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Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
February 1, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 5


Credit: Shutterstock
Use your understanding of different generations to guide your workplace interactions.
Compass showing different generations.
Credit: Shutterstock
Use your understanding of different generations to guide your workplace interactions.

The employment landscape is changing in many ways. It now includes four generations, and as people continue to live and work longer, we will soon have five cohorts in the workplace simultaneously.

These groups are separated not only by age and maturity, but also by specific social, political, economic, and technological experiences during their formative years. Each generation grew up in a different world, which in turn shaped not only that group’s worldview, but also their expectations for how things should be done and how people should interact.

Age can be a quick indicator of both stage of life and generational cohort, but understanding the individual is always more important than any group generalization.

That said, the following are brief descriptions of the generations currently shaping the employment landscape:

The Silent Generation

Born 1928–45, 2% of the workforce in 2015. This generation was shaped by the Great Depression, communism, World War II, rapid industrialization, and family gatherings around the radio. They believe in loyalty, timeliness, and tenure, though most of them are now retirees.

Baby Boomers

Born 1946–64, 29% of the workforce in 2015. This cohort grew up with the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, assassinations, the space race, widespread television, and rock ’n’ roll. They changed the world as young adults, and then conformed in the workplace. They want accountability, seek recognition for individual strengths, and see their coworkers as teammates.

Generation X

Born 1965–80, 34% of the workforce in 2015. Children of two working parents and divorce, they grew up with the Challenger disaster, the AIDS epidemic, personal computers, and the Internet. Gen Xers want a friendly employer that simplifies routine tasks, and they view coworkers as friends. In many ways, they bridge the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, but are often overshadowed by them.

Generation Y (Millennials)

Born 1981–97, 34% of the workforce in 2015. This generation was shaped by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, school shootings, helicopter parents, the Great Recession, social networking, and 24/7 information. They are changing both the world and the workplace in their young adult years, and they are now moving into management roles. They are less trusting than previous generations, more cooperative than competitive, and prefer coaches/mentors to managers/bosses.

Generation Z

Born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s, starting to enter the workforce. This group has used technology since birth and, in their short lifetimes, saw the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the Asian tsunami, the global financial crisis, WikiLeaks, hyperconnectedness, and mobile everything. As they move into the workforce, they are bringing with them their own expectations and ideas.

Each generation, and each individual within each generation, has their own strengths and weaknesses. The next time you become frustrated with a coworker who does things differently, try to understand their perspective. Are there differences in your background that lead to different expectations? By understanding how their mind-set differs from yours, you might see how to work together. (Numbers from Pew Research Center.)

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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