Generational Differences and Identity Politics

Generational differences are a hot topic for organizational behaviorists. Is this a real issue, or is it just the current management fad?

“Never in history have we seen four generations together in the workplace.” That line starts thousands of articles and hundreds of presentations. A Google search of “four generations in the workplace articles” yields almost 2 million hits.

What is so different? It isn’t like we suddenly see people entering the workplace in their twenties, or staying active into their 70s. That has always been the case. Why is it different now?

We have seminars on generational differences; how Boomers should manage Millennials, and on how Millennials should understand Boomers. There seem to be few, if any, seminars on how GenXer’s work with others.

generational-gearsPart of this “phenomenon” is the truncating of Generation X. Sociologists (I guess that’s who labels generations) have decided that GenX was  a “shorter” generation than any other. Where previous generations are consistently of 20 years duration, GenX is less. Most measure it from 1965 to 1982, although I’ve seen some that claim it only applies to people born from 1966 (lengthening the Boomers’ reign to 21 years) to 1980 (starting the Millennials a full 5 years early.)

That would leave a whole generation that was 50% the size of those coming before and after it. The “baby bust” was dramatic, but statistically it wasn’t that dramatic. Shortening the generation makes a 20% drop in birthrates look like total collapse.

It is interesting that the Boomers have had three presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), while the “Greatest Generation” (1905-1924)  had seven, controlling the White House for 28 years, from 1961 until 1989. The “Silent Generation” (1925-1944) had none.

If either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump serves two terms, the Boomers would claim Presidential membership for 32 years. There might be another generation skipping event. That would fit with my musings about GenX as a Lost Generation back in 2012.

Does any of this matter in your business? It probably does, if only because we are so conscious of our generational identities today, and they are about to become a political football.

When I post articles about the generations, I’m taken aback by the vitriol in some comments. Nasty cracks are to be expected, but these run to a common theme. “You Boomers frittered away our birthright, spent us into bankruptcy and are leaving us (GenX and the Millennials) holding the bag.”

Wait a minute, The Boomers fueled the longest period of sustained economic growth in our history. As workers, they funded the retirement and medical care for two generations who had put little or nothing into the system. The social programs they paid for were clearly created long before 1989. Why should they take the blame for a system they didn’t create, and kept afloat for the last forty years?

Because the bill for those programs is coming due, and paying for it going to be a huge, long-term burden on our economy. Someone must be to  blame, and there is no satisfaction in hanging it on Grandma and Great-grandpa.

The youngest Boomers are turning 51 this year. We will be business owners for another fifteen to twenty years. In another three  years, roughly half of our workers will be Millennials.

The “Generational Differences” seminars that business owners need aren’t just about how to deal with employees who think differently and hold different values. We need some idea of how to deal with workers who are facing a sluggish economy and higher taxes, and who are being told that the blame rests squarely on the boss.

Do you know a business owner who would enjoy Awake at 2 o’clock? Please share!

Categories: Economic Trends, Entrepreneurship, Exit Planning, Leadership, Managing Employees, Strategy and Planning... Bookmark this post.

2 Responses to Generational Differences and Identity Politics

  1. Eugenia says:

    The boomers and the millennials should appreciate the strength, knowledge and understanding of each generation, by so doing an effective structure can emerge which could yield high valuable growth and benefits for both generation.

  2. Bradley Chilcote says:

    I believe it all comes down to empathetic listening on each generational level. This takes active listening to another level where you connect with another’s core emotional being, in addition to understanding the message. Seek first to understand and apply the platinum rule (treat others the way they want to be treated). Working with multiple generations also requires informed leadership styles: not the leadership based on the “seat of your pants”, but leadership that is adapted based on the study and application of leadership principles. Yes, different generations are products of their political, economic, and cultural environments; but this isn’t a bad thing. It has been established through many studies that the more diverse a team is, the stronger it is!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *