Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2005

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LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
(410) 685-3993 | (410) 685-7878 | (800) 492-1964

Richard Vincent
Director, ext 3040
Carol P. Waldhauser
Assistant Director, ext 3041

THE LAP ZONE:
"Bridging the Multi-Generational Workforce"

By Carol P. Waldhauser

Many of us spend an enormous amount of time and energy working. Therefore, it is important that we maintain serenity within our business life. Work can be satisfying, but it can be (and usually is) stressful. Of course, each profession and industry has its own unique set of problems and sources of stress. However, one factor that must be addressed no matter what the line of work is the bridging of the multi-generational workforce.

You may wonder, “What does this have to do with practicing law?” Every business organization must be able to deal with a wide range of personalities within its workforce as well as its client base in order to remain healthy and strong. While each member of this multi-generational factor is an individual first, there are defining secondary characteristics of each generation. Generally, each generation brings to the work culture different attitudes, values and expectations about work. Within each generation there emerges a set of shared values, experiences, points of view and mindsets.

When understood and taken into consideration, these characteristics can enrich the culture of a workplace. Unfortunately, when the same secondary characteristics are misunderstood or ignored, clashes may result between the workers and/or clients, and such clashes can result in law firms, state agencies and/or other companies losing their best and their brightest.

One way to get a better feel on what is going on with the multi-generational workforce is simply being aware that it exists. In The History of America’s Future 1584-2069, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe note that each generation shares a common birth period. Furthermore, members of each group or generation share significant events that occurred during that period. This sharing influences not only the group’s life cycles but also its attitudes, beliefs and perceptions, resulting in a collective peer personality or mindset within that generation.

In Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, X’ers and Nexters in Your Workplace, authors Ron Semke, Claire Raiunes and Bob Filipszak provide an excellent resource on the attitudes and characteristics shared by the four generational groups which make up today’s workforce. Some general characteristics of these four generations are:

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Veterans (1925-1942) – Other Names: Traditionalists, GI Mature, WWII Generation, The Silent Generation, seniors. Defining Events: The Great Depression, New Deal, WWII, Korean War, Silver Screen, rise of Labor Unions. Visible Members: George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Phil Donahue, Gloria Steinem, John Glenn. Music of Their Early Years: Big Band, Swing, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra.

This is the oldest generation in the workplace, with members born actually between 1922 and 1943. The veterans, also called ‘The Silent Generation’, are the subject of Tom Brokaw’s recent book, The Greatest Generation. Members of this group grew up in hard times but triumphed over cataclysmic events such as the Great Depression and World War II.

Most veterans believe in the intrinsic value of work (they tend to derive satisfaction from work itself rather than the meaning in the work), favor obedience over individualism and understand self-sacrifice and ‘making do’. Most have small town roots. When members of this group joined the workforce in the 1940s and ’50s, there was a well-defined hierarchy, and roles for women were narrowly defined.

Presently, many of the veterans are either thinking about retirement, have retired, or have at least cut their working hours considerably. Conversely, others continue to be part of the workforce, and most (though not all) bring immeasurable wisdom and strength to their workforce.
 

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Boomers (1943-1960) – Other Names: Baby Boomers. Defining Events: Prosperity, Television, Assassinations, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Women’s Liberation, the Space Race. Visible Members: Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, Rush Limbaugh, David Letterman. Music of Their Early Years: Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Supremes.

Members of the baby boom generation, born between 1943 and 1960 grew up in the late 1950s and 1960s – a time of prosperity and expansion in the United States. This generation was the first for which childbearing was a hobby and a pleasure, not an economic necessity and a biological inevitability. Its members were more apt than those in succeeding generations to live in a family with a working father and stay-at-home mother.

The Vietnam War had a profound and divisive effect on the boomers. It was the primary cause of the “generation gap” between veterans and boomers and sometimes caused splits between boomers and their siblings.

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Gen X’ers (1961-1979) – Other Names: Twenty-somethings, Thirteeners, Baby Busters, Post Busters. Defining Events: Watergate, Nixon resigns, latch-key kids, single-parent homes, MTV, AIDS, fall of the Berlin Wall, Computers. Visible Members: Kurt Cobain, Jewel, Michael Jordan, George Stephanopoulos. Music of Their Early Year: Disco, Rap, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Prince.

Also known as the thirteenth generation, Generation X marks the period of birth decline after the baby boom and thus is much smaller. Born between 1961 and 1980, X’ers came of age in an era of fallen heroes, a struggling economy, soaring divorce rates, and the phenomenon of latch-key children. This was the first generation of kids for whom the two-income family was the rule rather than the exception – X’ers were growing up, and women were joining the workforce in dramatically increasing numbers.

X’ers believe their parents “lived to work”; in contrast, they want to “work to live”. This generation has a non-tradition orientation to time and space. They do not think much of structured work hours, and their approach to authority is casual. X’ers are technologically savvy, more willing to change jobs than the generations that preceded them and disdainful of boomers, seeing them as full talk but not action.
 

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Nexters (1980-2000) – Other Names: Millennials, Generation Y, Generation 2001, Nintendo Generation, Generation Nex, Internet Generation. Defining Events: computers, schoolyard violence, multi-culturalism, Oklahoma City Bombing, McGwire and Sosa. Visible Members: Chelsea Clinton, LeAnn Rimes, Tara Lipinski, Macaulay Culkin, Kerri Strug. Music of Their Early Years: Alternative, Rap, Puff Daddy, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Jewel, Savage Garden.

The newest generation also has the most diverse heritage – one in three is the child of a single mother, and many are offspring of boomers who postpone having children until their forties. In their short lives, nexters have experienced a startling range of events and emotions from euphoria of the millennial celebration to the shame and disgust surrounding the investigation of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky to the tragedies of Columbine and the World Trade Center. They are the children of the digital age, the first generation to be born into homes with computers. Already, they know far more about technology than their parents.

Nexters are just beginning to enter the workforce. Some say the values they bring to work are traditional and more in line with their grand and great-grandparents (veterans and boomers). Others believe that the next big ‘generation gap’ to affect the United States will be the one between boomers and nexters, and that the gap will be felt in the workplace as well as at home.

Generational differences are a form of cultural diversity, and as the labor pool continues to change, these differences will become a growing factor in building work environments in which people of diverse backgrounds can work not only effectively but also peacefully. For more information about the four generations in the workplace, the impact of generational differences between co-workers and generational issues that may arise, call the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878, ext. 3041, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2005

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