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Gerry Ledford

I did some research on this topic when I was at Sibson Consulting, using a database we collected from a random sample of the U.S. workforce. The generational differences that we found were entirely accounted for by age, not the era in which people were raised. Older employees care a lot about health care and retirement benefits. Younger workers don't, because they still think they are immortal. Those most concerned with careers are middle-aged. Younger workers want to be taken seriously because they fear they aren't by their elders. Etc.

I once was interviewed by a reporter from Fortune who was doing the umpteenth new story on how the current generation is really new and different from all that have come before it. I told her that I had been reading the same story my entire adult life, although the words had changed a bit. I said that these stories always seemed to be written by eager 26-year-old reporters who were just rediscovering what we called "the generation gap" in the '60s. There was dead silence on the other end of the line. Uh-oh. I said, are you a 26-year old reporter? Bingo. The story went to print about how the next generation at work was really, really different, with the reporter using herself as an example. Needless to say, I was not quoted in the piece.

If you are an old fart and you want to know what 20-somethings are thinking, just remember what you were thinking at that age. Doesn't matter whether they were raised in war or peace, recession or expansion, with one parent working or two. Their concerns are same that yours used to be. And they aren't ever going to get you until they grow up, because 20-somethings haven't had the life experience to know what goes through the mind of a 60-something. That's the way of the world.

Bob Sutton


I appreciate the comment but have a different perspective. The assumption you are making that somehow things were more stable and slow moving than in the past is exactly the one that I am questioning later in the piece (see the complete fast company excerpt). As pointed out in Beyond the Hype, the so called stable periods in last 100 years or so include the enormous impact of planes, telephones, radios, TVs and cars, build up for World War I, Prohibition, the great depression, the build up and shocking changes in World War II, the men all coming home, the cold war, the end of the cold war, the sexual revolution, the Vietnam war and societal fractures associated with that... the assumption that anything was stable -- industries, social norms, international relations, economic progress -- doesn't not square with the evidence.

Ronald C. Burkhardt

One more thought - what we typically think of with boss is more managing than leadership. I always say it like this - "Management is about the allocation of scarce resources. Leadership is about hearts and minds". Management is no longer enough (was it ever)?

Rod Johnson

Absolutely, everything changes - yet it also stays the same. I tell everyone of my clients early on two simple facts that never change.
1. You're in the psychology business!
2. All decisions are personal.

Yes, things have shifted and possibly changed over time. But from this I will make a simple prediction.

"We will always be in search of 'the secret sauce.'"


You make an interesting point here. I do think that much of the Gen X and Gen Y differences are overstated. At a high level good leadership skills will work for any generation. I think that perceived differences between generations in the work place have more to do with the pace of changing corporate culture and technology, and how these changes impact employees of different ages, than any fundamental differences in the employees based on their generational status.

Ronald C. Burkhardt

The greatest shift IMHO is the shift from long-term rewards to short term gains. That and the rise of the knowledge worker, age, and economy.

The GenX/GenY arguments seem to take place in a vacuum and not take into account that workers have less loyalty because employers make little long-term investment in their workers. We have jobs now, not careers. You get the loyalty you give. Also, the "constantly needing praise" whine about younger workers is ignorant; your workers want feedback, not praise. Engagement.

Most of the research on organizations is from the Industrial Revolution era forward. This era focused on incremental improvements and the occasional innovation, which I guess trended towards statism. We are now in a disrupt or be-disrupted stage, which may be incompatible with the industrial age management theory.

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