HR Glossary: Generations at Work

Human Resource professionals must be familiar with a vast vocabulary, spanning from the legal world to psychology and sociology terms.  At a professional organization meeting I attended this morning, I had the pleasure of listening to an organizational consultant speak about employee retention and engagement–a very important topic in my world.  Her presentation was filled with a variety of factoids of which I hadn’t been aware.  One little tiny piece of constructive feedback I have, though, is that she got the Generations wrong.   generations

During her talk, she referenced the challenges presented to employers by Generation Y employees.  But what she meant was Generation X and Generation Y.  She stated that Gen Y includes employees just entering the workforce (i.e., 18 years old), through individuals aged 31.  This is not quite accurate.  Here’s what she probably meant to say:

Traditionalists are actually two generations (“Matures” and “Silents”) who share similar values and behaviors who were born between the start of the 20th century and the end of World War II (1900-1945).  This generation is characterized by rigidity, privacy, and loyalty.

Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964 during the Post-World War II baby boom,  the largest generation ever born in the U.S.  This generation is known for its love affair with rock ‘n roll, Woodstock, and its experiences with the civil rights movement and Watergate.

Generation X includes individuals born between 1965 and 1980 grew up with celebrity figures that included Madonna, Oprah, and Michael Eisner.  Because the Baby Boomer parents of Gen X included working mothers, Gen X was left to fend for itself and the concept of the latchkey kid became prevalent. As a result, this generation is particularly independent and resilient.

Generation Y (also known as “Millennials”) represent the youngest workers in today’s workplace, being born between 1981 and 1999.  Raised by Baby Boomers, who coddled and protected in a way that they’d not been cared for by their own parents, Gen Y believes that it really can do anything and, as a result, tends to see very low penalty associated with frequent job changes and even career changes.  Gen Y engages in “real-time learning” as a result of constant digital access to resources such as YouTube and Google.  One defining feature of this generation is their general lack of awareness of the concept of a chain of command–something that can put a Baby Boomer or Traditionalist into a tailspin. 

For other posts on Generational Issues in the Workplace, see:

Why Recruiters Need to Understand the Helicopter Parent
How to Use Reverse Mentoring as a Retention Tool for Gen Y Employees
Gen Y Demands Employers Open the Checkbook for Technology Requests
The Connection Between Training and Employee Retention, According to Gen Y
What Makes a Good Leader? If You Lead Gen Y’s, You’d Better Find Out.
Knock It Off, Gen Y: 3 Ways You’re Driving Your Boss Crazy

One thought on “HR Glossary: Generations at Work

  1. One thing that people do that I disagree with is use dates to define the Millenial Generation. The Millenial (or ANY) generation should be defined in terms of the CHARACTERISTICS an individual has, NOT his or her year of birth. For example, even a 50 – year – old who is tech – savvy, open – minded to diversity of all kinds, and likes the latest in pop culture is a Millenial, while a 20 – year – old who does not have the internet or a cell phone, only supports racial diversity, and likes the Beatles is a Baby Boomer.


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