Difference between Generation X and Y

January 26th, 2011 | Job Search, Workplace Resources | 5 Comments »

Differences between Gen X & Gen Y

Every person is a product of his or her environment, so it’s no surprise that the modern work place (consisting of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y) is a complex mixture of varied work expectations, values, and degrees of tech savviness. Because of this diversity, a clear cut balance needs to be adapted in order for an office containing all three generations to thrive.

Before that happens, we need to truly understand each generation.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 & 1964, came of age during the early days of the Cold War. As they entered the workforce, they combined their parents’ work ethic with their own budding idealism in hopes of making the world a better place. As a group, Baby Boomers are loyal to a fault. Most are eager to trust their employer and only move to other companies to escape truly reprehensible conditions. For that reason, they respect hierarchy and most decide to climb the corporate ladder from within the company they start with.

Though they’ve been around for major advancements in the workplace, most jumps in business technology occurred after they had already entered the work force. Widespread computer use, cell phones, wireless networks, and The Cloud are all technologies they have adapted to after their formative years. To Baby Boomers, face to face is still the best way for office interactions. The entire idea of telecommuting to the office or remote access is well outside of their wheelhouse.

Generation X

Generation X, born between 1965 & 1981, saw the rise of two income & single parent families. With their Baby Boomer parents drawn into their work lives, young Gen Xers became independent at a much younger age. They possess a natural self-sufficiency and are resourceful enough to work their way out of any problem. On meaningful challenges, they will relentlessly work to achieve a solution but they are not blindly loyal. They consider themselves free agents and are more than willing to leave a job for a better opportunity.

Unlike the Baby Boomer Generation, most members of Generation X were introduced to digital technology before entering into the workforce. They are drawn to new technology and eagerly pursue any skill that can increase their marketability. Primarily, Gen Xers use technology as a means to end, focusing on how technology as a tool can enhance their lives outside of the digital world.

Generation Y

Generation Y, born between 1982 & 1994, is focused on following their own path. From a young age, the Millennial generation has been told they can do whatever they want by their highly supportive and engaged parents. In most cases, their adolescence was jam packed with scheduled events and technological distractions, making multitasking second nature. On the job, they are focused on achievement more than money, and will only stick around if they feel they are contributing to important tasks. When they work on projects, they expect to have regular feedback to make sure that they are going along the right path.

Having played around with technology from a very young age, the Millennials can instinctively navigate new, high tech equipment without any major learning curve. They passionately immerse themselves in new technology, not only to build their professional skill sets but to enhance every facet of their lives. Generation Y quickly turns to the internet for knowledge, networking, social interaction, and entertainment. Technology is ingrained in every part of their life, so don’t expect them to shut off when they get into the workplace.

Put them together and what do you get?

Working with individuals from multiple generations may seem like a daunting task because no single structure will keep all three generations satisfied on the job. Millennials may love regular input, but Generation Xers might become suspicious of this overinvolved style. Implementing telecommuting options may cause Baby Boomers to feel isolated, but going without them will upset Millennials who feel most comfortable utilizing the full power of the Internet.

To maximize the potential of this hodgepodge culture, a flexible structure needs to be in place. An implacable management style directed toward any one group will alienate more employees than it will inspire. Most importantly, the focus of the office should be on its goals, not the means in which individual workers get there.

The most important thing to do is create a team that understands the strengths of each generation. Encourage older employees to mentor younger ones in ways that promote intergenerational understanding and collaboration. Break down stereotypical walls: Millennials are not lazy, Gen Xers are not disloyal, and Baby Boomers are not stuck in the past. Only when the team realizes that they are all pursuing the same goals, albeit by different methods, can an office reach its potential.

It is also crucial to remember that not all individuals are the same, and relying on the overview of an entire generation to predict the actions of a single employee can often be as reliable as looking at that employee’s horoscope to predict his or her work behaviors. Bottom line: get to know your team. Only then can you customize the proper work environment to fit their needs.

For more resources, check out this article.

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5 Responses to “Difference between Generation X and Y”

  1. Rebecca Bretzinger says:

    You say: “The Generation X are the Baby Boomers.”

    I was born in 1970 and always thought I was part of Generation X, and actually always felt close to being a Generation Y because I owned computers when I was young, learned programming in middle school computer drafting in HS, and desktop publishing and computer graphic design in college. Sure, I learned web programming and design after college, but I was never out of my element. MANY of my period cohorts tell a similar story to mine.

    My MOM and DAD are the baby boomers. I think you are confusing or blurring Generation X and Baby Boomers. Still, my mother-in-law who just retired as a food service manager was the in-house computer expert for her food service computer systems.

    I think the overall point you are making is reflected in statistical demographics, but each person should be measured individually – the young person for their work ethic, and old folks (like me!) for their technical ability.

  2. Tim Soster says:

    Generation X are not Baby Boomers. That’s an entirely different generation. And as for Gen X, Rebecca, people born in 1970, we have led the way in computer technology. You can’t use computers as the measuring stick.
    But you are a Generation Xer.

  3. James says:

    The primary difference between Generation X and Generation Y is cultural. The hip-hop culture has invaded every aspect of their lives. I was born in 1978, which is a bit at the tale end of Gen X. But my friends are all Gen X and Baby Boomers, and I was raised around them.
    I have found that most Gen Yers have little to no Geographic knowledge of the world they live in. They have little to no political opinions or thoughts whatsoever. They have no interest at all in high Finance (trade, stock market, etc.).
    Topics of conversation most commonly encountered are: sports (primarily Football (NFL in particular)), hip-hop music (Rap in particular), movies (action and/or crime in particular), and fighting. There is an overall tone of “who’s da man!” when interacting with Gen Yers.
    In conclusion, yes, they may be familiar with the operation of consumer electronics “gadgets”, but it was (and still is) the Gen Xers who are more familiar with how those devices work and the political/commercial history behind them.

  4. Laura says:

    Ok, you say the cut off between generation X and Y is the 80s, on all the other sites I’ve seen on the subject the cut off is 1976/77 so, what is the real time frame cut off between the two?

  5. jameswalsh says:

    Hi Laura, thanks for the comment.

    The division point between Generation X and Generation Y is a roughly defined one with different sources citing different start and end dates. Most of the sources we checked pointed to the very early 80s as the latest point possible for Gen Xers.