Talking to the Generations
by Cheryl Cran

Nowadays in order to be an effective communicator we not only need to know how to adapt to different personality types, we also need to know the different generational issues that can create conflict in the workplace.

The dynamics we have today are unique to our era in that the work values have made a dramatic shift with the younger generations. This has caused harsh judgements and criticism of values within the work environment, which hinders performance of individuals and overall team success.

We need to begin by first seeking to understand, as Steven Covey of 7 Habits would say. If we can begin to understand what is important to each generation and then learn to see things in a wider perspective we can begin to build bridges of communication and heighten tolerance towards the differences in values and ultimately collaboration.

Let's look at the different generations and their values in general:

  1. The Veteran age group is generally those that are 55 and older. This generation is post war and their nature is to be loyal to a single employer and they expect the same loyalty displayed towards themselves. Because this generation did not grow up with material wealth in most cases they tend to be frugal and do not understand the need to use debt to build business or the need for anyone to have debt at all. In the workplace they show up on time and they take orders - they do as they are told and they respect their boss as well as their elders.

  2. The Baby boomer age group is generally 35 to 54 and are the children of the Veterans. They grew up with little in the way of toys or nice clothes and vowed to give their children everything they couldn't have as children. In most cases baby boomers grew up earning an allowance and understood the principle of working to earn a living. In general they left home at the age of 18 and survival was a real issue. If you told a baby boomer to do something at work or else they would be fired - they would do it because they were afraid of not being able to pay the bills. In the workplace they have a mentality of work, work, work and then you die.

  3. The Generation X age group is typically 23 to 34 and are the product of the baby boomers. A lot of generation X grew up with both parents working and saw their baby boomer parents get laid off or witnessed them being miserable in their jobs. This helped shape their current value system, which is "I am going to have a life first and work will come second". It is generation X who is pushing for flex hours, 4-day work weeks, paid sabbaticals for education and paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers. In the workplace you cannot threaten a gen X to do something or they will get fired because they don't care. Most generation X's live at home until the age of 26 and do not have the same survival issues that the baby boomers had. Their main goal is to have fun at work, make a buck and have a life.

  4. The Generation Y is 22 and younger. I think they are called generation Y because that is the question they often ask "why?" These are the children of baby boomers and so far are one of the most creative generations we have seen in a long time. Generation Y want to work where they are allowed creative expression, flexible approach and control over their own hours. In the workplace they show little loyalty because they know they will have about 10 careers in their lifetime. They get bored very quickly and need incentive to work other than just a paycheck.

When we look at the value differences at a glance notice your judgements about the generational values that do not match your own. Notice we may label an attitude or value as right or wrong. This is one cause of conflict and communication breakdown in the workplace. We need to build our sensitivity around understanding where a person may be coming from based on their generation. A master communicator learns to recognize the differing perspectives among the generations and then to come up with creative solutions that appeal to each of the different generational belief systems.

Other articles or sites on the topic of generations:

Cheryl Cran is the author of "Say What You Mean- Mean What You Say" and an International Speaker who specializes in communication strategies for improved leadership, teams and customer care. Visit for additional insight and contact information.

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Copyright 2003 by Cheryl Cran. All rights reserved.

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