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Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple Generations in the Workplace

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Abstract

Generational differences in societies are characteristics generally attributed to people’s age that constitute a sociocultural phenomenon. Divisions in the generations differ across nations and extend even to civilizations. Perception and recognition of the different characteristics of each generation affect the cooperation between people in social, political, and economic capacities, and subsequently extend to entities in the public, informal, commercial, and nongovernmental sectors. From the perspective of social justice, it is important to draw attention to how workplace management techniques are used to promote equal opportunities among representatives of various generations.
A. Klimczuk, Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple
Generations in the Workplace, [in:] S. Thompson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social
Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2015, pp. 348352.
1
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES
Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple Generations in
the Workplace
Generational differences in societies are characteristics generally attributed to peoples age that
constitute a sociocultural phenomenon. Divisions in the generations differ across nations and
extend even to civilizations. Perception and recognition of the different characteristics of each
generation affect the cooperation between people in social, political, and economic capacities
and subsequently extend to entities in the public, informal, commercial, and non-governmental
sectors. From the perspective of social justice, it is important to draw attention to how
workplace management techniques are used to promote equal opportunities among representa-
tives of various generations.
Generational Differences
Generation defines a community of individuals belonging to an age group of people born
around the same time period (usually within one year). Generations are often perceived as
“historical” communities with a certain hierarchy of values, attitudes, and common momentous
experiences such as war, change(s) in the social system, and economic crises.
The concept of generational differences dates back to the early twentieth century (Schaie,
2007). Sociologist Karl Mannheim drew attention to the conflicts between the generations,
particularly between children and young people against their parents. These conflicts are based
on a failure to understand the other because of differences in experiences, opinions, habits, and
behavior as well as the transmission of values. The concept was similarly adopted in psychology
by Charlotte Buhler and Raymond Kuhlen. Developmental psychologists pointed out that the
age of the individual has to be analyzed in conjunction with the social changes that affect
behavior.
Studies on generational differences resumed in the 1960s with the rise of the “generational
gap” or “generational conflict” phenomenon. Clashes between younger and older people
surfaced after World War II due to rapid changes in the social, economic, and cultural
characteristics of societies, which included changes in fashion, lifestyles, electoral behavior,
work expectations, and values. Generational gap was observed mainly in the United States and
Europe and described the cultural differences between the baby boomers and their parents
(Mendez, 2008). This largely unprecedented situation was the result of many older people
A. Klimczuk, Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple
Generations in the Workplace, [in:] S. Thompson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social
Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2015, pp. 348352.
2
increasing their power and social influence and, at the same time, many young people rebelling
against social norms. Perception of the gap became tied to hippie fashions and values, religious
and cultural diversity, music festivals, sexual freedom, and drug use. The generation gap was
also the result of a decrease in multigenerational households where three or more generations
lived together. The gap can thus be understood as children having fewer opportunities to
understand and relate to their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Another important term in generational differences is an intergenerational hierarchy
boundary (Gillmore, 2008). This term refers to the observation that family members can only
play the roles assigned to them by others. These boundaries not only provide an organized
system through which family needs are met, but they also form a means of transmitting
affection, values, and knowledge to future generations. For example, a few centuries ago, the
boundaries in traditional families led to the idea that children should be treated as adults due to
the need for labor. Moreover, parents had relatively less time to raise children, leaving
grandparents to impart their time and experience to children and grandchildren. However,
industrialism and technological advances have led to a new situation, in which children are
recognized as adults later in life, and their entrance into the workforce is delayed. Consequently,
the age at which adults are likely to have children has shifted, and with it, the age difference
between children and parents has increased. This age gap between child and parent could hinder
parents ability to identify with their children, which may result in less involvement. Other
differences could arise from a decrease in childrens respect for grandparents due to changes in
work and living environments, geographical mobility, rising divorce rates, and “age
segregation”—for example, when older people reside in age-specific housing or communities
while children are raised in nurseries and schools. Sociological and anthropological studies
indicate that differences in intergenerational boundaries and hierarchy occur across cultural and
ethnic groups (Mead, 1970).
The negative or positive valuation of different generations may be described as
“generationism” (Bard & Soderqvist, 2002). This belief holds that certain generational features
are better or worse compared to other generations, and like “age-ism,” it is a summative
judgment of others not typically grounded by verifiable data. Generationism manifests mainly
on the negative valuation of currently living generations with respect to past (e.g., negative
assessment of ancient cultures as “primitive”) or future (e.g., negative assessment of young
people behavior) generations.
A. Klimczuk, Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple
Generations in the Workplace, [in:] S. Thompson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social
Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2015, pp. 348352.
3
Generations of Western Society
Several generations in contemporary society have been delineated and described by business
fields such as marketing and human resources management (Patterson, 2010). The most
prominent generations observed in Western societies are: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers,
Generation X, Generation Y/Millennials, and Generation Z. However, it should be noted that
the characteristics of each generation depend on the country or society under consideration (for
example, Poland in the twentieth century underwent three transformations of its political and
economic system, which significantly contributed to much more complex generational
differences). Also, those features may not be as readily applied to civilizations characterized by
different traditions and perceptions of social justice (e.g., Eastern cultures). Lastly, those
generational differences have been further criticized as middleclass characteristics that cannot
sufficiently describe generation members from low- and high-income families.
The Traditionalist generation includes people born between 1920 and 1940. They are often
described as conservative, consistent, and reliable. Having survived hard economic times, they
are generally patient and hard-working, holding patriotism, dedication, and sacrifice in high
regard. They typically respect hierarchical structure, earned status, and authority. As
employees, they were committed to a particular career for a lifetime. As the name suggests,
traditionalists value law, slow change, and the continuity of traditions.
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1960. They are generally optimistic and
idealistic, but they also see authority and rules as elements that can be questioned and
manipulated. They value democracy and teamwork, but they tend to ignore interpersonal
conflicts. As employees, they are characterized by a strong work ethic, dedicated to a job and
quality outcomes, but they often need to receive performance feedback and be recognized for
their personal contributions. Boomers possess a strong desire for individuality and personal
gratification and are thus motivated by money, title, material success, health, and wellness.
Generation X encompasses those born between 1961 and 1980. They are characterized by
a tendency toward resourcefulness, self-reliance, adaptability, and flexibility. They are often
skeptical about the world and are economically conservative, but they are still willing to learn
and take risks. However, they tend to undermine teamwork and distrust institutions. They are
more interested in their own development and well-being than that of the organization.
Consequently, Xers tend to build portable careers as an extension of their attachment to free-
dom, informality, and a balance between work and leisure.
Generation Y/Millennials are people born between 1981 and 2000. They have never
A. Klimczuk, Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple
Generations in the Workplace, [in:] S. Thompson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social
Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2015, pp. 348352.
4
experienced a world without digital technology, in particular, the Internet and mobile phones.
They are characterized by an interest in higher education and creativity. They were often raised
in child-centered, democratic families and tended to appear sociable, optimistic, and self-
assured. They are present-oriented, often refusing traditions while embracing diversity.
Generation Y members need meaningful work, supervision, and feedback from those who have
expertise. They are multitaskers who prefer teamwork but avoid difficult people in the work
environment. This generation needs achievements and builds parallel careers.
There is no agreement on the exact birth dates of Generation Z members, although estimates
place them somewhere between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s. They were raised not long
after the September 11 terrorist attacks, which influenced the politics regarding mobility and
data privacy in many countries. Because Generation Z members use many communication
technologies, they have been aptly nicknamed “digital natives.” They seek out jobs that can be
performed in multiple locations, from home to office to cafe, but they fear the lack of a
permanent job and owning homes. They often maintain critical attitudes toward higher edu-
cation, social security, and state responses to economic crises.
Managing Multiple Generations in the Workplace
The concept of promoting social justice among the generations was introduced in the 1980s as
part of “diversity management.” It is based on the assumption that an age-diverse workforce
should be seen as a competitive advantage (Gilbert, Stead, & Ivancevich, 1999). However, the
concept also presumes that modernizationwith its increased mobility and age-specific
institutionshas reduced most peoples opportunities to interact constantly with others outside
of their age group. Consequently, many professionals may have little or no exposure to the
experiences of different generations, and thus they do not understand their values and
expectations.
“Intergenerational social integration” involves activities aimed at the consolidation of
individuals and groups representing different generations, thereby increasing the strength and
solidarity of relationships between generations (Klimczuk, 2013). These activities help to raise
awareness of generation interdependence and highlight how the choices and actions of one
generation affect others. Integration policies can occur at different societal levels: at the state
level (macro), in family or company (micro), as well as between different generations in local
communities, political parties, non-governmental organizations, and professional associations
(meso).
A. Klimczuk, Generational Differences, Generations of Western Society, Managing Multiple
Generations in the Workplace, [in:] S. Thompson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social
Justice, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2015, pp. 348352.
5
Human relations management in public, commercial, and nongovernment entities may use
techniques to increase the benefits derived from multiple generations coordinating in the work-
place. One method, often known as “age management” (Walker, 1997), seeks to promote equity
and combat age barriers in employment through public policy or collective agreements. Age
management involves the implementation of good practices along a few dimensions, namely:
1. Job recruitment (e.g., rising of maximum age limit; elimination/absence of particular
age barriers; positive discrimination of age groups/generations; employment exchange/ job
center for older workers)
2. Training, development, and promotion (e.g., development of training and educational
programs, in particular for older/aging workers; creation of learning environments and
workplace mentorships for older workers; promotion of age-specific policy in work
organizations)
3. Flexible work practices (e.g., flexible working hours/age-related working time; age-
related leave; part-time jobs; flexible retirement/early exit scheme)
4. Ergonomics, job design, and prevention (e.g., improvement of work conditions and
workload; mixing younger and older workers; age-related health and/or wealth control; older
workers excluded from shift labor)
5. Changing attitudes within organizations (e.g., research related to aging and perfor-
mance; programs to change attitudes and opinions toward older workers)
6. Changes in exit policy (e.g., rising of minimum age of early exit; elevation of normal
retirement age)
7. Using of other policies (e.g., establishing general age-related policy; seniority programs;
age-related sectoral policy as a result of collective agreements)
Andrzej Klimczuk
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