Shari Prest
ARK Associates

Why should we care?

Three generations traveled to New York City with a long list of places to visit in a short two-day time frame. Upon leaving the hotel, the baby boomer in the group asked someone knowledgeable for directions to a specific site or restaurant and it felt good to her that people were generous enough with their time to guide the threesome to several destinations. That got them heading out the door the right way. Unfortunately, the directions often had twists and turns requiring further instruction along the route. The Gen Xer in the group, an independent survivalist, carried the map, guiding the other two along the street routes. The generation Z and youngest member of the group used her cell phone GPS for directions. She was confident and influential in not only the routes we would take but also about the choices we would make along the way.

This story exemplifies the diverse models and mindsets of three generations and how, when working cooperatively and when the value of each is appreciated, they can accomplish what they set out to do. Are there challenges along the way? Often. For example, the Gen Z person might lose connectivity, and the Gen X person might need to begin with identifying north, and the baby boomer’s information might be limited by her source. Inevitably, someone will say, “I don’t think this is the right way.” After a new analysis, the group will commit to a route.

This scenario plays out in board rooms, classrooms, and homes every day. The challenge is to utilize the most effective methods and tools to establish effective collaboration and reach specified goals.

Although labeling generations began for the purpose of commercial profitability, it currently helps people to understand one another better and cooperate more. It all began with the Baby Boomers and when benefits for naming and describing the characteristics of a generation were realized traditionalists were retroactively named. Three more have since been added to the list.

In their book Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace1, authors David Stillman and Jonah Stillman assign certain generalized characteristics to each generation.

Traditionalists, 75 million, born pre-1946: “The Silent Generation.” Traditionalists uphold traditional values, including loyalty and patriotism, but were unlikely to speak up at work or share personal information or feelings freely. They did, however, “beat back the Great Depression, win two world wars, and put a man on the moon.”

Baby Boomers, 80 million, born between 1946 and 1964. Also known as the “me” generation. They pursued the American dream that was promised to them and as a result are tagged as greedy, materialistic and ambitious. These post-war babies grew up to be the radicals of the 70s and the yuppies of the 80s. They have the highest divorce rate in history.

This idealistic generation supports equal rights and equal opportunities and is anti-establishment. Boomers equate work with self-fulfillment. They are also known as problem solvers in crisis who believe in consensus leadership, are more educated than previous generations, want to make a difference and are willing to take on responsibility.

Boomers are the generation that opened up lines of communication like no generation before. Boomers believe that their kids should be seen and heard.

Generation X, 60 million, born between 1965 and 1979. This generation was named after the variable “X” in mathematics because they grew up in the shadow of the Boomers and have less definable characteristics than the generations they are sandwiched between. Gen Xers were children during a time of shifting societal values. They tend to challenge the status quo and are wary of relying on others

They are dubbed “latchkey” children because they had working parents, and the “boomerang” generation because they returned home to live with their parents for portions of their adult lives.

Gen Xers became nesters. They believe quality and quantity of time are equally relevant to parenting. The number of home-schooled children rose between 2003 and 2012 by 62%.

In mid-life, research suggests Gen Xers are happy, active and achieving work-life balance. They are also credited with entrepreneurial tendencies.

Millennials, 82 million, born between 1980 and 1994. This generation, also known as Generation Y, came of age in a period of economic expansion. They are highly tolerant and hotly competitive. They are the first generation of kids with “schedules.” As children, Millennials were invited to participate in parents’ purchasing and travel decisions.

This generation has never lived without computer availability or high-speed technology. They are the digital generation attached to gadgets.

Although millennials have been described as self-absorbed, having a strong sense of entitlement and a “me first” attitude at work, they also seek responsibility in their roles and have a desire to please others. They are fiercely independent but comfortable working collaboratively with others. They expect to influence the terms of their employment. They hope to turn around all the wrong they see in the world today. Millennials are generally well educated.

Generation Z, 73 million, born between 1995 and 2012.

According to Forbes (2015), Generation Z (also known as post-millennials), makes up 25% of the U.S. population, making them a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers or Millennials. Generation Z is predominantly the children of Generation X, but they also have parents who are Millennials.

According to Gen Z @ Work1, this generation is:

  • Phigital (comfortable in both the physical and digital world). The virtual world is part of their reality.
  • Hyper-custom They are making their mark in customization and 56% of them would rather write their own job description than be given a generic one.
  • Realistic They have grown up in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the recession. Terrorism and uncertainty is part of their everyday lives.
  • FOMO This generation has a fear of missing out on anything. Seventy-five percent of Gen Zers would like a work situation in which they could have multiple roles.
  • Weconomists They have only known a world with a shared economy and will push the workplace to break down internal and external silos. Ninety-three percent of Gen Z says that a company’s influence on society affects their decision to work there.
  • DIY Seventy-one percent of Gen Z say they believe the phrase, “if you want it done right, then do it yourself!”
  • Driven They had parents that taught them that participation is not enough — there are winners and losers. Seventy-two percent of Gen Z said they are competitive with people doing the same job.

We’re different. No descriptor or timeline can truly capture us. But when communicating with students, parents, staff and other stakeholders, it is important to consider and respect where they have come from and where they are heading. Effective leaders capitalize on the perspectives and histories available to create the most profound educational opportunities in history. Familiarity with each will promote the following:

  • Increased ability to identify the characteristics and leverage the strengths of the members of each generation.
  • Improved capacity to build understanding and respect among and between members of different generations.

1Stillman, David and Jonah Stillman. Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace. Harper Business, 2017.

Additional information is available at the following sites, all of which were reviewed when preparing this article.

These materials are provided by: The Minnesota Association of School Administrators

For additional information on this or other INVESTMN materials, contact Shari at, (952) 255-8394, 19227 Ingleside Court, Lakeville, MN 55044

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