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The Cross-Generational Workplace
their career choices, their sense of what is possible in
work-all are determined in part by tl1c ccononues tl1ey
grow up in. Leaders and heroes are also important­
national and international figures who define the values
of the rimes. And then there arc a generation’s defining
moments: events that capture the attention and emo­
tions of thousands-if not millions-of individuals at a
formative stage of their lives. An old saying holds tl1at
“people resemble their tirnes more than their parents.”
This is the tempo of the times, and both die individuals
a11d the cohort acquire defining rhythms almost with­
out being aware of it-the first headlines to inspire and
awe, to horrify and thrill; the music that plays in tl1e
background of d1eir lives as. they grow up, fall in love,
fal.l out of love.
(5) The tl1ree generations that occupy today’s workplace and the fourth generation that is entering it are
clearly defined by all these criteria. Their differences
can be a source of creative strength and opportunity or
a source of stress and conflict. Understanding genera­
tional differences is critical to making chem work for
the organization and not against it. It is critical co cre­
ating harmony, mutual respect, and joint effort instead
of suspicion, mistrust, and isolation.
(6) The four cohorts that characterize the modern
workplace can be identified by their dates of birtl1.
W hile generalizations are always dangerous (including
tl1is one), the following are tl1e groups vying for power
and position in most companies.
How Generations Differ
(4) In addition to the coincidence of birth, a gencrn­
tion is also defined by common preferences, attitudes,
and experiences; a generational cohort is a product of
its times and tastes. Those times encompass a wide
range of circumstances-economic, political, and
social. The prosperity or scarcity of the society at the
time that a generation is growing up shapes their gen­
eral confidence in life-or lack thereof. Their first job,
(7) • The Veterans (1922-1943). Those born prior co
Wi,)rld War II and those whose memories and
influences are associated with that event. They
are characterized by civic pride, loyalty, respect
for authority. In the workplace, chis group is pri­
marily men; gender roles are stereotypical, with
most of the women occupying traditional roles of
teacher, nurse, and secretary. ln d1eir day, corpo­
rate men wore white shirts and ties to work and
arrived and departed with their hats on. They
are traditionalisrs, and while they have seen a lot
of change, they are not typically happy with it.
Today, they attend more symphonies tl1an rock
concerts, watch more plays than play in pick-up
softball games, and cat more steak than rofu.
(8) • The Baby Roomers (1943-1960). Those born
during or after World War II and raised in an
era of extreme optimism, opportunity, and
progress.They are the civil rights generation, the
protesters working for empowerment and indi­
vidual rights, leaders in the sexual revolution.
They work 60-hour weeks and engage in com­
munity projects and international causes. This
is the generation shaped by the Vietnam War,
environmental activism, and general prosperity.
They are optimistic and confident that they can
get things done, and they are used co getting
their way.
(9) • Generation Xcrs (1960-1980). Those born
just before or during the V ietnam War and
those raised in the emerging world economy
anchored by the U.S. and Japan.They are tech­
nologically adept, clever, and resourceful and
more interested in new software than comfort­
able offices. They are comfortable wicJ1 change;
after all, they have changed cities, homes, and
parents all cJ1eir lives.They arc, indeed, cJ1e new
change masters. They are very clear about the
meaning of balance in their lives: Work is ,vork
and play is play; they work to live, not live to
years do bind them together in important ways. Table 1
provides a summary of the importanc characteristics of
the generations.
(12) There have always been multiple generations
working in companies, but in traditional organizations,
age groups were segregated from each other by rigid
hierarchy and tradition.In t
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