The Generation Gap And Motivation

A generation gap at work can have a serious impact on employee motivation.

Each generation grew up in a different time, with different values. Managing this gap can be quite a challenge if you see every employee through the eyes of your generation. I want to use this article to give you some guidance and tips on how to manage the generation gap.

However, it is important to mention upfront that the information here is not about personality types. In other words, if I say that the baby boomers are talkative, stylish, bossy, inquisitive and competitive, it doesn’t mean that every Baby Boomer is like that.

It is just a general view, a dipstick if you like, of the general values of that generation. It would be stupid to categorize a whole generation into a certain personality type. So, I hope you see this article about the generation gap in that frame of mind.

Five Generations

Graeme Codrington and Sue Grant Marshall give quite a comprehensive summary of the generation gap in their book, “Mind the Gap”

To explain the generation gap, they categorize the people that are still alive today into five generations.

  • The General Issue (GI) Generation (Born between the 1900’s and the 1920’s)
  • The Silent Generation (Roughly born between the 1920’s and the 1940’s)
  • The Baby Boomers (Roughly born between the 1940’s and the 1960’s)
  • Generation X (Roughly born between the 1960’s and the 1980’s)
  • Generation Y (Roughly born between the 1980’s and 2000’s)

Let’s have look at them and at the wonderful advice that Graeme and Sue is giving us about the generation gap.

1. The General Issue (GI) Generation or The “Hero” Generation

This generation were roughly born between the 1900’s and 1920’s.

I don’t want to spend a lot of energy on them, because it is unlikely that anyone would have an employee from the GI generation in their workforce. Here is a short summary anyway.

General Attitude: We must all agree, all work the same way, and all look the same.

Characteristics: Gallantry, Civic mindedness

Likes: Firm Leadership and doing your civic duty.

Dislikes: Wimps, Whiners and Slackers.

Margaret Thatcher, John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa were all famous GI’s

This generation grew up in a time when there were big families. These were times when men were strong and women fainted from time to time.

They became the world’s first teenagers. In fact, it was a term that was specifically invented for them. They were also the first boys and girls guides.

They started their professional careers in the time of the great depression. They regard work as a privilege and a gift. Because work was so scarce when they started working, they believe that you should stick to your job.

They usually advise their grandchildren to be loyal to their employers. That’s why they can’t understand how people can walk away from a job.

2. The Silent Generation

Roughly born between the 1920’s and 1940’s

General Attitude: Pay your dues, Work hard.

Characteristics: Reserved, Clean living, Being a gentleman.

Likes: Security, Stability

Dislikes: Debt, Borrowing, Upstart young people.

Famous people from this generation include Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, Neil Armstrong and Jacques Chirac.

This generation made their arrival during very difficult times…the great depression and World War II.

Having said that, they started their careers in a time of great prosperity and job opportunities. These were the booming times just after World War II. However, they had the same careful attitude towards their work that their parents, the GI generation had.

The generation gap between the silents and the GI's is not big.

Tips for Motivating GI’s and Silents

(It is unlikely that these people are still part of a workforce, but if they are, here it comes)

  • Make changes slowly. Don’t surprise them.
  • Make announcements well in advance
  • Alert them to your experience and credentials.
  • Look the part – always aim to be a degree more formally dressed than your team (if the majority comes from this generation).
  • Use surnames and titles. The Silents and GI’s prefer formality. Ask their permission before you address them by their first names.
  • They prefer clear lines of command. Stay away from matrix structures and cross functional teams. Ensure that they all report to only one boss.

3. The Baby Boomers

Roughly born between the 1940’s and 1960’s.

General Attitude: “If you have it, flash it”

Characteristics: Talkative, Bossy, Inquisitive, Stylish, and Competitive.

Likes: Shopping, Winning, Leading, Vision.

Dislikes: Paying of debts, Aging

This article has more in depth information on the Baby Boomer generation.

Some famous Boomers include Bill Clinton. Tony Blair, George W Bush, Princess Diana, Vladimir Putin, Richard Branson and J.K. Rowling.

The baby boomers got their name from the big growth in population just after World War II. They were the largest generation (in terms of numbers) that the planet ever saw.

They arrived with a bang and have been noisy and attention demanding ever since. Every single stage of their lives has been era defining and trend setting.

When they decide to do something, they do it big. Nobody can afford not to notice them. Both literally and figuratively.

You are very likely to find many Baby Boomers still in your workforce. The first ones just entered retirement a few years ago.

This generation entered the working environment in a time that coincided with a steady economic boom, which took the whole world by storm.

When they finished university or college, there was no shortage of jobs.

Big changes started to happen in their time, which made their working environment very different from their parents.

Multinational companies were starting to become more common and rapid growth was considered the norm. This was fueled by three drivers. Quality, customer service and globalization.

Tips for Motivating The Boomers

  • Make rewards and recognition public
  • They will rely on you to generate energy and dynamism.
  • They want to be involved in all decisions. They are passionate about transparency and democracy in decision making. Include them at all stages.

4. Generation X

Roughly born between the 1960’s and 1980’s

General Attitude: "Whatever..." Enigmatic

Characteristics: Pragmatic, Individualistic, Arrogant, Risk Taking

Likes: Sharing, Chilling, Being individualistic, Being with friends, Change

Dislikes: Bossiness, Corporate culture.

If you want to know more about how to motivate Generation X, read this article.

Famous Xers include Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Mark Shuttleworth, Jerry Yang, Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell.

The biggest generation gap exists between the Xers and the Baby Boomers. Unlike the Baby Boomers, they arrived almost unnoticed.

The Xers are defined more by what they are not, than by what they are. They arrived on the scene just as the economic boom was flattening.

For a generation who invented the term “Whatever…” it is no wonder that some people often described them as the cynical generation.

They grew up in a time when broken families were common. By the 1970’s, 40 percent of all couples living in major cities were divorced. So many of these kids spend every second weekend with a different set of parents.

A lot of them find comfort in close friends and peers, who they chose for their closeness, loyalty and dependable relationships

They also saw their parents being retrenched by the big corporations. So in general, they are sceptical about company loyalty. Like I have mentioned, the biggest generation gap exists between this generation and the previous ones

Xers feel that the promises made by the visionary Boomers about a brave new working world have fallen apart. Economies and organizations have shrunk, leaving them struggling to find work.

They feel caught in the middle of transition. They know that most companies need to make changes, but it is going way to slow for the naturally impatient Xers.

This generation like change. No, they don’t just like it; they thrive on it.

Tips for Motivating the Xers

  • You need to earn their respect, yet they will take a while to demonstrate that respect for you. Act with integrity and you will close the generation gap.
  • Give surprise rewards for unusual achievements.
  • Fun is serious business! A little humor, something silly, practical jokes, even a little bit of irrelevance will help to create a stimulating, and productive workplace.
  • Try a reverse mentoring programme in which younger employees are assigned to older executives, to help them get up to speed with technology and to close the generation gap.
  • Don’t look over their shoulders all the time…it irritates them.

5. Generation Y

Roughly born between the 1980’s and 2000’s

General Attitude: Let’s make the world a better place

Characteristics: Tolerant, Caring, Honest, Balanced, Independent, Optimistic and Clean Cut

Likes: Shopping, Labels, Friends, Family, The environment, Technology

Dislikes: Dishonesty, Unbalanced lifestyles.

If you want to know more about how to motivate Generation Y, read this article.

Famous people from generation Y include Prince William, Venus and Serena Williams and David Beckham.

These kids are just entering the working environment. They are growing up in a time when the world is more baby and children focused than ever before. The “Baby on Board” stickers arrived in the early 1990’s. Fashion models were pregnant on the front cover of magazines…something that was unheard of in the 1960’s. You see winning sport stars after a tournament with trophy in the one hand and baby in the other.

This generation is the most protected generation ever. However, at the same time they are also the most exposed.

They grow up with technology, so it comes natural to them. Every time I get a new mobile phone, I give it to my 14 year old son. He usually have it sorted out within 10 minutes...and he is not the exception.

Because of all the attention and protection, they mirror the GI generation to some extend. At the same time, the generation gap between them and the Xers is not big.

Just like the GI’s, they grew up in a community that was very children focused.

And, like the GI’s, they don’t mind doing community work. Unlike the Xers who have a general attitude of “minding my own business”, these kids want to get involved.

Tips for Motivating Generation Y

  • Lead. This generation has grown up structured and supervised by parents who believed in boundaries and are active role models. They respond to leadership with integrity.
  • Provide mentors. They enjoy interacting with older generations, and learning in a hands on manner. It will also help you to close the generation gap.
  • They like to be challenged. Assign them to projects where they can truly learn.
  • They like to try new things. Boredom is your, and their, greatest enemy.
  • Let them work with their friends, as they are sociable and sharing.

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Wondering Who I am?

Hi, my name is Derik Mocke, The Energizer.

I like to describe myself as an energetic, purpose driven, educated, present moment, emotionally aware, fun loving professional life coach, group coach, motivator, father and marathon runner.

My life purpose is to help people, groups and companies to find their energy and zest for life.

If you want to make use of my services for employee motivation, you can contact me here.

If you want to know more about self motivation, you might want to read about The 9 Keys To Energize Your Life Purpose

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