It seems that just about everyone is talking about generations and how to manage the mix of generations in the office these days. I was sent this interesting summary of generational values from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association Office of Diversity (USA) which was released by them in 2008.

It’s a bit simplistic, but it’s a nice summary and primer on the topic.

Values can collide when members of different generations work and learn together. Having a better understanding of others can make the working and learning environment more productive.

What generations are generally represented in today’s society?
Baby Boomers
Generation Xers
Nexters or Generation Y

The Baby Boomers make up the largest percentage of the population today according to U.S. Census statistics. Boomers consist of people currently between the ages of 37-55 (born between 1947-1965). When we discuss the generations in our society, we can’t forget the Boomers’ parents. These are the Traditionalists, War Babies or Veterans, who are now older than 55. How about our younger generations? The Generation Xers are people in the 25-36 age group (born between 1966-1977). Last are our youngest citizens, the Nexters or Generation Y, representing people age 7-24 (born between 1978 and 1995). These are the cyber kids who grew up with the Internet, and speed and access to information is something that they are accustomed to.

What Do The Members of Each Generation Value?

Fundamental value differences exist between those of different generations. Understanding these values may help understand differences that may arise in the learning environment. Organizational development scholar, Dr. Morris Massey, began looking at generational values and argues that our behaviors are driven by our value system or our value programming. He offers that what we are now is closely rooted to what we were when we were value programmed. If we examine the value system shared by generational groups then we can better understand their diverse beliefs and behaviors. We don’t have to agree with the values of different generations but we can strive to understand the mind-sets of different generations and how each group sees the world based on their experiences. While it’s important to recognize that many dimensions of diversity from race, sex, sexual orientation, geographic location, etc., shape who we are and how we behave, we can generalize values based on generations. Let’s take a look at some of the espoused values or beliefs held by each of the generations so that you will be better able to appreciate the challenge that we face as an educator trying to create an inclusive learning environment. Please note that these are generalizations and will not apply to all members of a particular generation.


Traditionalists values are influenced by the experiences of their parents whose values go back to the 1800s. This generation experienced the Great Depression and World War II both of which shape how they view the world.

Traditionalists Value…
o Privacy: Traditionalists are the private, silent generation. Don’t expect members of this generation to share their inner thoughts.

  • o Hard Work: They believe in paying their dues and become irritated when they perceive others are wasting their time. Members of this generation often feel that their career identifies who they are.
  • o Trust: A traditionalist’s word is his/her bond.
  • o Formality: Whether written or in oral communication a formal communication style is preferred. This generation values formal dress and organizational structures.
  • o Authority and institutional leadership: Traditionalists have a great deal of respect for authority.
  • o Social Order: Other generations may view this desire for social order and placement as bias, prejudice or even racism or sexism.
  • o Things: This group loves their stuff and they won’t get rid of it. Some may call them pack rats but others would argue that they remember the depression days and going with out. You never know when you might need it.

Supportive Behaviors and Tips For Communicating with Traditionalists…

  • o By nature Traditionalists are private, the “silent generation”. Don’t expect members of this generation to share their thoughts immediately.
  • o For the Traditionalist a educator’s word is his/her bond, so it’s important to focus on words rather than body language or inferences.
  • o Face to face or written communication is preferred.
  • o Don’t waste their time, or let them feel as though their time is being wasted.


Morris Massey calls this group the Nuagers. This generation represents the children of our World War II veterans. They did not go through economically hard times as their parents did, they had the good life – the Traditionalists wanted them to have the best and as a result, the “Me” decade arrived.

Baby Boomers Value…

  • o Competition: Boomers value peer competition and can be see by others as being egocentric.
  • o Change: Boomers thrive for possibilities and constant change.
  • o Hard Work: Boomers started the “workaholic” trend. The difference between Traditionalists and Boomers is that Boomers value the hard work because they view it as necessary for moving to the next level of success while Traditionalists work hard because they feel that it is the right thing to do.
  • o Success: This generation is committed to climbing the ladder of success.
  • o Body Language: Boomers are the show me generation and body language is important.
  • o Teamwork: This group embraces a team based approach to business-they are eager to get rid of the command and control style of their Traditionalist predecessors.
  • o Anti Rules and Regulations: They don’t appreciate rules for the sake of having rules and they will challenge the system.
  • o Inclusion: This generation will accept people on an equal basis as long as they can perform to their standards.
  • o Will Fight For A Cause: While they don’t like problems, if you give them a cause they will fight for it.

Supportive Behaviors & Tips For Communicating With Baby Boomers…

  • o Boomers are the “show me” generation, so your body language is important when communicating.
  • o Speak in an open, direct style but avoid controlling language.
  • o Answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pressed for the details.
  • o Present options to demonstrate flexibility in your thinking.


Morris Massey refers to this group as the Syn-Tech generation. This generation is both economically conservative, remembering double-digit inflation and the stress that their parents faced during times of on and off unemployment. Unlike their predecessors, they will not rely on institutions for their long-term security.

Generation Xers Value…

  • o Entrepreneurial Spirit: Xers believe in investing in their own development rather than in their organization’s. While others may see them as disloyal they are cautious about investing in relationships with employers because experience has shown that these relationships are not reliable. Cavalier as it may sound, one Xer told a Boomer that if you want loyalty get a dog.
  • o Loyalty: To an Xer, this may mean two-weeks notice.
  • o Independence and Creativity: Xers have clear goals and prefer managing their own time and solving their own problems rather than having them managed by a supervisor.
  • o Information: They value access to information and love plenty of it.
  • o Feedback: This group needs continuous feedback and they use the feedback to adapt to new situations. This generation is flexible.
  • o Quality of Worklife: This generation works hard but they would rather find quicker more efficient ways of working so that they have time for fun. While Boomers are working hard to move up the ladder, Xers are working hard so that they can have more time to balance work and life responsibilities.

Supportive Behaviors & Tips for Communicating With Generation X…

  • o Use email as a primary communication tool.
  • o Talk in short sound bites to keep their attention.
  • o Ask them for their feedback and provide them with regular feedback.
  • o Share information with them on a regular basis and strive to keep them in the loop.
  • o Use an informal communication style.

GENERATION Y (Also Called Nexters)

If you think that Generation Xers were challenging for Traditionalists and Boomers to teach just wait until Generation Y arrives. Generation Y represents people who have grown up during the high tech revolution. They have never known a world without high speed video games, speed dial and ATMs. The secret to motivating this group is to provide systematic and frequent feedback – as it happens.

Generation Y Values…

  • o Positive Reinforcement: Members of this cyber generation value positive reinforcement at accelerated rates compared to older generations.
  • o Autonomy: This group wants more input into how they are learning and the independence to do it.
  • o Positive Attitudes: This group grew up during tranquil times and as a result have a very optimistic outlook on life in general.
  • o Diversity: This group grew up with more diversity than their predecessors and if not exposed to it in their community then they were introduced diverse people and cultures through the media.
  • o Money: This group is used to making and spending money.
  • o Technology: Technology is valued and is used as a tool for multi-tasking.

Supportive Behaviors & Tips for Communicating With Generation Y…

  • o Use action words and challenge them at every opportunity.
  • o They will resent it if you talk down to them.
  • o They prefer email communication.
  • o Seek their feedback constantly and provide them with regular feedback..
  • o Use humor and create a fun learning environment. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • o Encourage them to take risks and break the rules so that they can explore new ways of learning.

Managing the Generational Mix

How do we keep a generationally diverse group of learners motivated in today’s environment? The first step to making the generational diversity work is to understand what motivates members of different generations and to institute teaching techniques that are flexible enough to meet their needs. In today’s complex mix of generations, Traditionalists are found with Boomers and Boomers with Generation Xers. Trends toward later retirements mean that traditionalists are still happy working and learning and Generation Xers are quickly moving into positions of power and influence where they are supervising and educating members of older generations.

Educators are beginning to recognize that the changing demographics of the learning environment can affect morale and productivity. Companies like Pitney Bowes have incorporated an intergenerational component to leadership training. Executives experience how different generations react and interact with each other. Chairman and CEO Michael Critelli also focuses on opening the channels of communication by encouraging employees of all levels to email questions and comments to him. The company has also focused on creating a more fun working environment to address the needs of incoming generations. Pitney Bowes also strives to match people with their jobs and to ensure that they are continuously challenged.

Other successful companies such as TGI Fridays, Ben & Jerry’s and Lucent Technologies understand that it is important to focus not only on what needs to get done but on accommodating the work and learning styles of the various generations. Lucent Technologies instituted a training center called IdeaVerse that focuses on creativity. Another company created what they call generational play grounds, from an on-site coffee house attracting twenty somethings to a bookstore which carries the latest in self actualization books which seems to attract the Boomer generation.

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