The behavior and beliefs of Americans, from their political convictions to their sexual mores, have dramatically changed in the past several years. It is often assumed that the ideas and attitudes of a younger generation seem to be displacing those of their grandparents and parents. In sociology, generation may refer to any of the following things: everyone born at the same time; a group of individuals who are self-consciously defined by others or themselves, as part of a historically based social movement such as the hippie generation or a unique position in a family’s line of descent such as the second generation of the Bush presidents (Alwin, 2016). Currently, there are supposed differences in opinions, beliefs and values among different generations namely generation X, Y and Z. Generation X refers to the cohort that was born between 1965 and 1980, generation Y or the millennials comprises of those born between 1981 and 1996, and generation Z or iGens includes those who were born after 1997. The supposed generational differences that exist among these generations have caused some worries even in the workplace, but it is often argued that such differences are exaggerated and that these generations are more similar than different. This report will expound on the generational differences that exist in terms of beliefs, values and opinions, particularly as they apply to the workplace. The differences in generations are representative of the changes in the American society with generation X being highly independent, generation Y being innovative and generation Z is characterized by increased liberality.
The greatest generation participated in saving the world from fascism. The Dr. Spock generation is said to be the generation that gave Americans free love and rebellion and generation X is said to have made slacking off and cynicism the hallmarks of the end of the 20th century. Generally, the media considered generation as an all-purpose and popular explanation for changes made in America. Every new generation replaced the older one with a zeitgeist of its own. Some scholars argue that civic engagement is declining in the US even though individual citizens are not less civic minded. As the older generation dies off, it gets replaced by the younger generation who Alwin (2016) considers to be more alienated and less tied to such institutions as a bowling league, political party, lodge and church.
Major social changes have taken place in every generation. For instance, in 1877, there were 66 percent of individuals who claimed that it would be better for the woman to stay at home as the man worked but in 2000, only 35 percent held this opinion (Alwin, 2016). In 1972, 48 percent of individuals considered sex before marriage to be wrong as opposed to 36 percent in 2000 and in 1972, 39 percent claimed that there needs to be a law against interracial marriage as opposed to 12 percent in 2000 (Alwin, 2016). These changes in beliefs and opinions are reflective of different generations. Such differences are also observed in the workplace. Most generation X employees will be out of the workforce by 2044 and therefore by 2045, the whole workforce will be comprised of the generation Y and Z employees who have a different set of behavior traits and characteristics (Otieno & Nyambegera, 2019). Generally, the historical and social events that take place during a particular time shape the differences in generations.
In today’s workforce, there is a combination of individuals from different generations, especially as more Americans work past the age of 55. In fact, King et al (2019) claim that there are five generations in the workplace today, beginning from the silent generation (born between 1927 and 1946) to the generation Z. The result of the age diversity is the fear of the negative impact it might have in the workplace, especially as it pertains to the organization’s functioning. It is often assumed that Millennials only want to communicate through text whereas the Baby Boomers and generation X do not text, preferring one-on-one interactions. Millennials are also highly tech-oriented and flexible whereas the older generations prefer doing things the traditional way. However, research shows that the feared differences that exist among different generations lack strong evidence. King et al (2019) claim that the age-related stereotypes together with meta-stereotypes can impact the way an organization operates. In one study, when employees were asked to describe the qualities that could be true of another age group, results showed that younger employees’ stereotypes of older workers were highly positive, including words like mature, hard-working and responsible whereas the older workers believed that others perceived them to be grumpy and stubborn (King et al, 2019). On the other hand, the younger employees were considered inexperienced but enthusiastic but these younger employees rated themselves more negatively with words like irresponsible and unmotivated. The workplace stereotypes could cause interpersonal conflicts or avoidance behaviors, and King et al (2019) report that during training, the trainer’s stereotype about older adults’ slow learning could result in poor training.
Generation X is composed of individuals who value self-reliance and independence. Most of them grew up in homes that had 2 working parents and therefore the children learned to work hard and fend for themselves. Jiang (2019) reports that Gen Xers’ ability to solve problems, adapt to changes and encourage both the young and older generations is unmatched. They are also considered loyal to organizations that provide them with opportunities to develop and grow and hence the need to tap into their influential abilities so as to encourage them to mentor others, particularly the younger generations. Jenkins (2019) outlines 7 key characteristics and traits of the generation X as follows: highly goal-oriented and independent in regard to attaining a position of power, view individuals in positions of power as experts, thrive in environments that are structured hierarchical, follow a “live to work” kind of mentality, value adaptability and flexibility within a hierarchy, concerned that they might not be able to retire comfortably and quick to adopt new channels of communication, and prefer collaborative, transparent and real-time communications.
Generation Y, or millennials on the other hand, are characterized by their intuitiveness and innovativeness in technology. They form the majority of the workforce today and are said to value exploration, flexibility and diversity. Research shows that compared to the other generations, generation Y individuals place high value in leadership, with 77 percent of the American Generation Y as opposed to 57 percent of Generation X and 61 percent of generation X claiming that a leadership role is important to them (Bresman & Rao, 2017). Generation Y values the use of technology in the workplace. Jenkins (2019) describes the following traits and characteristics of the millennials. They desire feedback, diverse collaboration and making a difference, they have a different approach on how they socialize, work, communicate and learn because of technology, they are the first generation that did not consider teachers and parents as the sole authority and instead seek internet authority and advise, they like an active role so as to have an immediate impact, technology shapes their way of communication, they are highly persuaded by peers, and their work/life values and behavior is highly shaped by technology.
Workers in the generation Y are considered the most confident generation because they were raised in an American school system that catered to the self-esteem of people (Glass, 2017). They are considered the most wanted generation given that majority were conceived during a time of abortions and birth control but their families still chose to have them and hence more dedication to raising the children, to an extent of domineering their career success. Helicopter parents is a term that was coined due to the inclination that most millennial parents had to hover around their children, striving to oversee their social and work activities.
Generation Z is the generation that is highly characterized by the use of social media and smartphones and their numbers in the US workplace is increasing with time given that most of them are done with high school. This generation also known as iGens, is characterized by the zeal for information on the internet and are considered liberal in terms of their beliefs and they also crave for openness to emerging social trends. 29 percent of the iGens in the US claim that an empowering work culture would lure them to stay with an organization for 3 years or more (Jiang, 2019). Jenkins (2019) summarizes their behavioral traits and characteristics as follows: they approach work with a do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude, pragmatic and hardworking, mobile and video-centric generation with the mobile devices almost controlling their lives, gravitate towards gamified procedures or processes and are native to the global collaboration and communication across virtual platforms, they want managers and teachers not to be their sole source of learning, but have them as supplements to learning, prefer collaborative, transparent and real-time digital communications and place premium on side hustles, innovation and entrepreneurship.
In each generation is reflective of the different changes that have taken place in the American society. For instance, even though generation X is considered highly hardworking, the productivity of the generation Y can be considered higher due to the increased innovation in technology and this productivity is expected to increase among the generation Z. Increased liberality can also be observed in generation Y and Z and this may be at odds with the conservativeness and traditionalism of the generation X. Such differences can cause major trouble in the workplace but it is important to tap into the strengths of each employee for firms to record increased productivity. Furthermore, the fact that all three generations seem eager to learn could be an added advantage for employers.