By Andreas Fried, VP, Product Development & Senior Advisor of Universal Consensus

This blog aims to clarify how U.S. generational differences influence the U.S. workplace and if these patterns are translatable to other countries across the globe.

Background: Generational Shifts Impacting the U.S. Workplace

There is little doubt generational shifts impact the workplace. When baby boomers and Gen Y are collaborating in the workplace – there is a significant risk of friction because of the generational divide. There are plenty of studies highlighting the differences in attitudes between different generations. SHRM’s extensive Generational Differences Survey Report is one of the more comprehensive studies. Most researchers acknowledge that each generation shares certain thoughts, values, and behaviors because of the shared events and environments that formed their lives.[i] I think we can all recognize, based on our own experience that your generation differs from your parents’ and grandparents’.

Traditionals (1922-1943): Were strongly formed by the 1930s depression and the Second World War. They are more regimented, conservative, emphasizing of frugalness, preferring of formality, and base decisions on what has worked in the past. They are loyal and hardworking.

Baby Boomers (1943-1963): Boomers were influenced by the Vietnam War, the civil rights riots, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Woodstock, and the freewheeling 60s. They put emphasis on work but many have grown up questioning authorities. Boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence.

Generation X (1964-1980): grew up in a time of early technology shift, financial, familial, and societal insecurity. They are generally seen as independent, resilient, and adaptable. Work-life balance is becoming more central than among previous generations.

Generation Y (1980-2000): Grew up in a more child-centric period and received a great deal of attention. They have been heavily influenced by technology shifts. Gen Y has grown up in a connected world with technology at their fingertips. They value genuine social responsibility and meaningful work.[ii]

generational differences business

Do U.S. Generational Differences Exist Globally?

So, do U.S. generational differences exist globally? If we limit ourselves to looking at this from a business environment context, then we can see some distinct patterns emerge. In essence, while similar generational divides exist among countries in western world, in emerging economies, Gen Y is the only generation with some common features across borders. This does not mean that Baby Boomers in the U.S. and Europe are the same or that Gen-Y in Germany and Brazil have much in common – but there are some common patterns.

To better understand this we need to look at the years that have influenced generations in other major cultures:

In China, it is estimated that 36 million died due to starvation during the Great Chinese Famine in the early 1960s. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution which lasted a decade and ended 1976, China’s education system was brought to a virtual halt. One can imagine the impact these two events have had on the formations of the generations that grew up during these troubled times.

In Russia and former Soviet republics for example, generations which grew up prior to the fall of communism share few similarities with their Western counterparts. In Japan, employees entering work life in the latter half of the 1980s through Japan’s economic bust in the early 1990s is known as the “Bubble Generation”. The bubble-generation was an untroubled and spend-thrifty generation – quite different from its American Gen X peers.

This pattern of pre-Gen Y’s global divergence repeats itself in non-Western countries. Although there is a slow convergence among Gen Ys, most of the change is occurring at a “visible” level; technology usage, fashion, popular culture etc. Values and behavior will change more gradually. Most of the generational merging is also happening at the top of the social pyramid – among people most exposed to technology and cross-cultural influence.

However, great examples of continued differences are the differences between Chinese Gen Y and their Western peers. Chinese Gen Ys are often referred to as “little emperors”. They were born under the one-child policy of the ruling communist party. In a country with limited social safety nets and where children often care for the elderly, a single child may have to support two parents and four grandparents. This is a huge burden and differs substantially from Western Gen Ys who are much more carefree and unconcerned and if anything more worried about their own pension than about their parents’ pension.

Further Reading

When it comes to productively handling generational as well cultural differences – awareness is key. if either side is unaware of why the counterpart is reasoning or behaving a certain way that may lead to a relationship breakdown which cannot be fixed. Contact us to learn more. For those wishing a deeper understanding of generational differences here are some recommendations for further reading:

All generations

W. Stanton Smith (2010), Decoding Generational Differences: Changing Your Mindset…Without Losing Your Mind. W. Stanton Smith, LLC. ISBN: 9781450742450

Deal, J. J. (2007). Retiring the generation gap: How employees young and old van find common ground. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN: 0787985252

Lancaster, L. C., & Stillman, D. (2003). When generations collide: Who they are. Why they clash. How to solve the generational puzzle at work. New York: Collins. ISBN: 0066621070.

Martin, C. A. & Tulgan, B. (2002). Managing the generation mix: From collision to collaboration. Amherst, MA: HRD Press. ISBN: 0874256593

Raines, C. (2003). Connecting generations. Crisp Learning, ISBN: 1560526939

Salkowitz, R. (2008). Generation blend: Managing across the technology age gap. Hoboken, N.J. : John Wiley & Sons. ISBNN: 0470193964

Thau, R. D. & Heflin (1997). Generations apart: Xers vs. boomers vs. the elderly. Prometheus Books, ISBN: 1573921742

Tulgan, B. (2006). Managing the generation mix (2nd ed.). HRD Press, Inc. ISBN: 087425941X.

Underwood, C. (2007). The generational imperative: Understanding generational differences in the workplace, marketplace, and living room. Book Surge Publishing, ISBN: 0979574501.

Ventura, S. (2006). Generations working together… What everyone needs to know and do. The Walk the Talk Company. ISBN: 1885228708

Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (1999). Generations at work: Managing the clash of veterans, boomers, Xers, and nexters in your workplace. AMACOM, New York. ISBN: 0814404804

Baby Boomers

Karp, H. (2002). Bridging the boomer — Xer gap: Creating authentic teams for high performance at work. Davies-Black Publishing. ISBN: 0891061592

Generation X

Howe, N., Strauss, W., Matson, R. J., & Williams, I. (1993). 13th gen: Abort, retry, ignore, fail? Vintage, ISBN: 0679743650

Leopold, R. S. (2007). The hows and whys of gen X benefits: Savvy companies know a strong benefits package is key to attracting and retaining this particular generation of employees. Best’s Review, 108, 38.

Muchnick, M. H. (1996). Naked management: Bare essentials for motivating the X-generation at work. CRC, ISBN: 1574440616

Muetel, M. R. (2003). They’re not aloof… Just generation X. Steel Bay Publishing. ISBN: 0974070025

O’Bannon, G. (2001). Managing our future: The generation X factor. Public Personnel Management, 30, 95.

Raines, C. (1997). Beyond generation X. Crisp Learning, ISBN: 1560524499

Tulgan, B. (1997). The manager’s pocket guide to generation X. HRD Press, ISBN: 0874254183

Tulgan, B. (2000). Managing generation X: How to bring out the best in young talent. W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN: 0393320758

20 Generational differences in the workplace

Generation Y

Chester, E. (2002). Employing generation why. Chess Press, ISBN: 0965144771

Egeler, D. (2003). Mentoring Millennials: Shaping the next generation. NavPress Publishing Group, ISBN: 1576833828

Howe, N., Strauss, W., & Matson, R. J. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. Vintage, ISBN: 0375707190

Huntley, R. (2001). The world according to Y: Inside the new adult generation. HRD Press, ISBN: 1741148456

Marston, C. (2007). Motivating the “What’s in it for me” workforce: Manage across the generational divide and increase profits. Wiley, ISBN: 0470124148

Martin, C. A. & Tulgan, B. (2001). Managing generation Y: Global citizens born in the late seventies and early eighties. HRD Press. ISBN: 0874256224.

Twenge, Jean M. (2007). Generation me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled — and more miserable than ever before. Free Press, ISBN: 0743276981

[i] Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak: Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace (1999)

[ii] Niemiec: Finding common ground for all ages. Security Distributing and Marketing (2002)

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