When I'm not working at the Chamber, you can often find me speaking at various conferences or organizations on 'generations in the workplace.' It's something I have grown to love over the past 10 years and something for which I have developed a passion. Our workplaces are changing at such a fast pace and a lot of that is due to the newly emerging workforce brought on by Generation X (1965-1979) and Generation Y or Millennials (1980-2001). This leaves many people asking, "How do we prepare or build our organizations to handle the new expectations and approaches from the younger generations?".
My opinion, and backed up with data, is that this will be one of the greatest challenges for organizations in the next decade. How do we retrofit our businesses and companies to accommodate the young generation whether that's speaking to our customers and clients or our new employees?
When I talk about generations in the workplace, I usually start by laying some foundation. A generation is in fact not solely defined by the time period in which they were born, although that helps ground us. More importantly, a generation is defined by the life experiences that have shaped their outlook and behavior.
For Veterans (1929-1945) their outlook was influenced by events like the Great Depression, World Wars, and becoming an emerging super power. Veterans are often seen as loyal to authority, conservative, disciplined and frugal.
For Baby Boomers (1946-1964) their outlook was shaped by societal chaos with assassinations, rock and roll, civil rights issues, as well as the Vietnam War. Boomers are often seen as rebels, hippies, believers in 'no news is good news', and pretty optimistic wanting to put their mark on things. They are usually the senior leaders or employers of most organizations at the moment.
For Generation X (1965-1980) their outlook was shaped by being the first real technology pioneers (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) and is a 'sandwiched' generation by two larger generations giving Gen X a feeling of being a bit forgotten. Sometimes called the 'latch-key' kids because their dual income-earning parents gave them the key the house for after school, this generation is seen as very independent not having a lot of supervision growing up.
Finally, Generation Y or the Millennials' (1980-2001) outlook was influenced by a time of great prosperity (trophies, 3 car garages, the healthiest, wealthiest and only superpower left), which dramatically changed on 9/11. Since 9/11, the collapse of our financial and housing markets and fighting multiple wars, the Millennials are in a state of searching. They're in a constant pursuit to find safety and security in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This new world pushes them to behave more mobile, more nimble, and more skeptical. Interestingly though, the Millennial tends to be the most optimistic of all generations when it comes to the future.
You see, all generations have their reasons why they approach the world, problems and life differently. It's not that one is right and the other is wrong; its just different because we've all experienced different life circumstances. When discussing generations, we can also have a tendency to paint with broad brush strokes. We do this, as we would in science, to better understand through data, stories and observation "why we do what we do." It's important to note that people also have their individual personalities. Most people will have generational tendencies, but will also exhibit their own personality quirks which come from geography, upbringing, and born-in personality among other things.
As we look to the future of Bennington, we have to constantly be thinking what does this great, dynamic community of many generations need? How do we build a community that is attractive to all age groups? Finally, as we look to grow our younger population (a crisis even at the State level), what are we doing in our shops, organizations, and community to push the boundaries of our own comfort level to create a new Bennington?
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce