In the last century, there have been four equally unique generations in the United States. These generations are known as the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Traditionalists were born from 1900-1945, Baby Boomers from 1946-1964, Generation X from 1965-1980, and Millennials from 1981-2000. Each of these generations have many aspects that make them all distinct: influences, values, attributes, family lifestyle, view on education, work ethic, and motivation. While the four most recent generations are results of the individual aspects of which they are comprised of, they have each been distinct.
By comparing the four most recent generations, individuals can understand how to foster productive relationships and gain insight by seeing through the lens of other perspectives. The primary cause of differences in generations and acting as a strong indicator to differentiate generations is the influences on the generation. Traditionalists were heavily influenced by the effects of the Great Depression, New Deal, World War II, beginning of the Cold War, and the rise of corporations. On the other hand, Baby Boomers were influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, the majority of the Cold War, and the Space Race. As children, Baby Boomers were told to pursue the “American Dream.
” This pursuit of the “American Dream” resulted in many becoming covetous, materialistic, and overly ambitious. On the contrary, Generation X was influenced by turbulent government scandals, the rise of dual income families, the majority of children being left unsupervised for extended periods of time, the Oil Crisis of 1973, a large increase of working mothers, and an drastic increase in the number of divorces which resulted in the rise of single parents. They were heavily influenced by having to become self-sufficient at an earlier age than previous generations and reaching maturity in a time where the United States was beginning to decline as a world leader. In contrast, Millennials were influenced by an expanding amount of digital media, a world focused on investing in children, increasingly frequent terrorist attacks at home and around the world, typically growing up with divorced parents and constant stimulation when young. The majority of Millennials ended up being extremely sheltered due to parents trying to protect their children from the ever increasing dangers in the outside world. As Neil Howe states, “millennials have grown up as the focus of one of the most intense child-protection movements in American history, a crusade that has given us drug-free zones and childproof homes, school uniforms and bicycle helmets, V-chips and urban curfews, AMBER alerts and the in loco parentis school and college” (p.
2). Many Millennials can be defined as self-righteous as they work to be a generation with a positive mark in history by fixing the “wrongs” done by past generations in the current world. The core values of each generation are results of their influences, and are a defining characteristic of the generations.
Traditionalists valued discipline, respecting and not questioning authority, dedication, conformity, loyalty, patriotism, and trusting the government. Over everything else, Traditionalists valued family and community. Contrarily, Baby Boomers value optimism, youth, growth, making a positive impact, ending war, limiting government, questioning authority, being a successful person, and treating every person as an equal. In comparison, Generation X values diversity, education, informality, disorganization, enjoying oneself, independence, and their overall cynicism. Generation X is also known to seek balance of work and outside life and highly value thinking with a mindset to do something for the greater good.
On the other hand, Millennials value high tolerance for others, good morals, technological advancements, living in the moment, nihilistic optimism, knowing useful life skills, being social, and diversity. Many Millennials are known to overvalue buying on credit, living in the moment, and having a fun experiences with others. Out of everything they value, Millennials strive to be unique. Another defining trait which distinguishes each generation from the other are the general attributes of the generation. Traditionalists are known to be loyal, respectful, ethical, efficient, conservative, and competent individuals. An overall respect for rules and authority drive the dedication of this generation for which it is infamous for.
Traditionalists have adapted to technology, but do not have a high reliance on it. Conversely, Baby Boomers are defined by their ambition, competition, idealism, optimism, political correctness, high education, and consumerism. A major attribute of this generation is its overall negative attitude toward government. Baby Boomers are more knowledgeable than the previous generation in regards to technology, but do not rely on it heavily. On one hand, Generation X is distinct in it’s ethics, adaptability, confidence, drive, responsibility, and willingness to work hard.
The most distinct trait of this generation is its desire for independence and self-sufficiency. Generation X workers have become reliant on technology for working, and have ample knowledge to operate the technology. On the other hand, Millennials are easily seen to be aimlessly ambitious, team-oriented, sheltered, well educated, focused on diversity, innovative, and geared for political correctness. However, the easiest characteristic of a Millennial to notice is their knowledge of and high reliance on technology. While they play a relatively small effect on the shaping of a generation, the family lifestyle and view on education are unique to each generation, and help to tell one generation apart from another. For Traditionalist children, a good education was a goal to be met.
If attained, the resulting knowledge was highly valued in society. Unlike Traditionalists, Baby Boomers viewed a thorough education as a birthright for all. It was expected for somebody to have a good education and to use it well. In contrast, In Generation X, the value of education declined in the eyes of society. Instead of a necessity, education became a means to an end. That end being a well-paying career for the children to eventually find themselves in. Continuing this trend, Millennials view education as less than the two generations before it.
As the cost for a strong education increases, the return on investment decreases, and the value of education, especially higher-level education, declines in society. As expected of such diverse generations, they each have unique work ethics. As Shannon Gausepohl (qtd.
in Cascotti) states, “Every person comes into the office with different life experiences, perspectives and views, which is valuable to the company … Having varying perspectives of seeing the world helps you to see more of the landscape and your company’s spot in it, and that’s a great thing.”(par. 3). Traditionalists are well known for their dedication, hard work, respect, and putting the needs of the company before the needs of the individual. According to the West Midland Family Center (WMFC), for Traditionalists, “Authority is based on seniority and tenure” (p.
4). In comparison, Baby Boomer workers have a reputation for being driven workaholics who produced quality results. According to the WMFC, the views from Baby Boomers on authority are “skeptical of authority but are becoming similar to Traditionalists” (p. 4). Similarly yet also differently, Generation X is known to focus on smarter and more efficient work, being self reliant, and working well under a well designed structure. As the WMFC states, Generation X workers are “Skeptical of authority figures,” and “Will test authority repeatedly.” (p.
4). In contrast, Millennial workers are infamous for being ambitious and working on multiple tasks at one time. According to the WMFC states, Millennials “will test authority…” (p. 4).
In addition, Millennials have proven to appreciate and sometimes expect to be mentored at work. As White states, “In 2014, 47% of Millennials said they wanted to be mentored by their bosses, a figure that actually crept up by one percentage point in this year’s survey, even though these workers have two more years of work experience under their belts, and many are even becoming managers themselves” (par. 9).
To support this, the WFMC also states that Millennial workers will “…
often seek out authority figures when looking for guidance” (p. 4).As work ethic and values of each generation are distinct, it comes naturally for there to be differences in motivation for each generation. Traditionalists are motivated by being respected, trusted, and having a secure livelihood through money as compensation for their hard work.Contrarily, Baby boomers like to be validated, being a necessary part of something, and being a valued worker. In addition, they are highly motivated by money, as it is a symbol of status in for the generation. As stated by One Digital, Baby Boomers “are motivated by recognition, want to feel valued, and appreciate monetary rewards” (p.
2). Conversely, Generation X workers are motivated by being left to their own devices, having limited restrictions, being able to have time away from work to take a break, and money as compensation for their work. As stated by One Digital, Generation X workers “…prefer to operate as entrepreneurs and are motivated by freedom, removal of rules and time off. When interacting with HR, they prefer casual information sessions” (p. 3).
In contrast, Millennial workers strive to work with others who are of similar skill to them and having free time during work to socialize. Millennials view salary as just a payment for their fair share of work. In conclusion, research indicates the difference between the four most recent generations are very apparent. Each generation has unique influences, values, attributes, family lifestyles, views on education, work ethics, and motivation.
For all generations, there are many factors that combine to form create something which is is truly distinct. Understanding the beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral norms of each generation is key to harnessing the positive energy of each generation and fostering healthy interpersonal relationships.