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Which Generation Works The Hardest?

Last week I spoke at a corporate event where younger generations were getting a tongue-lashing from their Baby Boomer counterparts. The Boomers were scolding Generation Y for needing constant feedback, being unable to prioritize, and wanting to have (gasp!) fun at work.

Last week I spoke at a corporate event where younger generations were getting a tongue-lashing from their Baby Boomer counterparts. The Boomers were scolding Generation Y for needing constant feedback, being unable to prioritize, and wanting to have (gasp!) fun at work.

Indeed, there’s a stereotype in many offices that younger employees–especially those born since the mid ’80s–are less responsible and unreliable.

It’s history repeating itself. Remember when Generation X entered the workforce? They were labeled as ‘slackers’ because they wanted flex-time.

And both the Xers and Ys will gladly sling mud at the Boomers, referring to them as ‘workaholics’ and ‘fuddy-duddies’.

There’s more than name-calling at work here. What these negative stereotypes really stem from are differences in productivity.

For a generation that followed the Industrial Revolution and was raised to value hard work, the perceived lack of Generation X and Y’s productivity drives the Boomers absolutely nuts. In fact, 68% of Boomers feel “younger people” do not have as strong a work ethic as they do and that makes doing their own work harder.

I don’t think the Boomers are doing the lion’s share of the work while Xers slack off and Ys seek pats on the back. Rather, productivity resembles something different for each generation.

  • Boomers (1946-1964) Productivity = DedicationBoomers tend to lean toward vision and values. They like inspiring mission statements, setting goals, fixing problems, and measure success in terms of quantity (i.e. hours spent on a project, years worked, etc.). They will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
  • Generation X (1965-1981) Productivity = ResultsXers tend to lean toward pragmatic, now-focused, results-oriented outcomes. They are inspired by calls to action, being efficient, rapid results, and work-life balance. Xers prefer being self-sufficient and want to be trusted that they can get the job done.
  • Generation Y (1982-1995) Productivity = CollaborationYs tend to lean toward collegial, collaborative, upbeat solutions. They like knowing how their participation makes a difference and the opportunity to do meaningful, challenging work. Ys prefer working in teams and want the opportunity to work whenever and wherever they want.

Individuals in all generations can and do value productivity, but they define productivity in very different ways and therein lies the rub; a key source for workplace conflict.

The fact is, no one generation is working more or less than  the other generations. But no two generations are working the same, either. We define work differently and we approach it differently based on our generation’s unique values, interests, and skills.

Take time to understand, or better yet accept, the different approaches to productivity in your workplace.

After all, fighting about which generation works the hardest certainly isn’t the most productive use of anyone’s time.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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