There’s a sea change coming as Generation X assumes the management of companies and organizations.

According to data compiled by Personnel Decisions International (PDI), companies will face a major shift in management styles as 22.5 million baby boomers (currently 74% of the management ranks and 99% of the company executives) retire over the next ten years. Who will take their places? Current Generation X line employees and managers. How will management styles and corporate cultures be impacted? Based on characteristics of Generation X members, the change will be from hierarchal and directive to collaboration based on collective buy-in.

With this significant change in the wind, it is wise to understand the way different age groups think and act and why.

Describe DifferencesBetween Generation X
And the Other Generations

Take a step back and look at all the generations currently represented in the U.S. workforce - because you could meet any or all of them at the office. (Please remember, lest anyone take offense, that these descriptions are very broad generalizations and are influenced by someone being in an earlier and later phase of a generation, being on the cusp between two generations, or being an exception to the overall generalization.)

The descriptions used here are composites from a variety of sources, including the University of Tampere in Finland (which has no dog in the hunt) and is renowned for its scientific research. No two sources I consulted defined the generations in precisely the same way.

The Silent Generation: between the ages of 65 - 82. They are traditionally hard working, cost-conscious and trust the government. They are generally optimistic about their futures and hold strong sets of morals. They are all drawing Social Security, but many of the younger Silents have opted to delay retirement as their pensions have taken pretty big hits and it would be hard to maintain their lifestyles. Others have left the workforce, only to return to lower level and/or temporary jobs.

The Baby Boomers: between the ages of 42 – 64. They have strong sets of ideals and traditions, and are working hard to make better lives for their families. They tend to be anxious about the future, are physically active, tend to be socially liberal and politically conservative. They’ve survived difficult downsizings and layoffs during their careers. Boomers see career development as doing what is necessary to progress to positions of greater influence, power and prestige.

Generation X: between the ages of 25 – 41. They are characterized as individualistic, living in the present, liking to experiment and impatient for results. They grew up immersed in information just as the Information Age hit its stride. They will question authority and feel ready to take on the world left to them by previous generations. They are self-reliant, many of them having grown up as latch-key kids. They are marrying later in life, wanting to be able to devote more time to their families than their parents were able to do.

Generation Y: between the ages of 13 and 24. They are generally characterized as being materialistic, impatient, selfish and disrespectful of traditions. They are trying to grow up very quickly, but have few good role models outside their families and close friends. They are very aware of the world around them and are incredibly technologically savvy! Older Gen Y’ers have graduated from college and are just getting their feet wet in the workplace while others are in grad school. Some younger ones are still in high school and working part time.

Generation X At Work

Gen X’ers bring a broad range of experiences to the workplace. In their own words, they believe in themselves and their abilities and like others to believe in them too. They like to receive assignments and be given the freedom to “run with them” pretty independently. Non-micromanagement conveys to them confidence in their abilities and potential. They see themselves as financially savvy, creative and group oriented.

They saw the instability in their parents’ careers and, as a result, don’t want to get too attached to a particular company or organization, preferring to keep their options open. Unlike their parents, they are not as willing to make sacrifices for their jobs. X’ers see career development as increasing the value of their skill portfolio, so they’ll have the clout that allows them to keep moving to better jobs and projects while maintaining family, fun and balance in their lives.

How Do Employees
Rate Boomers and Gen X’ers as Managers
In Today’s Workplace

In a survey, again conducted by PDI, of 24,000 mid-level managers in Minneapolis, both groups are able to meet performance outcomes, although they arrive there very differently:

  • Boomers were 18% more likely to be rated as “knowing the business” and 10% more likely to use technical or functional expertise on the job. They also rated better in their ability to coach and develop people and manage project execution.
  • Generation X managers received higher ratings in self-improvement, work commitment, and analyzing issues.

Implications for Women in Management

Traditionally, women’s management styles and personality traits mirror many of the values that Generation X’ers will be bringing to senior management positions. Women are by nature are more collaborative, partnership-oriented, consultative, adaptive and conciliatory than men. These feminine traits will become increasingly valued over the next decade.

Knowing this change is coming, you can start now – whichever Generation you belong to – to prepare for it. Knowledge is power so start paying attention to the generational make-up of the workforce in your company and planning for your role as it changes. Opportunities will abound if you know where to look!

A Great Resource

If you would like a terrific tool to help your team through this transition (especially if they are age diverse), I highly recommend “The Massey Triad” – a series of videos I saw when I was in management training at Xerox.

Morris Massey provides a masterful explanation of the differences between generation X and the other generations: “What You Are Is Where You Were When” – explaining how the gut-level feelings that guide our adult lives were all formed when we were very young. The other two videos in the set are “What You Are is Not What You Have to Be” and “What You Are is Where You See”.

Dr. Massey’s work puts generational differences into context – the impact of wars, assassinations, politics, and other live-changing events – showing why people at different ages think, feel and act as they do. Check with your Human Resources department to see if your company owns copies. If not, try and talk them into renting them for company-wide training and development. They are worth every cent! At the link plug "massey" into the search box for more information.