Generations at Work
Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace
Authors: Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, Bob Filipczak
Pub Date: March 2013
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432334
Page Count: 304
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432358
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The New Economic Reality and the
It’s been more than ten years since the first edition of Generations at
Work. The world has changed profoundly and so have our personal
circumstances. In 2004, we lost Ron Zemke, one of our original coauthors.
He was the driving force that led to the first book. Ron was a brilliant
writer, an even more brilliant presenter, and a great mind and mentor.
We still can’t stand in front of an audience without thinking of him
and, every time we get a laugh from the group, it’s because we are channeling
Ron’s spirit. In updating this book, there are phrases and paragraphs
and whole pages of the original that are pure Ron, and it hurts to
revise them. Just the act of deleting the words seems sacrilegious.
Fortunately Ron was nothing if not irreverent, so the idea that we would
attach religious potency to his writing would have him chasing us from
his office with heavy projectiles—as we fled for the elevator on the eighteenth
floor of Minneapolis’ Foshay Tower.
Suffice it to say, the world we live in has changed. In some ways, it
seems as if the earth has shifted on its axis. We find ourselves near the
end—we use that phrase with great hope and determination—of a dramatic
economic decline that has affected the entire world economy.
Recent years have seen a sharp increase in oil and food prices, a precipitous
drop in international trade, and low consumer confidence. The
European Union (EU) is stretched to its limits as it decides whether to
bail out the failing economies of Greece and Spain. Growth has slowed
in the formerly booming economies of China and India. In the United
States, the number of foreclosures and personal bankruptcies has skyrocketed.
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are unemployed.
The poor economy has even affected birthrates; according to Demographic
Intelligence, a company that produces quarterly birth forecasts,
birthrates in the United States are at their lowest in 25 years, “in large
part because unemployment and economic fear remain high” among
The first edition of this book focused on generational issues in the
United States where, in 2000, we were experiencing our ninth year of
economic expansion. For nine years running, the United States had
added more than two million workers a year to its payrolls. The unemployment
rate hovered around four percent. So it makes sense that our
first edition emphasized recruitment and retention, labor shortages, and
meeting the demands of workers who knew they were sorely needed.
Those workers knew that, if their current positions didn’t suit them to a
tee, they could get a job just across the street.
Today, employees from every generation are going back to the basics
and lowering their workplace expectations. Elizabeth Milligan, a recent
college graduate, describes the shift: “I think the current economic crisis
has changed things. I would have said a few years ago, ‘We’re really skilled.
We’re going to get jobs and we’re going to do something interesting.’ But
we recognize that the economy is bad. If we can get a paycheck, we’re
pretty lucky. Today we’re saying, ‘We just need jobs.’”2
The shifting sands of the economy are playing havoc with the generational
mix in virtually every organization. The Boomers—and even
some members of the generation before them—aren’t retiring as soon as
everyone thought. As a result, Generation X is feeling as if it has been
sentenced to an extended parole in middle management without much
room for movement. And some Millennials will spend their early “working
years” underemployed or even unemployed because the organizational
pipes are clogged with more experienced Boomers and Xers.
Even though the current economic climate might make compromise
on the part of employees and job seekers unavoidable, let’s not be
tempted to assume all those nagging differences among us will simply
evaporate. While employees of all ages are surely less confident and emboldened
than they were in 2000, history tells us that our tough economic
times will be temporary. Job seekers might acknowledge that today
they have to settle for less, and current employees might stay in their
jobs a little longer, but that doesn’t mean we will all perform at the highest
levels—unless and until we create a workplace environment that respects
and rewards workers of all ages. The cost to a business of replacing
a disgruntled employee who is fortunate enough to find a greener
pasture is approximately 2.5 times his or her annual salary. Now, more
than ever, that’s a cost few companies can afford.
In the first edition of Generations at Work, we made a case for a new
crisis in the workplace that could be solved, or partially solved, by recognizing
generational diversity. The work world was then at the beginning
of an awakening about generational issues, and our primary objective was
to convince readers that some common workplace complaints—lack of
respect and inability to work as a team, for example—could, in many cases,
be attributed to generational differences. We smiled to ourselves when
you shared with us your “ahh haaaa” moments via email and after speeches
and seminars. Awareness was raised. But in many cases, that’s as far as
it went. People got better at recognizing generational speed bumps—and
even seeing how they affected work relationships and results—but they
were often unsure how to navigate the speed bumps.
This edition is less about raising awareness, and more about problem
solving. We look at causes of generational behavior and approaches
that not only reduce conflict but actually make generational differences
an organizational asset. In these turbulent economic times, it is even
more critical that organizational leaders take steps that attract candidates
with the right skills, engage every employee to bring out the best
each has to offer, and create an environment that lowers anxiety, boosts
morale, and increases productivity. With that as our goal, we invite you
to read on and learn how to tap the potential of workers from all the
The generations vying with each other in today’s workplace, as we depict
them, are unique and a bit different than those commonly suggested by
others. For instance, we define the Baby Boom generation as those born
from 1943 to 1960. Others, particularly population demographers, define
the Baby Boom as 1946 to 1964. Why the difference? We have factored in
the “feel” as well as the “fact” of a generational cohort in our definitions.
For instance, our research finds that people born between 1943 and 1960
have similar values and views as the “true” demographically defined Baby
Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Likewise, we date Generation
X from 1960 rather than 1965. This again, comes from our research and
conclusion that the 1960 to 1964 cohort act and think more like Generation
Xers than any other group. In interviews and discussion groups, most
members of that set of birth years adamantly refused to be labeled Boomers
for any purpose. Our four generational groups therefore are:
1. The Traditionalists: born before 1943
Those who grew up in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II
and faced the world with a can-do attitude.
2. The Baby Boomers: born 1943 to 1960
Those born during and after World War II and raised in an era of extreme
optimism, opportunity, and progress.
3. Generation Xers: born 1960 to 1980
Those born after the blush of the Baby Boom who came of age deep in
the shadows of the Boomers and the rise of the Asian tiger.
4. Millennials: born 1980 to 2004
Those born of the Baby Boomers and early Xers into a culture where
children were cherished, nurtured, and protected.
Note that our generations overlap at their end points. If we wouldn’t
utterly confuse everyone, we would overlap them by three or four years.
There are no hard stops or road signs indicating when one generation
ends and another begins. Please note also that we are aware of the danger
of stereotyping whether by generation or gender. To say that all Boomers
strive for their greatest human potential or that all Xers are good project
managers or that all Millennials are hard-working optimists would be a
mischaracterization, even though those core traits tend to accurately describe
the generation as a whole. The research we rely on describes a cohort
of people that includes tens of millions, so whenever you take those
generalizations and apply them to the guy in the next cubicle, you will run
into problems. Rather than shoehorn your coworkers into the characteristics
we describe for each generation, learn to identify the characteristics
and see if some of them fit the coworkers who are driving you crazy—and
then find creative ways to change your approach.
The most important thing to remember is that the specific markers
of a generation’s formative years do bind them together in exclusive
ways. To say, for instance, that Millennials are more attuned to rock
climbing and extreme sports than Boomers doesn’t preclude the possibility
of Grandmas who can ski a half pipe. It does suggest, however,
that aside from the passion for snowboarding, she will still have fewer
attitudes and experiences in common with the Millennial than would
another Millennial. Those common ties are self-reinforcing and selfsustaining
and lead to within-group cohesion.
How This Book Can Help
This book is divided into four parts. Part One, “Dynamics of the
Multigenerational Workplace,” digs into the generations, their histories,
and how they arrived at the work characteristics that shaped them—before
entering the workplace and then during their socialization into the
work world. Without understanding where each generation got its ideas,
you will be hobbled in your attempts to diagnose what’s going on in your
workplace. But this isn’t Freudian analysis; it’s just knowing enough history
to be able to problem solve.
We’ve done everything in our power to give this new edition a global
perspective. Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five are told from an
American perspective. We outline the history of the eras that shaped the
four generations in the United States. It’s the history we as authors know
best and can speak about with authority. If you’re reading in Belgium or
Bangalore, you may want to overlay your own history and adjust the
timeline a bit. In any case, you will find helpful strategies, tools, and
techniques that you can apply no matter where you live and work. And
in Chapter Six, we tell you what we’ve learned about the generations in
other parts of the world.
In Part Two, “Where Mixed Generations Work Well Together,” we
look at three companies where a mix of generations is treated as an asset
rather than a liability. They represent a wonderful mosaic of the possible.
Part Two is also chock full of tools. We introduce the ACORN imperatives
and then provide best practices from a variety of organizations
and industries. This section is designed to be a practical user-guide for
today’s day-to-day manager.
In keeping with the multigenerational approaches we endorse and
support in our work, in this revision we don’t just talk about the generations,
we invite them to speak for themselves. We’ve been listening to
workers, leaders, managers, mid-managers, and executives in interviews
and focus groups, company offices, coffee shops, and college classrooms.
In Part Three, “The Interviews” we hear from three executives who have
put loads of time and effort into bridging generational gaps in their
organizations—and from ten workers representing all the generations,
who share their thoughts on everything from the worst boss to mandatory
teambuilding sessions to retirement.
In Part Four, we’ve reprinted four of our best articles. They cover
important issues from social media to mentoring—and how to chill
when the boss is young enough to be your grandchild. Finally, we’ve
included an appendix with an inventory you can use to evaluate the generational
“friendliness” of your organization.
A Few Words About Our Research
Twentysome years ago, the three of us became interested in generational
issues. We collected information separately and collectively that we used
to write the first edition. Now, with another decade of experience under
our belts, we are more certain than ever that helping people understand
their own generational predilections and the generational eccentricities
of others is a worthy calling.
As writers, consultants, speakers, and trainers, we have spent substantial
time learning from those who are “in the trenches” facing intergenerational
workplace issues on a daily basis. We have administered
surveys and facilitated discussion sessions and focus groups to get a
broad understanding of how the generations view themselves and each
other. In addition to interviewing hundreds of managers and those who
report to them, we have interviewed the leading experts on the sociology
of generations. We have been part of think tanks and have been
closely associated with two of the best minds in the history of generational
studies—Neil Howe and Bill Strauss. Our findings are corroborated
by the growing body of generational research conducted by organizations
like the Higher Education Research Institute at the University
of California at Los Angeles; Yankelovich Partners; the National Center
for Educational Statistics; Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company;
Harris Interactive; Pew Research; the Annenberg Foundation; and
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