurs from this generation. A key value of Generation X is the achievement of balance between career goals and quality of life.

Generation Y (starting from 1980/under 30) have lived their entire lives with information technology and they have a hard time comprehending a world without it. Childhood was comfortable and prosperous. They tend toward individual needs in favor of the community good and often demand a high level of autonomy. What Generation Y lacks in loyalty, they make up for with the the value they place on relationships with co-workers and supervisors.

Can you relate? What kind of generational conflicts do you encounter at work?

  • marc

    There is a fallacy in describing baby boomers age range from 1946-1960. It should be 1959. Why? Because a big change happened to those born in 1960. If they joined the military, they did not get the old GI Bill (free collge). I know, I was one of them. Born in 1960. Graduated HS in 78. The GI bill was cut off in 77. I don’t consider myself a baby boomer because of this important fact that always gets overlooked.

  • K Hood

    I am 38 years old and as an attorney, hire most of my own staff. My experience with generation Y workers is that for the most part, they do not take criticism well, are very entitled and spoiled. I would hire an older worker rather than a younger worker any day. There is no sense of teamwork and self-sacrifice. Generation Y workers are out for themselves, and it is frustrating to deal with people who have that mindset.

  • Sum2

    Our company is a great balance of X and Y with a few baby boomers. I disagree with K Hood; Gen Y can be great workers if you are a tech/social savvy individual. You must have a laissez faire policy and provide room for growth — micro-managers need not apply. We value our Gen Y-ers; they make the business run at the speed of light and keep us relevant to the industry.

  • Great point, Marc. I’ve never heard that before, but it makes a great deal of sense.

    As for the so-called attitude of Gen Y – it’s hard not to read it as just the latest go-round of the older generation believing the next is spoiled and lazy. This attitude about young people is as old as time. The times create the attitudes of the generations. Each one finds its place, its strengths and weaknesses – despite the cries of doom and gloom from those who came before.

  • Maureen

    The name “Baby Boomers” name came from “war babies” or those born after WWII. There was quite a surge in births after that time. That’s why the years start with 1946.