Understanding Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the Workplace

Understanding Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the Workplace

Do you find yourself supervising employees of a wide variety of ages? The simple fact is that people are living and working longer for lots of reasons. Two groups you may be dealing with are Baby Boomer (born between 1946-1964) and  Gen Xers (born between 1965-1980).   

It can help you to manage these groups if you understand that members of each generation share common experiences. And that those common experiences often reflect how each views the world. Knowing this will better enable you to supervise in a way that bridges those generational gaps and assists teams in understanding and supporting each other.  

Here are six differences commonly found between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.   

1.  Outlook on Life

Baby Boomers work hard to achieve their life’s goals, many of which are focused on work. They have a positive attitude toward life. That  is based on their belief that they can engineer their own success through hard work and determination. Baby Boomers are typically mature, experienced, and well trained. In terms of life priorities, Baby Boomers often put their careers first. And they take pride in being characterized as workaholics.  

Gen Xers are often “latch-key” kids. They learned early on to be self-reliant until Mom or Dad got home from work. They view themselves as pretty self-sufficient and don’t rely on the world to make them successful. Their positive attitude toward life is based on their belief that things just generally work out. They also view themselves as hard workers. However, they don’t take inordinate pride in being viewed as a workaholic. This group typically socialize easily and have a broader and more diverse circle of friends than Baby Boomers.  

2.  Outlook on Work

Baby Boomers have long been known as extremely hard workers. Many of their parents have lived through the Great Depression and told them that hard work is the only way to make it in life. As a result, they are often very competitive and believe that long hours at work pay off in job advancement and professional pride. They often feel like their self-worth is measured in large part by the work that they do, their professional achievements, and how they are viewed by their organization.  

Gen Xers believe there is more to life than work. They are not defined by their job, their career path, or society’s view of what they do. They typically like working, but generally believe it is only one component of a fulfilled existence. In other words, they do not live to work; they work to live.  They consider themselves hard workers and take pride in their accomplishments, but not at the sacrifice of other things that they also consider important such as friends and family.

3. Outlook on Career Advancement

Baby Boomers have often made great personal sacrifices for the sake of career advances and see them as the payoff for the long hours and dedication. They work towards the next promotion or the next pay raise, and are motivated by positions of prestige.  Their long term planning often centers on achieving the next step in the career ladder rather than personal fulfillment.

Gen Xers have a tendency to think career advancement is great as long as it doesn’t interfere with their overall life goals. They are often more analytical in evaluating how specific career advancement opportunities will affect them and their families. That means they will not automatically jump on the professional fast track in order to keep their self-esteem intact.  

4.  Outlook on Technology

Baby Boomers love technology. It is the toy they never had growing up. Many were born into homes with eight linear feet of encyclopedias that were never really current and typewriters with messy carbon pages and White-Out. At work, volumes of procedural manuals and mile-high reports sat on shelves in binders.They are often fervent technology converts and love the idea of having tons of information on a one inch thumb drive.           

      

Gen Xers basically grew up with technology. It was the toy they always had and have never gotten tired of playing with. Technology is like breathing. Technology is there when they need it and its purpose is to give life. They cannot imagine having to work in the dark ages of hand-writing memos to give to a secretary to type or relying on snail-mail to deliver even the most mundane client communication.  

5. Outlook on Organizations and Company Culture

Baby Boomers understand the need to conform to organizational policies and are comfortable with organizational structure. They understand chain of command and organizational charts.  They are typically interested in their own career paths and professional advancement. There’s more interest in who’s who and who does what within the organization. Boomers respect authority even if they don’t always agree.   

Gen Xers focus on working hard and doing their job well. They don’t have a burning need to know the politics or behind the scenes gossip of decisions. This group respects authority and organizational policies but prefer having a more informal relationship with clients and organizational leaders. They are not your typical suit and tie businessmen ever vigilant for landing the next big account.    

6.  Outlook on Home and Family

Many Baby Boomers were raised in conventional families with two parent homes and one income. As women became more active in seeking both higher education and outside employment, home life for Baby Boomers began to change slowly as they faced challenges managing the division of labor at home.          

Gen Xers are often children of two income families where home chores were fairly divided or children of divorce where one parent had to perform all the home chores while simultaneously maintaining a career. In two income families, home chores for Gen Xers are often divided more equally meaning both parents must continually manage a delicate work/life balance.  

Don’t expect all of your Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to fit into their respective category. This information is most useful when trying to understand how your team members learn. it’s also good to know to understand how they may be likely to relate to each other, and how they may respond to your own style of supervision. Both groups have a strong desire to make a difference in the world, want to work hard and be recognized for their accomplishments, and are grounded in the commitment that their individual contributions benefit the greater good. That is a solid foundation for supervising employees of any generation.   

Jeanne Rodriguez writes books and articles that help employees, supervisors and leaders succeed in today’s professional environment. See Jeanne Rodriguez's full bio here.

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