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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Community - January 2010

Age Labels: What They Say About You
Stereotypes Explain Us but May Not Define Us

We are at an unprecedented time as a society and as a state. For various reasons, there currently are four distinct generations of people in the workforce. Depending on an organization's size, you may find people of many different generations working side by side in the same division, on the same project or even doing the same job. Generations are shaped by the times in which they develop. Political and economic factors, scientific and technological advances, and even trends in entertainment give each generation a unique set of values, interests and needs.

For the most part, people want to be seen as individuals and judged by their own actions, but we often can't change the assumptions others make of us based on our age. What we can do is understand the stereotypes and characteristics attached to each generation and how those play out in the workplace.

    There currently are four distinct generations of people in the workforce
  • People born before 1946 are considered the "mature" or "veteran" generation, and Fortune magazine estimates there are about 11 million of them in the current U.S. workforce. They grew up during the Great Depression and World War II and are generally seen as dedicated, hard workers who are willing to sacrifice for the common good. They respect authority and strive for conformity. They are patient and can accept delayed reward. They follow rules and put duty before pleasure. While most in this generation are retired, those that remain in the workplace usually are in positions of authority or are working because they want to, giving them a unique perspective.
  • The Baby Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964 and, at 62 million strong, comprise 45 percent of the modern workforce. They saw the prosperity of the 1950s and the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. They are generally seen as more individually focused than the generation before them. They are optimists who value personal gratification and growth. They are interested in health and wellness and maintaining a sense of youth. They are drawn to teams and being involved in meaningful causes.
  • Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980 and are the second largest group of workers, with about 44 million currently in the workforce. Many in this generation came of age as their parents were being forced out of their jobs due to corporate downsizing, so they tend to have much different attitudes about workplace loyalty and authority than previous generations. They value diversity and balance and think globally. They embrace technology and approach work with pragmatism. They also are seen as informal and interested in deriving enjoyment from what they do.
  • People born after 1980 are referred to as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. They represent the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. They grew up with technology like the Internet and e-mail, and many of them knew how to navigate the World Wide Web before they could read. They have a global perspective and strive to not only balance work and life, but interweave the two. They are optimistic, like the baby boomers, believe in civic duty like the matures and are confident like Generation X. Generally, they are social creatures that value diversity and morality, as well as street smarts.

And, more change is coming. The youngest people entering the workforce were born in 1994 and will be shaped by events of the last two decades, including the widespread political scandals, the rise of terrorism and a global recession. We are only beginning to understand what impact this will have on the workforce.

While many of us don't feel that we are fairly described by the generational label given to us, we do tend to judge others by theirs. Stereotypes give us some perspective to understand people we don't know as individuals. It's when stereotypes are held above the individual's actions that they become a problem. Understanding the assumptions made about you will help you shape your actions to change or reinforce others' opinions of you and shake negative stereotypes.