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Generational Differences in Work and Career Growth


The concept of generation as a viable source of social stratification was introduced by Mannheim in 1952. It was one of the key areas of study that had to be researched to gain further knowledge in the field of sociology (Mannheim, 1952). In such a way, Mannheim tried to gain further understanding of the existential basis of knowledge. He used this knowledge in order to study the growth of conservative thought in modern societies (Turner, 1999). The understanding of these different generational groups in any social setup is very important for the development and growth of a given society (Coates, 2007).

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Generational gaps amongst the young and the old usually occur due to a number of factors. Most of these factors are mainly attributed to the rapid changes in the social lives within these two groups. The representatives of these groups tend to have very different interests with regards to music, fashion, culture, politics, and even in the manner in which they speak. These gaps began to manifest themselves in the early 1950s and 60s. There were very many changes in social scenes as the age-old dating habits were changing mainly due to the great influence of the media at that time. Teenagers were listening to music which was very different from the one that the parents preferred. In addition, the movies of this time were about rebellious kids. The main theme of these movies during that time was rebellious juveniles who did anything to earn a living; it was a result of the tough period that was prevailing. All these facts gave birth to a new breed of the generation called baby boomers. The baby boomers saw themselves as being very hip. Much of their influence was the rock and roll scenes that were very widespread at the time. The individuals of this age group are now between the ages of 45 and 65 years. These individuals have specific characteristics. For example, most of them are not very welcoming to new ideas and technologies.

Children born between 1970 and 1980 belong to generation X. The origin of the name ‘Generation X’ came about as a result of the high drug abuse which was common among many parents at that time. Most of those parents neglected their children. As a result, many people of this generation were seen as slackers (Strauss & Howe, 1991). Members of this generational group are now in their 30’s and early 40s. Most of them are well educated as more than half attended colleges. In addition, most of them are ethnically diverse. They hold good professions. They are also very experimental as they like trying out new ideas and technologies. This generation has high divorce rates due to the fact that family values of that time had changed. Women tend to be more liberal and a large number of them have joined the workforce.

Generation Y are the children that were born between the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are also known as the millennial generation. They are the most diverse generation in history as their parents belong to baby boomers or generation of X category. They are mostly well aware of the most advanced technology and know-how to use the internet very well. Their preferred learning environments consist of technology and teamwork. They have the ‘can–do’ attitude of a veteran, teamwork capabilities (similar to that of the baby boomers), and the technology savvy of generation X.

Our Case Study

I am 25 years old and thus I belong to the generation Y category class. The interview that I conducted was with a 57-year-old bank manager called Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones belongs to the baby boomer generational class. He is married and has two children; a son called Jason aged 24, and a daughter, Ashley aged 19. Both of his children are college students. His wife is a homemaker with a small grocery where she sells for the local community.

The focus of this interview was to find out the various generational differences with respect to work and career growth. These generational differences define the set of values and potential of the people that belong to the same age group. Mr. Jones belongs to the baby boomers generation that was prior knowledge that I possessed. We talked about the major events that took place in his life. He told me that he fought in Vietnam and how life was very difficult after the war. Two parents with a stay at home mother that made his childhood worth remembering raised him. The family was everything at their time that seems not to be the case with the current generation of parents as there is a high rate of divorce cases. He knows the life of working hard and providing for his family. According to him, the individuals of the present generation seem to run away from responsibilities unlike the people of his times. Furthermore, they do not value family life as they are more focused on their careers, he has the perception that women are supposed to stay at home and take care of children as it was with his mother and wife.

During the 1950s, men were supposed to go to work, and women were supposed to take care of the house and bear the emotional responsibility of the family (Moen, 1998). This separation of work reduced the impact on the family by its members in case the father had to add more hours at work or was to go away for a long period as the work required it (Moen, 1998). Father was the breadwinner and wife was the housekeeper, thus emotional roles were separated as father worried about his family’s financial stability and wife was to provide emotional stability. In general, with this respect, many people from the baby boomer generation prefer to find wives that will be staying at home mothers as opposed to career women. They have an opinion that each partner will know his or her role in the family and thus there will be more trust in handling responsibilities at home. Women who work are seen as a problem as they tend to blur the gender boundaries that defined men’s responsibility for work-related issues and women’s responsibility for life-related issues (Quick et al, 2004).

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Mr. Jones thinks that nowadays gender roles are much less defined and all employees he works with now deal with both aspects of homemaking and breadwinning. This effect has resulted in more people worrying about life issues while they are supposed to be working. The intrusion of their private life in the workplace may result in them worrying about their job when they are supposed to be relaxing at home (Quick et al, 2004).

Baby boomers are a generation with the least amount of experience and the change in gender roles at the workplace. Changes in the workplace tended to fade during their working years, thus they have difficulties accepting these changes nowadays. To them, when they joined the workforce, they had the idea that a successful work was a male worker who was committed to a long-term position in the company and did not let personal life interfere with work-life (Moen, 1998). They indeed cared for their families but they were not expected to show this at the workplace.

Women born at the time period of the baby boomer were expected to be housewives and those who were lucky enough to enter into the workplace acted the same. They were very demanding and controlling so as not to show emotion. They acted as the male version of baby boomer with little or no difference at all. Most of those women ended up being alone as their equation could not include a stay at home husband and thus was very unrealistic.

Baby boomer’s work-life balance is very unstable because they have experienced a lot of changes with regard to the switch of traditional gender roles in the workplace. Workmates in the generation X category have grown up with women in the workplace and thus have gained some acceptance to it. They can easily cut short their careers if they see that it is interfering with their lives. Due to the neglect that most of them faced during childhood, they tend to have feelings of resentment towards the time and energy they devote to work. Millennials are the youngest group in the workforce as most of them are young. They have difficulty in balancing work and life. They have a tendency of indulgence in either. To them, they expect diversity in the workplace.

Baby boomers have now tried to embrace women in their place of work and even show more respect to them and the contribution they make. Baby boomers like to be in charge and thus most of them are found in senior positions in the workplace. They like to star in the workplace and usually have big prospects for the departments they work in. They are more than willing to share their vision with any of their workmates as long as they get the recognition they deserve. They like to take risky projects, but try to avoid diligent blame when they fail. Technology is a big issue for them, as most of them are not very tech-savvy.

In the workplace, there should be a balance between these different generations (baby boomers and generation X) and have an understanding of how each of them works to reduce conflicts and underperformance. With the looming retirement of most baby boomers, the workplace should strive to attract and accommodate all these generational groups as they bring different features to the organization at large. Workplace policies and leadership approaches may need to become flexible in addressing issues related to inclusiveness, recognition, and alignment of generational values of workers in order to create greater work-life balance (Deloitte, 2006)


It is very hard to find just one kind of generation group in any successful workplace. All these elements, from baby boomers, generation x, and generation y are very important for any organization to prosper. Bridging the generational gap require great acknowledgment of all generational differences. Generational differences might cause a lot of work frustration but leaders in these organizations should understand each of them and appreciate the positive attributes they offer to the organization.

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Coates, J. (2007) Generational Learning Styles. New York: Learning Resource Network.

Deloitte, M. (2006) Hospitality: A Five-Year Wake Up Call. New York: New York University.

Mannheim, K. (1952) Sociology of Generational Cohorts. London: Longhorn.

Moen, P. (1998) Recasting Careers: Changing Reference Groups, Risks, and Realities. Generations, 22 (1), 40-45.

Quick, J. D., Henley, A. B., & Quick, J. C. (2004) The Balancing Act: At Work and at Home. Organizational Dynamics, 33 (4), 426-438.

Strauss, W. & Howe, N. (1991) Generations: The History of America’s Future: 1584 to 2069. Boston: Sage.

Turner, B. (1999) Classical Sociology. London. Thousand Oaks.

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