Dr. Tina Brush’s talk, titled “Avoiding Generational Train Wrecks,” focused on informing breakfast guests on how each generation views the world as well as how a generation is now defined.
“We typically think of generations today as groups of people who experience similar significant life events during their formative years. ... But the formative years are generally the ages of 10 to 15. In there [is] a significant event that is going on in your world, and these things affect your language, the use of technology, your personal appearance and your attitudes and behavior,” Brush said. “It’s those [influences] that cause us to have this thing we call a generation gap.”
Brush divided the generations into four groups: traditionals, born before 1945; baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 and Generation Y, born between 1981 and 1999, which Brush also referred to as millennials. Though baby boomers and the other generations form a majority of the workforce today, Brush said millennials would comprise 50 percent of the workforce in six years. The rising number of millennials in the workforce, she continued, will conflict with the amount of other generations continuing to work.
“In the past people came into organizations, they did their thing, advanced through their organization and they left. Today we’re not leaving, and we have for the first time in history, four generations trying to work together and move forward,” Brush said.
Aspects of the four generations, Brush said, are broadly defined as traditionals respecting authority because it is authority; baby boomers being considered workaholics who like order; Generation X having an independent streak; and millennials seeking instruction and rationale on how to do their job.
“There’s variability in every generational group. Some traditionals act like millennials, think like millennials, and there are some millennials who think and act like baby boomers. But in general there’s certain attitudes and behaviors and expectations that tend to fit into the generation groups,” she said.
As a result of various expectations and attitudes, Brush explained, millennials can be seen as lazy and entitled.
“This is one thing I want you to remember, because we complain the most about millennials: they’re the only ones in the workforce that will listen to you. They expect you to tell them what to do. They expect you to give them feedback,” she said.
Overcoming the divides between generations can be done by focusing on what they have in common, Brush said. All the generations want to succeed, be appreciated, know the rules, have clear communication, enjoy a meaningful life and feel comfortable. Each generation will attempt to reach these goals in different ways, Brush added, so it is important to remember how each generation views the world.
“The problem when we define people this way we’re trying to make them fit into our holes when, in fact, they can’t. They don’t wear the same set of glasses that we do if they are in a different generation. They’ve grown up differently,” she said. “... Our goal in trying to avoid the train wrecks of the generations working together is trying to see the situation from their eyes, not our eyes. What we can do is learn quite a bit. In addition to using technology, we can learn very refreshing insights by seeing how they see the situation we’re grappling with instead of coming in thinking we know how it’s got to be.”