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Different Generations in the Workplace

Posted on 28 January 2011

Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers march to different drummers.

From landing a job to setting career objectives to deciding when to leave, the ways Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers approach their jobs contrast dramatically.

Given the technology growth in the last 20 years, it’s not surprising that Gen-X’ers are more likely to take advantage of technology; they tend to be more flexible when it comes to handling change. Yankelovich Partners, a major research firm, defines Boomers as born between 1946 and 1964, and Gen-X’ers as born from 1965 to the present.

Technology Gap

Gen-X’ers are far more likely than Boomers to rely on the Internet and other high-tech tools–particularly in job searching and networking, says Shelly Field, a stress management specialist and author of 25 books including 100 Best Careers for the 21st Century and The Unofficial Guide to Hot Careers.

When Baby Boomers need a job, they go to the classifieds. The first thing Gen-X’ers do is go online.

“Generally, Baby Boomers are used to getting jobs in more traditional ways,” she says. “They need a job, they go to the classifieds in newspapers. Gen-X’ers do things in the new way. The first thing they do when job searching is go online.”

Even communication with other employees and networking with contacts fall on opposite sides of the technology line. Boomers attend meetings and power lunches and Gen-X’ers are more likely to contact others via their PCs. “Instant messaging, e-mailing–these are all things that Baby Boomers didn’t have growing up,” Field explains.

In addition to being more technically savvy, Gen-X’ers are more adaptable in their vocations after growing up in a constantly shifting environment, says Carol Allen, editorial director for Day Job, a book and Web site that explore the Gen-X workplace.

“Gen-X’ers are much more comfortable with change, simply because they are used to it,” Allen says. “These were latchkey kids, the kids whose parents were divorced.”

Boomers, on the other hand, often come from more secure backgrounds, leading them to seek stability at work as well. According to Allen, “they were of the age when there was a corporate ladder to climb and they were going to climb it.”

Shared Concerns

Despite the generation gap, Boomers and Gen-X’ers can learn a lot from each other. Gen-X’ers can take their cue from Boomers and look to the long term. Conversely, the older generation has learned to carry the Gen-X mantra of ‘don’t worry.’

“Gen-X’ers don’t panic as much when there are layoffs because they know they’re going to be able to find another job,” says Field. “Boomers are sometimes more concerned, but they’ve picked up the Gen-X idea of ‘If nothing works out, we’ll start our own business.’”

Even if they haven’t faced layoffs, Fields adds, Gen-X’ers are more likely to leave a secure position in search of a more fulfilling job. “Generation X has grown up thinking that you are supposed to like what you do, and they have learned that every job is a stepping stone to another opportunity,” she says.

This is made easier because Gen X-ers don’t identify themselves by what they do, as Boomers will. “It’s not a question of loyalty: Gen Xers are loyal while they’re there, but when it’s time to leave, they don’t have a problem moving from one job to the next,” says Allen.

The Family Way

Shannon Hottovy is a Gen X-er who worked as a computer support technician for the Supreme Court of Nebraska until differences with her boss led her to quit. She says of her peers: “If we don’t have fun at work, if we don’t like it, we’ll quit. You have to be happy at work–never dread it.”

Shannon’s mother Janice, on the other hand, is a Baby Boomer who has worked for the past 20 years as a traffic clerk for Lincoln Snack Company; she supported her daughter’s decision to quit but doesn’t always understand her motives. “It’s the different way we were raised,” Janice says. “We have more patience; we know that nothing stays the same, so if there’s something you don’t like at your job, it will eventually change.

“I’m comfortable with what I’m doing,” she adds. “I have four weeks vacation and only five more years left to work.”

Despite their differences, says Field, both generations have the same goals. “Everybody wants a good job. They go about finding it differently and doing it differently,” she says. “Gen-X’ers will hold many more jobs in their lifetime than Baby Boomers because they’re not afraid to get up and leave for a new opportunity.”

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. MyATM says:

    Hopefully age differences in the workplace will not affect the performance of the worker. Constant training for employees are essential to be updated of the latest trend in their respective industry. Cheers!

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