Generations in the Workplace (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2014 - Volume 3, Issue 3 - Points of Interest)

 

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By Major François Dufault, CD

Lately, I have been witness to senior military personnel stating that the new, younger generation is not as “keen” as older generations. Some readers are probably nodding their heads in agreement, either for having heard the comment before or for agreeing with it. Perhaps it’s the culture and attitude of a specific generation, or other factors, that are creating this impression.

According to a 2009 poll conducted in the United States (US), when asked whether today’s younger generation has less respect than past generations (see Table 1), 75 per cent of respondents think that, yes, manners are worse than 20 or 30 years ago.[1] I am of the opinion that this perception has always existed between generations. For example, a 1942 article in the Saturday Evening Post[2] by G. B. Walton mentions that in the 1910s, when he was young, he often heard people say that “the younger generation was going to the dogs” and that he still heard such statements in 1942. I would argue that this impression is caused by intergenerational value clashes. Surveys like the 2009 US poll focus on the impressions in behavioural divergences, but there are few studies that actually measure these differences. Furthermore, other studies have shown that gender, age, organizational tenure, position or educational level had no effect on an individual’s behaviour.[3]

 

 

Table 1. Who’s who (when they were born)?[4]
Generation nameTime frame
Millennial 1977–1998
X 1965–1976
Baby Boomer 1946–1964
Silent 1933–1945

 

 

Similarly, studies conducted among samples of college student populations have shown that the Millennial Generation is the most narcissistic generation ever, with their narcissism increasing 59 per cent between 1982 and 2009. I prefer to put this statistic into perspective, much like Stein and Sanburn quote in their Time article: “Just imagine how narcissist[ic] the Boomers would have been if they would have had YouTube or Twitter at Woodstock?”[5]

On a more positive note, Millennials are recognized for being more accepting of differences. A US Army 15‑year veteran recruiter mentioned that “the generation that we enlisted when I first started recruiting was sort of do, do, do. This generation is think, think about it before you do it. This generation is three to four steps ahead. They’re coming in saying, ‘I want to do this, then when I’m done with this, I want to do this.’”[6] Furthermore, Generation X and the Millennial Generation, being the first ones to grow up with computers, are recognized as being the most productive and high-performing generations.[7] Interestingly, a study published by Verschoor in 2013 showed, among other things, that Millennials are the most likely to report workplace misconduct.[8]

Now, let us push the analysis a bit further. Older-generation managers today who complain about the attitude of the younger generation can—to some level—be to blame for it. Some of the biggest complaints from businesses are the lack of interpersonal skills and that employers have to train young employees in simple manners because those were not taught at home.[9] The Boomers are generally described as workaholics[10] who place greater emphasis on their careers than their families. This differs from the following generations, as Generation X is not interested in copying the workaholic behaviour of their parents and is less willing to make personal sacrifices than their parents. There is certainly a generational clash between Millennials, Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Let us also not forget that the Boomers include the great innovators Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and that their vision of how technology can be used greatly influenced the generations that followed.

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One of the biggest generation gaps today, in my opinion, is the technological one. The example I like to use to demonstrate this is the flight simulator. You take a brand new, full-motion flight simulator and bring in high-ranking officers, likely part of the Baby Boomer Generation, for a demonstration. Surely their reaction will be one of excitement in all the manoeuvres and training that can be accomplished in this simulator that they themselves had to do in a real aircraft! Then you take a younger officer, likely part of the Millennial Generation, and their reaction is likely to be one of disappointment, stating that their gaming console has more connectivity and ease of use than this multi-million-dollar flight simulator. Generation X and Millennials are the most tech-savvy persons ever to enter the marketplace; to them, technology is a tool necessary to function properly. Soon to enter the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will be Generation Z, who not only grew up with computers but also with the Internet; they were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What can leaders do to take into account generational divergence in their organization? The first step is to recognize what motivates members of this organization. A study by Stephanie Kodatt in 2009 among Boomers, Generation X and Millennials showed that they all preferred charismatic and humane-oriented leadership. Charismatic leadership reflects the ability to inspire and motivate, whereas humane-oriented leadership reflects supportive and considerate leadership, while also including compassion and generosity. Up to now, we have determined that generations differ, so why would they all prefer the same styles of leadership? Kodatt suggests that Boomers, Generation X and Millennials interpret charismatic and humane differently. To demonstrate this, she looked into the different attributes of charismatic and humane-oriented leadership. Let us use the “inspirational motivator” attribute as an example for each generation. Boomers seek promotions and management recognition. Generation X seeks learning opportunities (especially if they come with formal qualifications), and they also seek career security over job security. Meanwhile, Millennials seek a sense of belonging; meaningful assignments are more important than job security.[11]

Today’s managers, leaders, officers and senior non-commissioned officers need to acknowledge the generational differences between them and their younger colleagues and subordinates. In order to do so, expectations of behaviour and how to properly motivate subordinates should be understood by the organization’s leadership. The basis for these expectations should be the belief that the next generation has the potential to take over and outperform its predecessors, thereby moving the Royal Canadian Air Force ahead. From what I see in junior officers, we are in good hands. Will the organization change? Certainly, and that will be a good thing.

Major François Dufault joined the Canadian Forces in 1994 and is a CH146 Griffon pilot currently assigned to 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Valcartier as Officer Commanding A Flight. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada and a Master of Engineering Management from the University of Ottawa. Major Dufault was born in 1977 and identifies with the Millennial Generation.

Abbreviation

US―United States

Notes

[1]. “Civility,’’ Connect with Kids website, accessed November 25, 2009, http://www.connectwithkids.com (content updated).  (return)

[2]. G. B. Walton, “The Younger Generation,” Saturday Evening Post, July 25, 1942. (return)

[3]. W. Hepworth and A. Towler, “The Effects of Individual Differences and Charismatic Leadership on Workplace Aggression,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 9, no. 2 (2004): 176–85. (return)

[4]. Dates and names of these generations vary from one reference to another and should be taken as approximation. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, and the Silent Generation as the Elders or Traditionalists. (return)

[5]. J. Stein and J. Sanburn, “The New Greatest Generation,” Time, May 20, 2013, 26. (return)

[6]. Ibid. (return)

[7]. S. L. Lai, J. Chang, and L. Y. Hsu, “Does Effect of Workload on Quality of Work Life Vary With Generations?” Asia Pacific Management Review (2012): 437–51. (return)

[8]. C. Verschoor, “Ethical Behavior Differs Among Generations,” Strategic Finance 95, no. 8 (2013): 11–14. (return)

[9]. R. Corelli, “Dishing out Rudeness,” MacLean’s, January 11, 1999, 44. (return)

[10]. Nancy Langton, Stephen P. Robbins, and Timothy A. Judge, Organizational Behaviour: Concepts, Controversies, Applications, 5th Canadian Edition, (n.p.: Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2010), 93. (return)

[11]. S. Kodatt, “I Understand ‘You’: Leadership Preferences Within the Different Generations,” in Proceedings of the European Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance, ed. John Politis (Reading, UK: Academic Publishing Limited, 2009). (return)

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