by Larry Johnson and Meagan Johnson
In the last issue of “Tips For Today’s Managers,” we discussed how the attitudes and behaviors of each generation are profoundly influenced by the personal and generational signposts its members encountered in their pasts. We then described how you can better manage the Traditional Generation by recognizing and celebrating the tendency this generation has to exhibit fierce loyalty to employers – a trait that can be traced to their sighnpost of having lived through the Great Depression.
In this issue, we’ll continue with two more of the generations populating the workplace today: Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.
Group Hugs Anyone?
Overcrowded Schools Were A Signpost of the Baby Boomer Generation
With 76 million members, this is the largest generation working today. Leave It To Beaver, Overcrowded Schools, Brown vs. the Board of Education, and the Viet Nam War were some of the signposts that helped form Baby Boomers’ views of the world.
Attending Overcrowded Schools
A Signpost of Baby Boomers
World War II forced millions of Traditional’s to postpone having families. At war’s end, after four long years apart, they were ready to marry and produce children. And aided by the nation’s post-war prosperity, produce they did! In 1946, live births in the U.S. surged from 222,721 in January to 339,499 in October. By the end of the 1940s, 32 million babies had been born, compared with 24 million in the 1930s. In 1954, annual births first topped four million and did not drop below that figure until 1965, when four out of ten Americans were under the age of twenty. By 1965 there were 77 million Baby Boomers – the largest generation to ever dot the American landscape.*
This surge in the population led to unprecedented overcrowding in America’s schools in the 1950″s. Many Baby Boomers can remember grade school classes of 40 or more pupils where sharing books and a desk with other students were not uncommon. To maintain order, teachers rewarded behaviors that contributed to the harmony and cohesion of the group. Consequently, Baby Boomers were the first generation to be graded on their report cards for “works and plays well with others.”
In college, this orientation to group cooperation led Baby Boomers to be known as the Kumbaya Generation. When they entered management positions in the 1980s, TEAMWORK was their mantra. Team meetings, quality circles, self-managed teams, and “There Is No “I” In Team” became the norm in corporate America.
Consequently, Baby Boomers tend to like team decisions. They view resistance to participation in team process with suspicion. Why wouldn’t you want to come to the meeting and brainstorm? For them, this is a productive way to find answers and get problems solved. (Gen Xer’s, by contrast, often find this group approach to problem solving tedious and a waste of time.)
If you work with Baby Boomers, respect their desire for team involvement. Excluding them from a meeting can be seen as a hostile move. The more you include them, the more confident they will feel about you and your performance as a co-worker or manager – and the greater the chances are that they will want to work and play well with you.
Home Alone With Beavis & Butt Head:
Latchkey Kids Were A Signpost of Generation X
Born between 1965 and 1980, Generation X is the smallest generation in the workplace today. With only 56 million members, they represent only 13% of the U.S. population. New Math, the Latch Key Phenomenon, Black Monday, and the Dot.com Boom are a few of the signposts that helped form Generation X’s perspective of the world. In this chapter we will describe these and other signposts of this generation in detail. We will explain how the reader can respect and leverage them to improve his or her working relationships with Generation X.
The Latchkey Phenomenon After Baby Boomers struggled through the idealism of the 60’s and the disillusionment of the 70’s, they reached the eighties with a pent up desire to make something of their lives – if not through social revolution, then through financial success. Hippyism morphed into consumerism. Improving social justice was trumped by climbing the corporate ladder. The BMW replaced the VW as the car with cachet. And for those Baby Boomers who were married with children, this quest for financial success required that both parents work. Consequently, their children, Generation X, were first generation to come home from school in large numbers to empty houses. They were the latchkey kids of the 80’s.
Meagan tells us that being a latchkey kid wasn’t so bad. When she arrived home each afternoon, there was a list of tasks on the kitchen counter left by “management” (Larry and Meagan’s mom CJ). The rules were simple. The tasks needed to be finished before “management” returned home, and the tasks had to completed to an acceptable level of quality that was demonstrated during “training.” She liked it because she could determine when to do the tasks, in what order she needed to do them, and how many breaks she should take. If something went wrong, it was up to her to fix it. The sooner the problem was fixed, the sooner the task could be completed, and the sooner she could move on to something better – like watching TV.
The ripple effect in the workforce is that Generation X is highly independent. Their attitude is, “tell me what you want done, give me the tools and training to do it, and then leave me alone!” It was after Generation X entered the workforce in the early 90’s that telecommuting from home became popular, advocated by this “leave me alone” generation of workers.
Know that Gen Exers hate to be interrupted when focused on a task. If you manage them, understand that they hate to be micro-managed. Be sure to give them what they need to do the job, ie instruction, resources, training – and then leave him alone to get it done. Respect his need to work solo. If you want a Gen Xer to have more face time around the office, explain why you need him there. Telling him that the people upstairs expect him to be there is no reason at all as far as the Gen Exer is concerned. He’s likely to respond that as the boss, it’s your job to convince the people “upstairs” that there is a better way.
In the next issue of “Tips For Today’s Managers,” we’ll discuss the New Millennial Generation – AKA The Entitled Ones.