Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation: Stereotypes & (Mis)Perceptions in the Workplace

Gen Ys are lazy.

Gen Xers are whiners.

Baby Boomers are workaholics.

With all the trash-talking and stereotyping going on, it’s no wonder people think we can’t all get along!

Throwing generational daggers at each other is nothing new, especially as your workplace could have four generations trying to co-exist as we speak.

That’s why we asked this question on our Twitter #careerchat: What’s REALLY behind generational differences in the workplace?

Takeaways from the chat:

  • WomensAlly: There are no failures – just experiences and your reactions to them. -Tom Krause
  • TECMidwest: The amount of professional experience influences your traits. Some people are more eager to learn.
  • SarahHofmann: Give us 5 years, and we’ll have experience. Inevitable to any generation, not necessarily a generational trait.
  • WomensAlly:  Learn from the leadership role models in your life.
  • thatwoman_is: Older doesn’t mean smarter and experienced. Younger doesn’t mean easier to grasp technology. It’s confidence.
  • karolynliberty: Millennials Need Input.
  • Jelfster: We need to concentrate on the value of the individual versus their age. Unacceptable to stereotype by any other criteria.
  • karolynliberty: Would love direct actionable negative feedback, not traditional office politics that we really don’t understand yet
  • WriterChanelle: Sometimes Gen Y are a little too reliant on tech. Sometimes better to talk to someone rather than email.
  • thatwoman_is: I think like race – the different generations have plenty of similar traits – we just focus too much on differences.
  • WriterChanelle: Common sense isn’t common!

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Question 1: What do you think is the biggest difference between the generations?

On differences and generalizations:

  • bizMebizgal: The biggest difference is generation Y’s lack of soft skills. Gen Y does not know how to communicate face to face
  • Jill_Perlberg: Perceptions. Gen Y’s are considered lazy, but maybe they’ve figured out a quicker way to get things done.
  • TECMidwest: Every generation brings their own experience to the table. It’s very important to keep an open mind.
  • bizMebizgal: Gen Y does not have the experience they need yet to help people keep this open mind when working with them
  • buzzandrea: It’s also important to remember these are generalizations – not all Boomers, Xers, Y’s, etc … share same traits.
  • Jelfster:  If you believe the stereotypes, Boomers are washed up, Gen X selfish, Gen Y lazy – not very helpful pigeon-holing.

On entitlement:

  • thatwoman_is: The level of “Ownership or that things are due to you.”
  • Jill_Perlberg: Entitlement tends to be a big one. What you are “owed” vs. what you’ve earned.
  • thatwoman_is: I love they can be open. But entitlement and right to be “open” to a fault w/o thought is challenging
  • bizMebizgal:  I hate the word “entitlement” and that is one of the favorite words of Gen Y!

On technology:

  • Jill_Perlberg: For younger generations, it’s inherent in everything they do. For older generations, it’s new.
  • bizMebizgal: Gen Y’s use of technology has taken away the skills to communicate across all generations. Lol is not understood by everyone.
  • thatwoman_is: Some babyboomers are afraid to embrace technology – and therefore they are not embracing communicating w/everyone
  • MyPath_MP: I agree. Depends on the industry too. I know #boomers who are far ahead of the game when it comes to tech!
  • bizMebizgal: Absolutely but when they receive emails like text messages, I am sure that discourages them from getting involved
  • thatwoman_is: Not all babyboomers are afraid. I actually embrace technology more than my 32 yr old son. I text, DM, IM, SKYPE
  • Jelfster:  Some are. There’s assumption that because they are in twilight of career, they’re not interested in training.
  • WomensAlly: we are in the age of technology, it is all about who can master it better/ more efficient
  • bizMebizgal: 68% of Boomers agree PDAs & mobile phones contribute to a decline in proper workplace etiquette; 46% of Gen Y workers think so.
  • thatwoman_is: And that is a shame. It makes it difficult for boomers like me who are in this space and seen as “antiqued.”
  • bizMebizgal:  I definitely agree but you are few and far between. I like it when boomers embrace technology and adapt.
  • Jelfster: Older workers may not be ‘tech savvy’ but their experience cannot be replicated or replaced.
  • MyPath_MP: Good point! Just because things may be done differently now doesn’t invalidate experience behind it – quite the opp.
  • WomensAlly: Nothing can replace experience
  • Jill_Perlberg: Agree. One thing older gen’s have is experience–office politics, sticky situations.You can’t learn that in school.
  • thatwoman_is: I think anyone’s experience can be replicated and everyone can be replaced. It’s learning 2/b appreciated/respected

On sharing traits:

  • Jill_Perlberg:  Is there a feeling that boomers, X’ers have busted their butts and want the same things that Y’s are getting out of school?
  • buzzandrea: I’ll admit that it feels that way sometimes. I also feel as if my generation gets lost at times.
  • thatwoman_is: Older doesn’t mean smarter and experienced. And younger doesn’t mean easier to grasp technology. It’s confidence.
  • buzzandrea: I agree! I am an Xer, but I tend to carry traits of Millennials.
  • bizMebizgal: Ha! I am a Gen Y and I have traits more like an Xer.
  • thatwoman_is:     LOL I’m a boomer and tend to have traits of an Xer

On what everybody wants:

  • Jill_Perlberg: According to AARP, all gens want similar things: flexibility, career dev, and recognition.
  • LesleyMWeiss:     Exactly. And every generation, when entering the workforce, wanted to change things from the status quo
  • Jelfster:  I would add to that ‘respect’. Seems this is in short supply in an inter-generational sense!
  • MyPath_MP: So far what’s coming clear is that there is definitely a skewed perception among & between gens.
  • thatwoman_is: This true. No one generation has the key or is the key. We have many keys!

On receiving feedback:

  • Jill_Perlberg: I’ve heard that Gen Y’s are not good at receiving feedback…is it receiving or how it’s given?
  • bizMebizgal:  I have coached several Gen Yers & they don’t like hearing you are not good at something. Makes it difficult
  • thatwoman_is: Receiving feedback — I don’t think all Gen Y’s are like this. Generally it’s true. They want to “justsaying” but dont’ want to #justlistentomyresponse
  • bizMebizgal: ur right, Im Gen Y, 81. I like receiving feedback. Younger Gen Y, college students, high school not so much.
  • karolynliberty: Sounds like not good at receiving*critical* feedback. We’re hungry for meaningful praise
  • MyPath_MP: Excellent point. Feedback should give you something to work with.
  • WriterChanelle: We love receiving feedback! We just like it in the moment. Not explosive outbursts 5 months later in a review
  • WriterChanelle: The problem comes when we’re expected to know what we’re doing wrong.
  • Jill_Perlberg:  Yup. But being able to give feedback to someone as hard as them being able to accept it–no matter the age
  • WriterChanelle: That is true. Reception of feedback is dependent upon person not generation
  • ASQ_Trish: think we all like positve feedback, but what about negative
  • Jill_Perlberg:  that’s exactly my point–not easy for any gen. but my own exper is that y’s are not keen on getting the critical fb
  • MyPath_MP: Constructive criticism helps more than positive feedback.
  • Jelfster: Some firms don’t give honest feedback to older workers for fear of hurting their feelings. Does them a disservice.

Question 2: What are the traits of #GenX, #GenY, #Boomers?

On differences:

  • MyPath_MP:  And is there a difference between “young” #geny & “older” #geny, for example?
  • Jill_Perlberg: I think there are diff within a gen. A 20 yrold and a 30 in the same gen are way different.
  • PaigeHolden: I totally agree, but I think life experience has more to do with that than anything else.
  • ASQ_Trish: Sometimes Gen Y are a little too reliant on tech. Sometimes its much better to get up & talk to someone rather than email.
  • PaigeHolden: Good point. I have to remind myself to do that every day.
  • karolynliberty:  there’s always individual variability but i think diff bt old/young millennials is only bc youngers arent adults yet
  • Jelfster: Boomers: Idealistic, loyal to company. X: Pragmatic, loyal to career. Y: Spontaneous, loyal to purpose.
  • Jill_Perlberg: Boomers-personal interaction Y’s -social responsibility and w/l balance/technology, X’rs-a mix of all of them.
  • WriterChanelle: Agreed. Many complain that GenY does nothing and wants everything, but I just don’t see that as true.
  • thatwoman_is: Back in the 60’s & 70’s when we were “young” boomers took on social responsibility. Ecology, the war, sexism
  • buzzandrea: I think its a lot of things – from mode of communication to level of directness to respect for work, etc
  • karolynliberty: younger = expected to be more deferent. “respect for work” is interesting, what do you mean by that?

On emailing and texting vs phone & face time:

  • karolynliberty: over-use of email by millennials? I hear this at work and really don’t get it. isn’t it ruder to phone/face instead? That is, requires their time right NOW but ermail is asynchronous… no?
  • ASQ_Trish: it depends – if it’s a quick little emails – no prob. But if they go on forever – get up
  • karolynliberty: OK, that works. Think I’ve been doing the opposite…
  • ASQ_Trish: had some occasions when co-works never email though too.
  • karolynliberty: never email? *staggers back* I just don’t know what to say.
  • MyPath_MP:  Just seen @BrazenCareerist: The average Gen Y-er sends/receives >740 text msgs/month. Preferred means of comm?
  • PaigeHolden: I definitely prefer text messages/email. Don’t like talking on the phone or checking voicemail.
  • Jill_Perlberg: may work with people who prefer in person convo’s. We all need to blend to be successful.
  • MyPath_MP: Does texting/email seem more immediate and more personal than phone/vmail? Or just more efficient?
  • LesleyMWeiss:     I think email seems less pushy to younger people–phone calls and face to face require attention RIGHT NOW
  • karolynliberty: Less pushy, completely agree. Seems to imply I am more important than everything you have to do if I call/stop by!
  • PaigeHolden: For me, it’s more efficient, immediate and less intrusive. I’ve never been a big talker.
  • bizMebizgal: If you don’t like talking, how do you deal with confrontation in the workplace when you are forced to talk.
  • PaigeHolden: Don’t like talking and not being able to are two diff things! I’m capable of talking things out and often do
  • bizMebizgal: Good! Just don’t lose those skills as well. They often fall by the wayside.
  • PaigeHolden: Actually, it’s my friends who know to text or email me. In business, you have to put preference aside.
  • Jill_Perlberg: I like phone or personal conv. because the wrong tone/message may come through email or txt.
  • ASQ_Trish: tone of an email…funny how a quickly written email can mean something you didn’t intend
  • WriterChanelle: Email is more efficient. Phone calls allow people to ramble and get distracted.
  • WomensAlly: text messaging does allow for the quick answers to questions too short for a phone call
  • bizMebizgal: I am such a strong believer that face to face is the best way to work. Technology makes it quicker but face to face builds.
  • WomensAlly: face to face allows for a deeper connection, but no one seems to have the time for that these days
  • bizMebizgal: they also don’t see the importance of building that relationship.

On making sacrifices:

  • MyPath_MP: Does #GenY feel like they’re making more sacrifices to “get along” than #Boomers, #GenX, etc?
  • WriterChanelle: I’ve never felt that the world owed me anything, and I know many my age who feel the same.
  • thatwoman_is: I get that more often w/my new brand unGeeked _ some feel they are entitled to participate & challenge why not
  • bizMebizgal: Wow really? Like speak and lead sessions? Do you find it more with Gen Y than any other generation?
  • thatwoman_is: YES! I couldn’t believe how many ppl approached me after unGeeked feeling entitlement and noted I didn’t give back.
  • buzzandrea: I actually feel as if I am expected to make more sacrifices, especially for older generations
  • karolynliberty: re:sacrifices do you think that’s mainly based on age (family first so the singles stay late to work on deadline)
  • bizMebizgal: I am Gen Y. I also know a lot younger Gen Y that feel everything should be handed to them bc it always has been
  • WriterChanelle: They’re ruining it for the rest of us good GenY’ers. But, hey, is it their fault? They didn’t raise themselves.
  • WriterChanelle: GenY I believe. Took a 1am biz call yesterday
  • Jill_Perlberg:  Doing calls at all hours,is what you do if your job demands it. I don’t think it’s generational. I did them at 22 and at 33

On changing dynamics:

  • Jelfster: Will be fascinating when boomers retire, Gen X become managers and Gen Y workers. How will work practices evolve?
  • bizMebizgal: A whole lot of meshing going on. I think all generations have strong attributes that can bring to the table
  • Jelfster:  Young workers don’t respond well to “In my day, we were up at 3am, down coal pit til 8. You young’uns don’t know you’re born!
  • ASQ_Trish: What I love about someone who’s been at a company for a while – Well….we used to do it like this
  • karolynliberty: Esp. as the reason we can’t change the policy : We changed it once before, and got this
  • ASQ_Trish: no kidding! the history is good – but we need progress
  • Jill_Perlberg:  love it.. espec. when it was something, then new, then back to old…which way is up.
  • MyPath_MP: People need to embrace change, but for right reasons (not just to say Hey, we’re embracing chg)
  • karolynliberty:  Change for change’s sake is what younger workers’ ideas are often dismissed as
  • MyPath_MP: Excellent point. Comes down to perception again. People need to take a step back and listen.
  • WriterChanelle: Blech…lol. I don’t get why people bring up “what used to” sell, do, say. That’s the past. It’s not done anymore.
  • LesleyMWeiss:     I think it’s important to learn from what’s been done/said/tried in the past–and what failed and succeeded and why
  • MyPath_MP: Agree! Reinventing the wheel often doesn’t work so well.
  • ASQ_Trish: true – we don’t want to repeat a mistake from the past. But let’s try to move forward
  • thatwoman_is:  What is funny, boomers had to deal w/our parents when we were on the forefront of emails, fax and over sized car phones
  • Jill_Perlberg: I adapt to both my mom and colleagues. And in many cases, they adapt back

Question 3: About that work-life blur: Which gen finds it more manageable?

On generational challenges:

  • karolynliberty: work/life blur (or the lack of a slash altogether) seems like much more of a millennial thing, yes?
  • edcabellon: I’m not so sure. I know many Gen X-ers (including myself) who still have challenges with work/life balance.
  • karolynliberty: OK – sounds like the “balance” part might be less important for Millennials who smush it all together. Maybe?
  • edcabellon: “balance” is also defined so many ways. Having “access” to everything may be a double-edged sword.
  • karolynliberty: access is a double edged sword? Beyond fear of judgment re:other online activity, what’s the downside? Honest Q!
  • edcabellon: The downside is that not everyone has access. We assume that everyone does, but there’s a digital divide.
  • Jill_Perlberg:  Everyone struggles–especially once you’ve been in a role without flex and then try to get later.
  • bizMebizgal: I am a strong believer in work/life balance.u need to recharge the batteries however work will sometimes come first.

On tech-savvy balancing:

  • Jelfster:  If you’re tech savvy you can balance better – can go home at 5 then log on later from home if needs be. Or email from B’berry.
  • ASQ_Trish: I would actually think that of younger workers. seems more true in my experience
  • karolynliberty: yeah! Skype from the game if absolutely necessary.

On deciding between personal and professional demands:

  • Jill_Perlberg: Scenario: kid’s soccer game at 5:00, emerg. mtg called at 4:30, do you go to the mtg or the game?
  • WriterChanelle: There are many factors in that decision. Are you the only one that can go to the game? How many have you been to?
  • WriterChanelle: Can the time of the mtg be changed? Can you call into mtg from game (on mute)? How participatory do u have to be
  • Jill_Perlberg:  I agree-My parents missed a # of my games, but I understood why, when they did come it was really special
  • bizMebizgal: My parents came to every sporting event I did however things didn’t change for my dad until he was the boss.
  • bizMebizgal:  Gen Y is used to time management. They like dipping their hands in a lot of stuff. Must get everything done, so they find a way.

Open questions

karolynliberty:  Let’s bring up email etiquette… I keep hearing that shorter is better?

  • bizMebizgal:  It depends what needs to be covered. I like keeping it short and then following up with a call for more detail.
  • LesleyMWeiss:  I think it’s better to send one long email than a million short ones. Content is key.
  • MyPath_MP:  Concise, to the point, bullet your ideas out if you hv to–make yourself understood. What do you think?
  • karolynliberty: yet others’ tweet-emails are unhelpful and my dissertations are frustrating
  • karolynliberty: Maybe using Google Wave would make them OK, but the 20 message thread they produce is… sigh.
  • ASQ_Trish: to the point is best, no bold or all caps
  • bizMebizgal:  Keeping emails to 140 characters is a NO!!
  • karolynliberty: I like bullets! Use of underline/italic/bold to highlight the main points in a long email usually just irritating
  • Jill_Perlberg: Boomers like more background info to make sure they understand the entire situation. I summarize first & add detail below

Jill_Perlberg:  Who is more eager to accept change? Does gen. matter?

  • Jelfster: Companies need to adopt more flexible mindsets and adjust work arrangements to leverage the multi-generational workforce effectively.
Adapted from my post on
Generation pic from here.
Lovely Twitter bird found here.

2 thoughts on “Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation: Stereotypes & (Mis)Perceptions in the Workplace

    • It is one of the nicer things about Tuesdays! Always love your participation and support. It’s exactly because of generous people like you that make these Twitter chats such a success.


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