Generational stereotypes in the workplace: Are they helpful or hurtful?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 10 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #100775

    Last week I wrote about generational stereotypes in the workplace – how often times we as managers use generational models to simplify those we work with. Millennials are the tech whizzes and social media experts, while Traditionalists are sound financial managers. Generation Xers are risk-takers, while Baby Boomers are more risk averse.

    However, is that always the case?

    An understanding of generational differences can be beneficial in working with your peers and subordinates at work; however, they may often be based on inaccurate assumptions that do more harm than good.

    Based on your experience – do you find generational stereotypes in the workplace to be helpful or hurtful?

  • #100803

    Henry Brown

    Understanding the generational stereotypes is an important part of any manager’s job. But where a significant number of managers fail is taking the stereotypes for gospel. And instead of treating each employee as an individual who may or may not fit the stereotype, the assumption is made that the they will fit the the stereotype.

    Another related issue is even within the generational stereotypes there are different ways to motivate individuals depending on the background of the individual. An example would be that most risk-takers are somewhat motivated by money but a risk-taker who has all the creature comforts and is working for other than financial reasons, a cash award means absolutely nothing to that individual.

  • #100801

    Nichole Henley

    I find them to be helpful: how to approach people or how to interpret past interactions with folks. It’s not cut and dry for EVERYONE but it does provide me a guide of how to interact, communicate and handle work related situations.

    Now do I agree with all the OPINIONS of generational stereotypes? No. As a GEN Y I wholly think that my experiences differ me from many of whom I share this generation with.

    I think in the end, we all want the same thing but we take different routes to accomplish our goals. Who wouldn’t want a flexible schedule? a say in the direction/strategy of their company? a choice? Seems pretty generic to me…

  • #100799

    Steve Radick

    If I hear that Millennials are “social media experts” one more time, I think I may explode. I’ve given dozens of social media briefings to all generations and have spoken to dozens of other people who have done the same and the conclusion is always the same – the ages of the people in the room are irrelevant when discussing social media knowledge/experience. I’ve talked with rooms full of SES’s and other senior leaders and when asked how many of them are using Twitter or are blogging, about 10% raise their hands (everyone uses Facebook). I’ve also spoken with a LOT of college students and recent grads and the % is about the same.

    This stereotype unfairly raises the expectations for your new hires because they’re supposed to know all of this “kid stuff” and lets the Gen Xers off the hook because we reinforce this stereotype.

  • #100797

    Gerry La Londe-Berg

    Although demographics and life experiences have affected various generations the harm is done when this knowledge morphs into stereotypes. Other personal attributes are more important, such as: Individual experiences, strengths, political and class views, and of course, gender, as well as the type of bureaucracies we have worked in which are all more influential. I think the generational attributes are used so much is they are “so darn convenient” for trainers or speakers. I don’t oppose their use because they add reference but there are many other common attributes which might also inform our thinking.

  • #100795

    Diane Benitez

    You are exactly right. I am nearer the babyboomer age group than the milennials and I work in IT. I am constantly supprised by my college colleagues who are not tech savvy at all and require that I help them get through computer related skills. Exposure is the key to knowledge regardless of the agegroup. If anyone desires the skills and abilities they will learn them regardless of the stereotyped aged group that they fall into.

  • #100793

    Faye Newsham

    I agree with Henry that it can be valuable to understand the steryotypes but also to NOT fall victim to them. Diane and Steve both make valid points (as does everyone else who has commented so far) about the expectation put on others to conform to the stereotypes. I was born the first year of the Gen X… so my parents should be quite solidly in the “non technical” baby boom and older group and yet Mom is a librarian and works with computers constantly and Dad is a computer guy from way, way back. None of us fit our stereotypes. Sure, I’m 43, 2 kids, PTA vice president this year, and gray-haired…I’m also an online gamer, tattooed, Gov contractor, website guru on the social media forefront. I’ve been working with people 10 to 20 years younger than myself since I left a place where I was the youngest by 15 years when I was in my 20s. In my first tech job, the best programmer we had was in his 80s… a real pioneer in the field who still loved to code. He had a personal website before anyone else I know. The old addage about books and covers will always apply — especially when talking about people. We’re always going to be individuals first!

  • #100791

    Phyllis L. Alberici

    I’d have to agree that generational stereotypes carry the inherent risk that all types of stereotyping does: it puts people in boxes and potentially nails down the lid. I’m a Boomer and despise the whole derisive cache that term implies. If I believed what I read, I would put myself on the conveyor belt at the glue factory.

    I belong to a work group here that is working to develop a stronger social media focus and I’ve been surprised at the limited use of social media tools by the youngest members of the staff. I’m also amused when I read that Baby Boomers are “risk averse”. I believe that diminishes our potential and creates a negative and false belief that we are intransigent and potentially resistant to organizational change. Might this also serve as a generalization that limits chances for hiring, promotion and the real possibility of losing valued employment? This is as foolish as my believing that hiring someone who is the age of my children is a poor investment because their stereotype includes “me-ness”, job jumping and a tendency to forget the clock.

    I think it’s definitely time for HR managers and supervisors to ditch such broad definitions and engage the applicant and employee on a level field.

  • #100789

    Carol Davison

    I believe these sterotypes can be used to get along better with others. The mere fact that people are trying to adapt themselves to anyone else’s manner of behavior is heartening.

  • #100787

    Peter Sperry

    Also keep in mind that using age based stereotypes to determine personnel decisions (hiring, promotions, work assignments etc) is illegal. Allow these stereotypes to seep into your day to day thinking and they can subliminally influence your decisions. Follow the pattern long enough and you may end up learning more about EEO rules and regulations than you ever wanted to know. Do you really want to explain assigning personnel to high profile projects with promotion potential because they did or did not fit a stereotype?

  • #100785

    Scott Span

    Generational stereotypes, like most other stereotypes, are rooted in some form of truth whether we wish to acknowledge it our not. The key is knowing when to check the stereotypes at the door. We are all individuals after all. That said, I do not find them harmful from a generational perspective. I do find it harmful when they go unchecked and not further explored on an individual/employee level. Some stereotypes are also realities and addressing and understanding those realities is in fact helpful to organizational success and sustainability.

  • #100783

    Kevin Lanahan

    If the stereotypes of millennials and GenXers help boomer managers move their organizations into social media and new communication channels, then I’m all for stereotypes.

    If the stereotypes pigeonhole me (or my son, my wife or my parents), then I have no use for them.

    Understanding that millennials have grown up around tech and are generally more comfortable with tech is important. So is understanding that not all of them are whiz kids with their computer/phone.

  • #100781

    Jessie Newburn

    Hey Tom, as an early-wave Xer (born in ’63), a mar-com professional and a social media/community engagement type of gal who has worked with a number of Millennials, I’d say, to start, it’s the Xers who are the social media experts. Millennials use tools to connect with their PEERS because they are a peer-oriented generation with an incredible sense of team and “we.” But “social media whizzes?” Hardly. To be a whiz, one would need to understand long-tail markets, be an excellent communicator and always be looking for the right angle to get in to the cracks and crevices: that’s GenX, hands down. It doesn’t mean some Millennials can’t be/won’t be/aren’t already whizzes, but when it comes to which gen has the natural knack for marketing with a personal sense of style, that’s GenXers.

    But, since you’ve brought up the topic, I’d like to offer you something. I’m currently working with Neil Howe, who crafted with his co-author William Strauss, the term “Millennials” back in the day when the gen was but a bunch of kids, at the high end, in their early teen years. He’s recently written a book called, Millennials in the Workforce. (So recent, actually that the press release hasn’t gone out over the wire yet.) If you’re interested in writing a review of the book (no requirement that it be glowing), I can hook you up with a copy. It sells for $55 and it’s not just another I-wanna-be-a-guru-too book. It’s a fer realz look at the newest generation to rise into young adulthood, how that impacts the workforce, companies and our culture. Info about the book here.

    If you, or anyone you’d like to recommend as a book reviewer, would like to take things to the next step, fill this form out. The only catch — and it ain’t no big deal in 2010 — is you have to publish your own review. In other words, don’t write it and send it to to the author. Write it and share it with your own network.

    Great comments, btw. Nice to see a good conversation going on about this topic.

    ~ @JessieX

  • #100779

    Completely agree, Steve. I use the “Generation C” – someone of any age who is using web-based and mobile tools with “2.0” mindset – creative, collaborative and community-oriented. I also make the case for the fact that younger Boomers (mid-40s) are driving this use of social media in the workplace. Before I even get into talking about social media and government 2.0, I drive home these two points – it’s not just for and by “kids”!

  • #100777

    I definitely believe that identifying generational characteristics are important to highlight and understand. We are all shaped by unique events and societal influences in our developmental years. As age cohorts, these common experiences bond us together and determine our world view.

    While every individual is unique and cannot be placed in a box, we are partially the product of personality (nature) and partially the product of culture (nurture)…and it’s the latter aspect where generational “stereotypes” come in handy.

    Assessment like the Myer-Briggs, Thomas-Kilman Conflict Inventory, the DISC, etc. are all tools to help us interact with one another more effectively. Understanding generational differences serves the same purpose.

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