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Boomers and Xers and Millennials, Oh My!

Posted by Cara Silletto, MBA on Aug 17, 2016 12:00:00 PM

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A game-changing generational shift is in the works, and organizations that understand the diverse mindsets and expectations of their workers will be the ones able to attract and retain talent moving forward. Of course, we can’t judge people completely by their birth years, but there are reasons the generational cohorts are categorized the way they are. Here are some basic differences applying to many (not all) who fall into each group.


Born pre-1946

Now 70s & 80s

4 million working

2.5% of US Working Population

Baby Boomers

Born 1946–1964

Now 50s & 60s

52 million working 

33.8% of US Working Population


Born 1965–1979

Now Upper 30s & 40s

45 million working 

29.2% of US Working Population


Born 1980–2000

Now Under 36

53 million working 

34.4% of US Working Population

Raised during WWII and in the shadow of the great depression, the Traditionalists (aka Silent Generation) were very grateful for everything they had. These men tended to work at the same companies their entire careers, and valued stability, financial security and safety for their families. Not many Traditionalists remain in today’s workforce. Those who do have a wealth of knowledge, but they are not likely to be our champions of change.

Baby Boomers
The Baby Boomer generation said, “Wait a minute. If I work HARDER, I can have MORE!” This group started the trend of long hours and staying until the job was done. They realized if they worked one more hour and closed one more deal, for example, they would make more money or be better aligned for the next promotion. Some went so far as to become “workaholics,” but it was with great intention. They wanted to do better for their families. The goal was to create a better childhood for their children.

Now, ten thousand Boomers retire every day in the US, but many Boomers have decided to delay retirement for several reasons, including not wanting to run out of money later. They’ve also worked so hard their entire careers that some aren’t sure what they’d do with all their free time, while and others equate a large portion of their identify with their careers. If I’m no longer working, who am I? No matter the reasons, expect your Boomer workers to stick around well beyond our previous standard retirement ages.

Most GenXers went to college directly after high school and most GenX women went to work before having children. These were both game changers for the workforce as the level in formal education and gender demographics shifted dramatically.

This generation, unfortunately, was only about half the size of the Boomer cohort ahead of them, so while they wanted to change the business world, most GenXers realized if they wanted to climb the career ladder, they had to play the game according to the Boomers’ rules, so they did. That’s why today most GenX workers and managers think a lot like the Boomers who taught them. However, GenXers can now serve as great bridge-builders between the two larger cohorts as they understand both sides, aren’t afraid of change or technology, and they have tremendous business acumen, which affords them the knowledge to gauge the impact of changes before they occur. Their subject matter expertise is about to become very valuable.

Also known as GenY, the Millennial cohort is the largest young professional generation the business world has seen in nearly 40 years. This power, coupled with their knowledge of technology and their incredibly high comfort level with change, allows this cohort now take the business world by storm. They may be labeled as lazy, uncommitted and entitled, but great managers understand this group was raised differently.

Millennials “work smarter, not harder,” utilizing technology to reach goals faster. Some don’t know what loyalty looks like, since divorce peaked in the 1980s and layoffs were popular in the 1990s. For many, their parents split and/or got laid off during the Millennials’ formative years telling the children to “take care of yourself,” so don’t blame them for the results. They were also the product of personal credit cards taking hold of the middle class in the 1980s. Millennials got everything they asked for, so no wonder they have high expectations in the work world. Is it their fault? Nope!

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Topics: Millennials, Generations

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