Olivier Van DuürenAuthor, trend sensemaker, public speaker and executive coach

There’s a well-established system for categorising and mapping the generations, and they have catchy names. Generations are generally mapped by age groups and/ or life cycle stages. We should all agree that you might belong to one generation and have the mindset of another, but for simplification let’s take a look at the ‘popular’ mapping.

Each generation has slightly different core values and their expectations are formed by important events that took place in their life span.

  1. Silent Generation (pre-1945) – seventy + years old, they went through World War II and are loyal and hard workers. They have a fixed view on gender roles and love their cars. They look for certainties and save for rainy days. Jobs and relationships are for life. They learned to communicate via letter and love face to face. They are the digital ignorants.
  2. Baby Boomers (1945– 1960) – fifty-five to seventy years old, they went through the cold war, Woodstock, Vietnam, sex, drugs and rock & roll. They’re family oriented, love their televisions; the protest generation who look for job security. They like to communicate face to face, but email and phone calls work as well. Some are digital ignorants while others are digital savvy as they adjusted.
  3. Generation X (1961– 1980) – thirty-six to fifty-five years old, they grew up with pollution, end of the cold war, Thatcherism, Reaganomics, increasing divorces, man and wife both working, work-life balance being critical, and they might see communications outside work as intrusive. They’re cynical and hard workers. They’re the ‘two’ generation – two people working in the family, two cars, two televisions, two fridges, two pets, two kids. They are switched on to digital but not natively. They love their PC, email and SMS to communicate and, if time allows, face to face. They are digital savvy.
  4. Generation Y (1981– 1995) – eighteen to thirty-five years old, they are also called Generation M, popularly known as the Millennials. They’ve lived through public traumas like 9/ 11, the invasion of Iraq (war on terror), terrorism in Europe, and the 2008 economic crash, so they are sceptical about politics and religion. They love their PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo; the internet is their oxygen, anywhere, any time – they’re true digital natives. Crowdsourcing and engaged collaboration is hot, the me to the we generation. They are confident with digital, are positive and engaged. They communicate through tablet/ smartphone/ social media/ Skype/ Facetime, but they still like face to face when it’s important. So they are all about choice. Digital entrepreneurs and start-ups, they work ‘with’ and not ‘for’ organisations. ‘Almost two-thirds (64%) of Millennials said they would rather make $ 40,000 a year at a job they love than $ 100,000 a year at a job they think is boring,’ the Brookings Institution recently noted. Mindfulness is hot and they want to be discovered. They are optimists, focusing on the now, can be narcissists, sharing selfies on Facebook, and believe they are special. As digital natives, they use two screens at once. An interesting US research published by Pew Research Center76 showed that only 40% of Millennials consider themselves part of the Generation Y while 33%, mostly the older ones, considered themselves part of the older Generation X. This means that many of them are behaving like their parents in Generation X!
  5. Generation Z (+ 1995) – under eighteen. Global warming, economic crisis, Arab revolution, Cloud computing, mobile everywhere, tablet natives, WhatsApp and Snapchat. They are technonerds and technology savvy, with gadgets and the newest toys. Their world is digital, they expect speed. They are in the middle of the digital revolution and transformation, and are still in their formative years so it’s too early to tell how they’ll turn out. The current fears for this generation are the recession, climate change, refugees, terrorists and politics. They will be critical, conservative, look for certainty, expect a new realism as they are realists. They communicate with images and love streaming video and music. They are called streaming natives with half of the 16 to 18-year-old spending more than one hour on YouTube per day. They are future focused. They’ll say yes to smart choices, yes to norm-core (normal), yes to traditional values, for example they don’t want the age of consensual sex to go down. Hannah Scurfield, Research Director Intel, says, ‘They will value honesty, transparency and have a very direct relationship with brands.’ They are digital natives at heart, the tech-innates that use five screens at once. Generation Z have what’s being called a highly evolved ‘eight-second filter.’ It’s not they have little focus, or can only pay attention for eight seconds; it’s that with all the distractions they have, with the thousands of messages and bytes of data thrown at them, they have learned to be selective. If you don’t interest them in eight seconds, they move on.

By 2020, Millennials or Generation Y will be half the global workforce, and in the US this will go up to 75%, meaning the expectations of the Millennials will influence how companies are run and organised.

So the older you are, the more likely it is that a phone call would be a good way to connect with you, but if you’re younger, the last thing you want is a phone call. The best way will be social and chat.

Before the global financial crisis of 2008, considered by many to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, in many ways the ideal path for a youngster’s career was for them to join a bank, a top consulting firm or one of the big tech companies. After the crash, many of them lost their jobs. The new generation who were ending their studies saw what was happening around them and realised that job safety wasn’t guaranteed any more. So many, combined with the strength and accessibility of new Cloud enabled technologies, started a new job or a first job as an entrepreneur, becoming one of the main reasons for the start-up influx. This generation of entrepreneurs is used to working in chaotic, super-fast, fluid test-and-learn environments in everything they do, at home or at work. They are not tuned for long-term planning as their brains are focused on the fast and the furious. They look for adventure, using the incredible platform of learning and self-development.

While classification by age group is great, the following will also influence where you land: life cycle stages, because you can be thirty-two, unmarried and living with your parents, or thirty-two with your own home, married, with three kids, and mindset. You might belong to one generation by age, but have a mindset that is part of another generation. So, it is not so much your age as your mindset. You can have a Millennial mindset and be a Generation X age member. This means that there will be generational differences in the workspace changing the dynamics of work. Digital savvy younger workers will need to work with the play-by-the-rules way of some other employees. Understanding these differences is critical so you can create the optimal conditions for the right communication and work health. All employees need to feel they are respected for who they are, what they like and how they can contribute to the bigger purpose of the company.

Just relying on a generational shift will take a long time. We can’t wait that long.’ It’s not about which generational group, X, Y or Z, that you belong to determining your mindset; it’s about infusing the right mindset and not waiting for it to appear. We need to act now. We owe it to our kids, ourselves, our society and our businesses.

Gareth Ellis-Williams, Head of digital at Prostate Cancer UK.

So try to reinvent yourself and surround yourself with new and younger mindsets. Have an open mindset and challenge your own reference ‘generational’ framework of thinking. Ask your family, friends and colleagues how you are doing and see feedback as a gift. Ask for a 360-degree review at work and listen to your customers. Don’t try to show you have answers to everything, but ask open questions and answer questions with ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out’.

What will be next? Maybe we should call the next generation the Generation D or the Dualarity Generation for those making personal and business transformations by seeing and energising themselves.