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Managers today are faced with expanding diversity in their work force, and one of the most overlooked challenges concerns the widening age range of their employees who, despite their vast experiential and attitudinal differences, must come together to form a coherent and viable corporate culture.
In a 2006 working paper, Working With Veterans, Boomers, Xers, Ys: It’s About Their Age, Not When They Were Born, Janet Polach of Leadership Solutions Inc. identifies four distinct generations that make up the working population. Each generational cohort has unique descriptors that help “explain” why its members act the way they do in today’s work force. Veterans, for example, comprise senior Americans who were born prior to World War II. They are generally seen as civic minded due to their military service and upbringing during the Great Depression. Baby Boomers were raised in overcrowded public schools in the late 1950s and 1960s, and television provided them graphic depictions of every event ranging from Cambodian death camps to the lunar landing. They questioned all that had previously mattered as they entered college and young adulthood. Generation X, raised in the ’70s and ’80s, saw the national debt soar and their families experience record-breaking divorce rates. Because so many American systems crumbled in their youth, they dislike taking orders and are comfortable challenging authority. Generation Y is not simply an extension of Generation X, yet with only a few years in the workplace, it is too early to capture their collective persona. In a survey conducted in the late ’90s, they listed as very important having a well-paying job, respect from others, good relationships with their parents, home ownership and the freedom to do what they want.
However, it is not simply when a person was born that governs their behavior at work, argues Polach. It is also their age. Some behavior transcends generational values and can better be explained when thought of in terms of life stages. For instance, it is not unusual for people of any generation to think of their 20s as the time to establish independence, a career and family.
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