Maryland Bar Center
520 West Fayette Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Direct Line: 443-703-3041
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC
Lawyers Assistance Program Counselor
Direct Line: 443-703-3042
Honorable William G. Simmons
Lawyer Assistance Committee Chair
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. Similarly no matter what our line of work, there exists an additional force to contend with: Bridging the Multi-Generational Workforce.
You may ask: What does this have to do with practicing law? Business organizations must be able to deal with a wide range of personalities within its workforce, as well as the client base, to remain healthy and strong. While each member of this multi-generational factor is first an individual, there are defining secondary characteristics of each generation. Generally, each generation brings to the work culture different attitudes, values and expectations about work. When a generation is formed there emerges within that generation shared values, experiences, and points of view and mind-sets.
Fortunately when understood and taken into considerations, these characteristics can enrich the culture of a workplace. Unfortunately when the same secondary characteristics are misunderstood or ignored, the organizational culture may result in clashes among the workers and/or clients. Ultimately, these 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 to be aware that it exists. In The History of America's Future 1584-2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe, the authors note that each generation shares a common birth period. Furthermore, each group or generation shares significant events that occurred during that period. This sharing affects not only the group's life cycles; but also it affects their attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions resulting in a collective peer personality or mind set within each generation.
An excellent resource of the attitudes and characteristics shared by the four generational groups which make up today's workforce is set out by authors Ron Semke, Claire Raiunes, and Bob Filipszak: Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, X'ers and Nexters in Your Workplace. Some general characteristics of these four generations are:
► 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 drive 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 1940’s and 50’s, 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, not all, bring immeasurable wisdom and strength to their workforce.
► Other Names: 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, Grateful Dead, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Supremes
“Members of the baby boom generation, born between 1943 and 1960 grew up in the late 1950’s and 1960’s - 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 that 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.”
Gen X’ers 1961-1979
► Other Names: Twenty-something's, Thirteeners, Baby Busters, Post Busters
► Defining Events: Watergate, Nixon resigns, Latchkey Kids, Single Parent homes, MTV, AIDS, fall of the Berlin Wall, Computers
► Visible Members: Kurt Cobain, Jewel, Michael Jordan, George Stephanopoulis, Michael Den
► Music of Their Early Years: 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”, they in contrast want to “work to live.” This generation has a nontraditional 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.
► Other Names: Millennials, Generation Y, Generation 2001, Nintendo Generation, Generation Nex, Internet Generation
► Defining Events: Computers, Schoolyard Violence, Multi-Culturalism, Oklahoma City Bombing, McGwire & Sosa
► Visible Members: Chelsea Clinton, LeAnn Rimes, Tara Lipinski, Macauley Culkin, Kerri Strug
► Music of Their Early Years: Alternative, Rap, Puff Daddy, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Remix, 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 Lewinshy 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."
Material taken from "Generations AT Work" Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, X'ers and Nexters in the Workplace; Ron Semke, Claire Raines, Bob Filipszak.
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 in peace. For more information about the four generations in the workplace, the impact of generational differences between co-workers, and generational issues that may occur call: The MSBA'S Lawyers Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878 Ex. 3041