Generations at Work

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Much has been written and discussed regarding the generational differences in the workplace, so I thought it might be helpful to identify and update what have become the names and birth-year spans of the generations of the 20th– 21st Centuries. Please keep in mind that those born close to the generations before or after their own will often share those respective characteristics, as defined by historians, marketers and various individuals throughout the years. For example, a Gen Xer born in 1981 might exhibit many qualities of a Gen Yer. (Among the experts there are also some variations in the year-spans of each generation.)

The Greatest Generation (born 1901-1924) – fought and won two world wars and overcame the Great Depression, created a post-war boom economy and paved the way for the spectacular achievements of the 20th Century.  Famous Greatests: John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Ronald Reagan, Pete Seeger, Mother Theresa, Betty White, Andrew Wyeth. 

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) – came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, galvanized the modern civil rights and women’s movements, created the Counter Culture & Beat Generation and took us to the moon.  Famous Silents: Neil Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Thatcher.

The Baby Boom Generation (born 1946-1964) – grew up in the post-WWII economic boom, and the Cold War, rejected tradition, challenged authority, fought in Vietnam as well as protested the Vietnam conflict. Fought for major civil and consumer protection laws. Took a stand against racism, sexism and homophobia, and launched a social revolution. Famous Boomers: Hillary Clinton, George Clooney, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey. 

Generation X (The MTV Generation) (born 1965-1982) experienced the end of the Cold War and launch of the personal computer and took the workplace to high-tech tomorrowland, while maintaining its skepticism, rebellious and independent natures, adaptability, resourcefulness and free-spiritedness. Famous X’s:  Chelsea Clinton, Jack Dorsey, Eli Manning, Stephanie Meyer, Kate Middleton (Catherine – Duchess of Cambridge), Justine Timberlake. 

Generation Y (The Millennials) (born 1983-2003) – came of age with the Internet and has been shaped by the transition to the era, which took its earliest members by storm and their parents off-guard (and the latter are still recovering). Gen Y is also characterized by its intensely competitive spirit, accelerated college-attendance rate, increased ability to multi-task, enlightened social tolerance, decrease in empathy, disregard of many social conventions and, oh yes, that infamous sense of entitlement. The Millennials have also been referred to as the “echo generation,” because they comprise a baby boom reminiscent of the original Baby Boom Generation, following the low birth numbers of Generation X. Older Gen Yers are famously Internet and computer hardware/software knowledgeable, and younger Gen Yers are notably smart-device savvy. Millennials are also notable for their social media technical expertise. Famous Ys: Lady Gaga, Malia Ann Obama, Natasha Obama, Daniel Radcliff, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Mark Zuckerberg.

Generation Z (yet to be defined) (2004 – ?) are not yet legal adults, but they are poised to be the most digitally oriented generation yet. as been defined by the Digital Age into which it was born, its intuitive expertise in smart devices over computes, its impatience and need for instant gratification and speed, short-attention span, creative abilities, preference for variety and inclination to be brief (sometimes only 140 characters).  Famous Zs: Millie Bobby Brown, Caitlin Carmichael, Ella and Alexander Clooney, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Generations X and Y and Boomers Together in the Workplace 

The average workplace includes a mix of Generations X and Y and the Boomers, and the differences between generational attitudes and work habits have dramatically affected the workplace, both positively and negatively. And, of course, there is a mix of generations in most educational facilities. This is something to be celebrated, because each generation has something special to offer and can benefit from what I like to think of is a cross pollination of knowledge and expertise!

The Boomers have been in charge of American business, industry and the professions since the 1970s. However, as they retire, Gen Xers and Yers move into top management spots. From my experience, it is very smart of younger professionals and trainees to take advantage of the expertise of those Boomer professionals while they are still around.

Boomers have also been in charge of American politics since the 1990s when Bill Clinton moved into the White House. The eldest of Generation Y will be age-qualified in 2018 to be President of the United States. However, Gen Yers have been running for other political offices; Aaron Shock, who according to Time Magazine was the first Gen Yer to be elected to Congress at the age of 27.  It will be awhile before Gen Y takes charge of the planet, notwithstanding Mark Zuckerberg’s extraordinary success, wealth and power.  

Meanwhile, Millennials (with Gen Z coming up fast) are or will be looking for promotions, jobs and internships. New grads will be interviewing for those first positions to begin forging careers.  And, while Millennials are technologically brilliant, creative, resourceful, enthusiastic, energetic, educated, and egalitarian, and possess a can-do spirit, they continue to face challenges in landing jobs and launching and advancing their careers because of two primary factors:

  1. Economic and Political Challenges: Millennials have and continue to come of professional age in challenging economic and political climates. Although there has been economic improvements, college tuition is still going through the roof and the job market remains highly competitive. 
  2. Lack of Workplace Professionalism: Focus on education, achievement and competitiveness has been at the heart of the Gen Y upbringing.  But many employers complain about Gen Yers’ lack of skills in workplace etiquette and protocol, empathy and even ethics.  Employers don’t always have the resources or appetite to train students and young professionals in professional decorum – promptness, attendance, teamwork, communications (other than texting and Facebook), consideration and respect for corporate hierarchy, empathy for coworkers and other interpersonal skills.

As it stands, many Gen Yers continue to scramble to master those essential soft skills while conducting job searches, and later while settling into – and trying to keep — jobs.  On the upside, employers appreciate and value Gen Y’s hard skills, open-mindedness and eagerness to learn, as well as their respect for and acceptance of the multicultural workplace.

That all said, continuing to take advantage of professional development in the soft skills wherever and whenever possible will sharpen and increase the competitive edge and career advantage for anyone of any generation.

Until next time,



This post was updated on March 8, 2018.

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