My first job

Do you remember your first job?  Many of us either remember our first job fondly or with shear embarrassment. My first job was at the age of 15 when I was hired by my dad’s best friend to work in his auto parts store.  Unfortunately, there was little training on how to deal with the types of customers who frequented the business and I was unfamiliar with the unwritten rules of the store.  One of my most difficult lessons about work was learned from an elderly farmer.

So one day I am standing at the register watching CNN when I see a big farm truck pull up in front of the store.  In the truck was an elderly gentleman wearing overalls and a cowboy hat with a big dog in the back. At first I paid little attention to the man, but then I heard a loud honk from his truck.  At first I was startled, but I didn’t think much about the sound and went back to the news.  A few minutes later, there was a loud horn blast again. Okay, what is going on with this man and the horn? After another minute, the man honked his horn again and he would not let up on it. Immediately, I ran to the window and saw the man gesturing for me to come to the truck.  At this point, I was getting really nervous and wondering if the man was a stalker. As I got ready to walk away, he laid on the horn again and aggressively motioned for me to come to him.  At this point,  I was really scared and I shook my head at him.  That is when he got upset and mouthed an expletive at me.  Oh no you just didn’t!!

 Taking a lesson from my grandmother about dirty old men, I immediately ran to get my boss to show him the mad farmer outside of his store. When my boss came to the window, I knew he would be furious and call the police; however, that is not what happened at all!  My boss looked at me and said, “How long has he been waiting for someone to come outside.”  Ummmm…did he just say what I thought he said???  I stared at the man with my mouth open and a puzzled look on my face. Again, my boss questioned me about the inconvenienced customer. After getting myself together, I explained to him what happened and how I thought the gentleman was a stalker. My boss admonished me and told me that it was his expectation that the gentleman receive service at his truck by whomever was at the counter. This story describes my first experience with the generational gap in the workplace.

The Generations in the Workplace

A generation is defined as “the events and conditions each of us experience during our formative years  which determines who we are and how we see the world” (What Defines a Generation?).  Each of us, the elderly farmer, the business owner, and me, the teenager, had expectations of each other that were not being met due to our cultural lens.  At that time, I only saw a grumpy, demanding old farmer and a unrealistic boss who I only worked for because I wanted to make extra money.  In my mind, I was the victim who was being treated unfairly by “the establishment”. However, looking back, the situation was much deeper and complex than I could comprehend. Today, I see this scenario as a great example of understanding the differences and complexities of generations within our workforce and schools.  Within our organizations, we have four different generations working along side each other. Most of the time, these workers are able to coexist and work peacefully together.  What are these generations?

Four Generations in Organizations

 Traditionalists – Born 1925-1945

Traditionalists were born during the Great Depression and WWII.  They experienced the economic boom after the war and are extremely patriotic and loyal to the country.  Typically, Traditionalists were employed in one company for a long period of time and were good at taking orders from their bosses.  In addition, they expect everyone else to have that same sense of discipline and values.
Work Focus: Quality of work
Work Motivation: Job security
Company Loyalty: High
Money:  Livelihood
Value: Family & country
Defined by: Stock market Crash, WWII , New Deal, and Korean War

Baby Boomers – Born 1946-1964

Baby Boomers were born following World War II and experienced the political upheaval of the 60s and 70s as teens.  Baby Boomers often reject the values of the Traditionalists and often question authority. Being idealistic and competitive, the Baby Boomers’ goals included making money and job prestige.

Work Focus: Long hours
Work Motivation: Making money
Company Loyalty: High
Money: Status
Value: Success & titles
Defined by: Television, Civil Rights Movement, Death of JFK, and Rock and Roll
Generation X – Born 1965-1980

Generation Xers were born during and after the Vietnam War and rejected the ideals of their parents.  While their parents were working, they became the first latchkey kids who valued self reliability, resourcefulness, and adaptability.  This generation formed a strong distrust to organizations and was willing to move from job to job to maintain a life – work balance.

Work Focus: Productivity
Work Motivation: Time off
Company Loyalty: Low
Money:  Means to an end
Value: Time
Defined by: Stock market Crash of 1980s, Technology Revolution, MTV, and High divorce rate of parents

Millennial or Generation Y – Born 1981-2000

Millennials were born during a recession and subsequent prosperity of the technology industry.  Never without their technology, they grew up in a society full of violence and uncertainty.  Because of this culture, parents of Millennials were overly concerned about their safety and tried to shelter them from economic uncertainly and danger.  This generation has a strong need to enjoy life and sees work as something that has to be meaningful. They are skeptical of authority, highly influenced by their peers, and seek recognition.

Work Focus: Contribution
Work Motivation: Time off
Company Loyalty: Low
Money: Today’s payoff
Value: Individuality
Defined by:  Terrorism, School violence, technology,  and September 11th

Side Note:  Millennials and Traditionalist are more similar in that they share characteristics of working together for the common good, trust in authority, and a willingness to accomplish a common goal.

Gen Edge – Born after 2000

Gen Edge were born during the “Great Recession” and in a time of great cultural diversity. This group is tech savvy, competitive, and realistic. Because of the uncertainty of the economy, this group is concerned about their future and economic well being. They possess great ability to create new technologies and open their
own businesses. In addition, they believe in following a realistic path to obtaining a career by attending college or learning a skill.

Defined by: Instagram, cyber bullying, recession, and Occupy Movement

The Rise of the You Tube Star
Generational Differences Chart  

Every one of these generations have a set of traits that shape their imprint in the workplace and organizations. Below is a list of the characteristics of the three largest generations in the workplace.

Generational Players in My Story and their Traits

The Farmer – Traditionalist who was a loyal customer at the automotive store and valued receiving good customer service. He was accustomed to the same routine of driving up to the auto parts store and being waited on by the staff.

The Business Owner – Baby Boomer who came from a poor family so he was determined to make a good living for his family. He was a hard worker who often worked long hours and valued having a good reputation in the community.  The reason for his willingness to give the farmer curbside service was due to his desire to keep one of his most loyal customers.

Me – Generation Xer who was cynical of the value the business owner placed on the needs of one customer over his employees. I felt everyone

Really not me..

should be self reliant and I was upset that the business owner did not give me a heads up about the farmer.  My goal was to get money so I could enjoy having fun. 

How one relates to another person in the workplace or at school is based on his or her set of beliefs, values, perspectives, skills, and dislikes. Like the workplace, these values influence how we as educators view students and how we interact with them.  Below is a chart of the liabilities and assets of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials. Understanding how generations differ is important for school counselors to know when working with students and teachers.

Now that you are aware of some the generational differences in the school and workplace, it is important to help our students and teachers communicate appropriately.

How to Communicate with Millennials

Although Millennials are known as the population born between 1981 and 2000, they are also defined as the group who avoids face to face communication by relying on technology.  Because technology was introduced early in their lives, they use devices as a means of communication. Non-Millennials see this lack of  face to
face communication as an impediment for students; however, Millennials are in constant communication via an electronic device.  Since Baby Boomers and Generation Xers were introduced to technology later in life, they often do not understand the importance of these devices. Here are some communication tips to consider when working with Millennials:

  • Use a variety of applications in order to communicate with students like Remind which allows teachers and counselors to send text messages.
  • Be aware that Millennials crave feedback often.  Although silence may be good for some generations, Millennials interpret silence negatively.
  • The core values of Millennials include social connectedness, teamwork, close relationships with authority figures (like with their parents), technology, & creativity. When communicating with Millennials, using different types and methods of communication is essential.  Entrepreneur Magazine found that You Tube is highly effective with communicating messages as well as memes.
  • Millennials need to know when they are doing something well or inappropriately.
  • Millennals continuously need to understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
  • Instead of resenting students for their proclivity to interact with peers during class, it is important to discuss the importance of listening to one another.
  • It is important to engage Millennials in community service projects to show them how to communicate effectively with others.

Sources:  Teaching Generation Y             
Understanding and Teaching Generation Y

Preparing Millennials for the Work Force

The US Department of Labor has identified several work or soft skills that everyone needs in order to be effective in the labor force.  These skills include: communication, problem solving, professionalism, enthusiasm, networking, teamwork, and attitude. Skills To Pay the Bills has a free curriculum for youth ages 14-21 in or out of school..

Skills to Pay the Bills
Additional Resources
As a high school counselor, preparing Millennials and the incoming Gen Edgers for the workforce is one of the competencies of ASCA. Download the ASCA Mindsets to discover the skills students need to be successful academically, emotionally, and in the workplace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


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