We as a populace like to compartmentalize and label things in an attempt to understand and predict actions and thoughts. We create stereotypes for groups of people. And with four generations (Boomers and Generations X, Y and Z) in the workforce, each bringing its own set of values and attitudes, it produces a lot of generational interaction and opportunities for negative stereotypes to flair. When we allow negative generational stereotypes to creep up into our interactions with bosses, employees, colleagues, clients, etc. it creates unnecessary tension and a toxic environment and devalues people.
“There’s a considerable amount of fear, grief, blame, and stereotyping going on. We’re now living in an era of disruption, and it’s forcing us out of the Industrial Era model that’s been prevalent for centuries. ...We need to stop blaming young people for being difficult to work with, and instead recognize that change is happening . . . ," our CEO Sarah Sladek remarked in a recent interview.
What steps can we take to combat negative stereotypes?
1. Understand why generational differences exist and recognize that certain events and/or parenting styles shaped each generation.
2. Remember that each generation also has unique skills to be promoted, and can that characteristic that you consider to be negative, can it be reframed into something positive?
3. Consider if the stereotype is really true, or just a thought perpetuated without basis.
Here’s how we can reexamine a common stereotype for each generation.
Baby Boomers don’t like to try new things and are technologically illiterate. Unfortunately, the Senate’s questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to reinforce this stereotype. To be fair, many of those Senators are Traditionalists born before 1946. It would be good to remember that Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs, ironically both born in 1955, are Boomers. Tech has been around awhile, and consider the millions of developers, engineers, and programmers who worked on products and software for companies like IBM, Atari, Motorola, Norton or Adobe during the ‘70s through ‘90s. While Boomers were born into a period of affluence, they were also the largest demographic to be born to date which also meant a lot of competition for jobs, especially during times of economic recession. They’ve had to keep their skills sharp and reinvent themselves to land a job a time or two.
Generation X are negative cynics and skeptical of everything. The cynicism can be blamed on a childhood that saw a president resign, saw gas shortages, divorce rates soar, and 24-hour cable news introducing us to hijackings and hostage situations. However, questioning and being anti-authority can push for new ideas and new ways of doing business if channeled in a positive way.
Generation Y, aka Millennials, are to blame for everything. Toys R Us partially blamed them for the demise of the company. A New York Times article specifically called out Millennials when disclosing adults lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust, but didn’t explain why they were called out. Because they are now the largest demographic born, and as such, it seems lots of blame and fear is thrown their way. They are the first generation of the Post-Industrial era and significant changes and disruptions shaped their childhood. Of course, it’s not going to be business as usual with this group. Here is where many of Gen Ys stereotypes could be reframed as positive or adjustments can be made to fit their characteristics.
Generation Z, pay them no attention because they are young and stupid. How else can you explain teens eating Tide Pods? There’s a lot to unpack with that sentiment, but we can safely say that older generations did stupid stuff too, it just wasn’t shared on social media. And what one calls stupid, couldn’t another person call it curiosity? As for not paying attention to them, you’d be wise to not ignore this group. They’ve been raised to be competitive and achieve high academic marks. They know how to mobilize and have tools at their fingertips to share their message with many.
It’s important to address negative generational issues in order to allow employees and organizations to flourish. First is to understand why generational differences exist for which XYZ University offers Generations@Work that provides that background. Second is to promote the positive and reframe the negative. Third is to consider if the stereotype is just a myth.
Check out XYZ University’s events page where webinars and workshops are offered on various generational issues and topics including a May 22, 2018 Generations@Work half-day workshop in Minneapolis, Minn.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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