Generation X & Generation Y – What does it mean?

  26th May 2016      
 Human Resources, CIPD, Employment, Recruitment


Traditional methods of motivating employees and increasing productivity at work are ever-evolving and there is no one-size-fits-all approach in dealing with the modern day workplace, namely the newest generation of employees; Generation X and Generation Y (millennials).

Firstly it’s necessary to recognise that not everybody in any particular group or generation acts like everyone else and there’s as much variation within each group as there is between different groups. However, because generations come of age and start working life around the same time, members of each generation often share similar experiences. These shared experiences can shape perceptions, work-style, behavioural differences and expectations in the workplace and so traits can be broadly categorised. Here we demystify what these terms mean and how best to motivate workers of different ages.


Who is in each generation?


Baby Boomer: born 1943 – 1960 (aged 55-72 today)

Gen-Xer: born 1961 – 1981 (aged 34 to 54 today)

Gen-Yer (Millennial): born 1982 – 2002 (aged 13 to 33 today)


Who Are the Generation Xers?

Approximately 50 million people were born to the famous ‘baby boomer’ parents, many whom sacrificed time at home with their families in the economic downturn of the 1980s and many of these hard workers also lost their jobs. An Xer grew up in a largely hands-off culture and the result was that they became more pragmatic believing that access to authority is limited and must be earned. Xers view their boss as someone whose hard-earned experience and skills demand respect, a view which is likely to have stemmed from the lack of work/life balance in their parents’ lives.


Working with Generation Xers

The broad characteristics of a Gen Xer translate into the following for motivating and working with this group of employees:

1. Xers tend to be more independent and need room to work and grow. Give Gen X employees clear goals, but allow them realistic flexibility on how to achieve those goals. Allow them to develop their interest in learning new skills and knowledge by providing opportunities to grow on the job and ask them to clearly define their expectations.

2. Since this generation has adapted to “fending for themselves,” they need the opportunity to make choices. Provide options for challenges, formulating new processes, developing creative ideas and coming to their own conclusions. You also want to allow them the freedom to use their own resourcefulness and creativity to realise success.

3. Few Xers were regularly praised growing up so when working with an Xer don’t expect praise back. Spend time with them to understand and formulate clear and frequent feedback on development. When you do receive positive feedback from an Xer, you can be assured you have done your job well.


Who Are the Generation Yers or Millennials?

Approximately 70 million Gen Yers came next, and had a different relationship with parents and teachers to the generation that preceded them. They were usually highly praised for achievements and were taught an ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ rather than a winning mentality. However there were still high levels of hope and expectations for positive outcomes. Often Gen Yers were involved in many extracurricular activities.

Millennials, broadly speaking are motivated by independence. They are driven and available to work as long and hard as they need to achieve success but they expect autonomy and freedom in return.


Working with Generation Yers

Generation Y were raised with a different perspective to Generation X and were taught that their opinions are important and that their voice matters. Motivation can be tapped into by considering the following:

1. Millennials are focused on things having a meaning instead of just making money, a difficult concept for Gen Xers to come to terms with. It’s not all about the perks of the job, the salary and benefits but instead it comes down to the culture: millennials won’t be motivated to join your company by seeing a generic job listing that gives no indication into the personality of the business. They want to see the bigger picture in terms of a company’s mission, its values and the influences behind the success.

2. Millennials look forward to the challenge of having several tasks to perform at once and tend to multi-task, thinking and working quickly. This can mean that they are less thorough and considered in their approach, for example; delivering prototypes instead of completed projects which are not as polished as expected. In this case managers need to communicate clearly from the start, while at the same time understanding that the millennial appreciates consistent feedback and guidance throughout the process.

3. The millennial has been raised in an environment where they have been encouraged to engage and question authority; employers need to consider the benefit of shifting from a ‘command and control style’ to a more inclusive management philosophy.

Jamie Gutfreund of the Intelligence Group studies the different motivations and perceptions of the generations and says we aren’t as far along as we should be in the change process that will allow millennials to bring their unique experiences and full talents to benefit our organisations. She says:

“Many senior execs who run companies are delaying changes that need to happen such as HR and performance reviews, because of short-term imperatives.”

Gutfreund suggests that a focus on long-term growth demands that greater priority needs to be given to the necessary culture changes.




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