Generation labels – do we need them?

Author: Technical University of Kosice | Photo: by Sharon McCutcheon from pexels.com

Millennials, Gen Zs, Baby Boomers…each generation has its name and is supposedly defined by its characteristics based on the year of birth. You may have heard that Baby Boomers are though workaholics with strong working morale and Millennials can do magic with technology but are somewhat lazy. But don´t these labels do more damage than good?

The practice of naming generations goes back to the 19th century. Social scientist Philip Cohen claims there is no empirical evidence for imposing the character traits that are believed to define a specific generation. What´s more, they tend to be rather generational stereotypes than facts.

The main problem is that generation is too wide. You can have two people from the one generation born on two opposite ends of that period and their experiences and therefore characteristics can be different.

Cohen makes a valid point when explaining this example: the tennis champion Williams sisters are a generation apart,[1] Venus, born 1980, is part of “Gen X”; Serena, born 1981, is a “Millennial.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump and Michelle Obama are both in the same generation. The former was born in 1946 while the latter was born in 1964, making them both “baby boomers“[2], even though there is almost 20 years apart them.

But do not make mistakes. Cohen and his fellow scientists are not trying to say that the whole concept of generation is wrong. No, generations are one of many analytical lenses researchers use to understand societal change and differences across groups. While there are limitations to the generational analysis, it can be a useful tool for understanding demographic trends and shifting public attitudes. They are simply proposing that external circumstances, the global situation and historic events are much more likely to influence the typical characteristics of a group of people than the year they were born.

What´s more, we must not forget that the personality of an individual plays a crucial role when it comes to traits and that you can find Boomers that are more technologically fluent than some of the members of Gen Z. That is because every generation is diverse and generalisations shouldn´t be made on just arbitrary lines between birth years and attributes.

So what solution do they propose? There are lots of options to use instead of these generational “labels”. We can simply describe people by the decade they were born, which would narrow the period down and reflect the historic circumstances more accurately. Or we can define cohorts specifically related to a particular issue — such as 2020 school kids. Whatever solution we choose, we should always keep in mind that a person is always an authentic individual, no matter to which age cohort belongs. The opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Consortium


[1] Pew Research Centre: https://www.pewresearch.org/st_18-02-27_generations_defined/

[2] P.N. Cohen: Opinion: Generation labels mean nothing. It´s time to retire them: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/07/generation-labels-mean-nothing-retire-them/

Two stylish business persons in suits having disagreement, war, conflict, standing near desktop in front of each other, face to face with disrespect expression, partner showing stop sign with hands

Intergenerational conflict in the workplace: what is the apple of discord?

The workplace of today is characterised by the coexistence of various generations, from Baby Boomers (or even Veterans) to Zoomers, working side to side, and thus being confronted with potential conflictual situations emerging right from their generational differences. But what are the sources of such conflicts?

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mentor words on blue background

Mentoring, wisdom in disguise

In Odyssey, Mentor was the son of Alcimus, and Ulysses’ friend and trusted companion.  He was the one that took under his responsibility and guidance Telemachus, Ulysses’ son, when he had to leave for Troy.  Mentor was also responsible for Ulysse’s palace, and it was his disguise that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, took to appear to Telemachus and advise him to stand up to his mother’s suitors. Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena’s encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal struggles and dilemmas, the personal name Mentor has been adopted in Latin and other languages, as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague. 

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4 bumping fists over a table with documents

Attracting different generations to the labour market

Today’s multigenerational employee teams consist often of four different generations, i.e.:

  • Gen Z (born 1997-2012),
  • Millennials (1981-1996),
  • Gen X (1965-1980) as well as
  • Boomers II (1955-1964).

The EU Green Paper on Ageing[1] published in January 2021 states the EU’s working-age population has decreased during recent years. In order to avoid future labour shortages and a subsequent subsiding of well-being in Europe, it is vital to bring more people into the labour market and to enable longer individual working lives.

What potential target groups need to be addressed to increase their labour-market participation? Are they highly represented in a specific generation?

  • Gen Z:                               People with migrant background
  • Millennials:                       Parents
  • Gen X:                               Carers
  • Boomers II:                       Older workers
  • All generations:               People with disabilities, Women

What kind of support do these groups need to increase their labour-market participation?

Apart from the legal requirements (e.g. work permit, right of residence), people with a migrational background need a workplace that ensures the individually required education and training, as well as personal support. This goes on to entail a working environment that not only promotes but is also respectful of diversity.

Parents and carers both tend to other family members and for that reason have similar needs. Due to their family responsibilities, they themselves are usually not very flexible in terms of place of employment and working hours, they are not able to work full-time and often need flexible working time arrangements at short notice. In order to support these vulnerable groups and to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men, a new EU directive on work-life balance for parents and carers entered into force in July 2019[2].

https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/embed/index.html?ref=I-136352&lg=EN

The motivation for older workers to continue working is highly dependent on their individual financial situation and health condition. Due to lower state pensions, many pensioners in Europe have to work in order to meet their living costs. At the same time, initial research reports show that the introduction of actuarial deductions encourages older employees to continue working and postpone the pension benefit claiming date[3]. However, workers in non-physically demanding jobs opted for this more often than those working in white-collar jobs – a fact that may be related to health reasons.

People with disabilities require individual solutions in terms of place of work, working hours, working environment and facilities, as well as technical and personal support. If these conditions are met, they can develop their full working capacity and become long-term employees. Active company diversity management will ensure their permanent well-being at the workplace.

Many women are mothers and carers for family members, but not all. Children may have grown up, but women face problems that prevent a return to the labour market: balancing a full-time job and household, commuting to work without affording an extra car, as well as skill obsolescence or skill gaps, in particular with digital skills, are some of the obstacles. Individual training and lifelong learning, part-time arrangements and digital work settings are suitable employer offers that will attract females. More women in the labour market will not only close the gender gap in society, but bring in important team skills. Scientific research showed that gender-mixed teams, in particular those with female leaders, gain better results than homogeneous male or female teams. Women are better at managing finances and resources, female employees or managers show more empathy, which can lead to a better team atmosphere, and women tend to be more level-headed in difficult situations.[4]

Therefore, there is potential in Europe to attract more people from all generations to the labour market.

Get inspired by best practice examples from EU Member States:

https://op.europa.eu/de/publication-detail/-/publication/eeaeb9c5-7c40-11e9-9f05-01aa75ed71a1


[1] https://op.europa.eu/de/publication-detail/-/publication/d918b520-63a9-11eb-aeb5-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32019L1158#PP4Contents

[3] https://www.mpisoc.mpg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/MEA-DP_21-2020.pdf

[4] https://www.familienpakt-bayern.de/infocenter/massnahmen/bsp-div-teams.html


Attitudes of various generations at the workplace

At present, there are five different generations working at the same time on the labour market side by side. In our days the most influential ones are Generation X,Y and Z. As each of these  generations prepare themselves to play a dominant role in the global economy, there have been numerous studies and researches  written by academics, businesspeople and policymakers on what motivates and demotivates these generations at work, what working styles characterize them and what leadership patterns are to be expected from their members.

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Engagement in a 5 generation teams… Do we need it? Is it possible?

Employee engagement is the strongest driver for a great performance. Engaged employees is the main company asset and the basis for being competitive and successful in any market. It is up to leaders to build a good working atmosphere, include and empower their teams, offer recognition, build a culture of feedback, and give a purpose and sense of belonging to the employees. This certainly is a challenge…. And let’s not forget, nowadays we are working with multigenerational teams where there are 5 generations in the working place.

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Is multigenerational workforce an asset?

Ageing population is a long-term development that has been transforming the global economy. It has been apparent for several decades in Europe and in other parts of the world. By 2050, the number of people in the European Union aged 75-84 years is projected to expand by 56.1 percent. At the same time, there will be 13.5 % fewer people aged less than 55 years living in the EU.[1] Ageing populations are rising because of the rise of life expectancy and the declining birth rates. Society is shifting.

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