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Knowing Your Workers: Baby Boomer/Generation X Worker Dynamics

worker dynamics

Previously we’ve discussed two generations of workers in today’s economy: Baby Boomers and Generation X. Before we move on to the generation that has everyone talking now, let’s examine their worker dynamics – how these two generations interact with each other.

The Baby Boomers range in age from 52 to 70, and Generation X is right behind them, composed of people from ages 36 to 51. There is no hard and fast rule for who belongs to one generation, especially when you’re dealing with people on the ends of these age spectrums. It’s not that in 1946 someone hit a reset button on a machine that then stopped making one version of people and started making another. It’s that these generations were shaped by both the generations that raised them and the political, economic, social events of their times. That’s important to keep in mind when observing and understanding interactions between your workers or coworkers.

Given the age ranges we are dealing with, Generation X and Baby Boomers make up the majority of your business owners, managers, and seasoned workers. This is changing slowly as Boomers hit retirement age and make other plans, but since the economy went in recession and Boomers lost chunks of their net worth, many of them have postponed exiting the workforce for now. Let’s compare work priorities for the two groups.

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When it comes to company loyalty, Baby Boomers have it, and Generation X doesn’t. Baby Boomers grew up during a time when workers advanced based on seniority and worked their whole lives for one company. Generation X has seen endless layoffs and factory relocations as well as workers losing both wages and benefits. It makes sense that one generation would prize loyalty higher than the other. Generation X has had to compete on merit because jobs were scarce. They don’t believe they’ll get ahead just by staying with a company or organization.

Baby Boomers grew up doing everything in groups and still regard group activities like meetings as very valuable. Generation X is interested in results and results only. They will avoid conferences and meetings if they do not think they will be valuable. They also will choose to work at home when possible and value flex time more.

Another difference is that Boomers value work success and have sometimes sacrificed their personal lives to achieve it. They’re much more likely to think working overtime is necessary and desirable to get ahead. Generation X grew up in fractured families with parents who both worked and have had to work and parent as well. They have demanded to have more work/life balance. They’re also sandwiched between two generations that need help right now: their kids and their parents. They have less time right now than Boomers do.

Finally, Boomers are more likely to do things “by the book.” There were rules about how things were supposed to be done when they were young. In contrast, Generation X has had to live much more on the fly in a time of overwhelming changes and computerization. They’ve had to be independent and make decisions. They seek creative solutions that will take less time and energy and will go around management when possible. Since they are more used to insecurity, they’re more likely to leave a company out of dissatisfaction than Boomers, although economic conditions do factor in.

  • Of these two groups one is much more likely to downsize and work a part-time job in order to have more time for family or relaxation.
  • One is more likely to skip meetings and avoid committee work.
  • One is much more motivated by status rewards in a company. The other wants more money and doesn’t care much for promotions that come with more responsibility but without a big increase in wages or salary.
  • One of these groups will be more patient with a corporate environment and wait longer for a promotion or a better situation.
  • One of these groups literally wrote the 800-page employee handbook and created Human Resources departments. The other one mostly wants to be left alone to do their work in peace.

Since most manager/employee conflicts center around expectations of work performance, scheduling, creating rewards that incentivize, and styles of communication, it’s easy to see that understanding what will make workers in the Baby Boomer and Generation X generations work harder or more efficiently is essential to good management.