Are You Guilty of Generational Profiling?

Have you heard?? Millennials are the “me” generation and can’t make a decision without Mom or Dad! Gen Xers don’t want rules! Boomers are loyal and love structure & hierarchy! Research tells us that each generation is made of creatures very different than the other generations.  But, are we taking it too far?

There is valuable research to consider on generations. But, first, picture your high school lunch room. If you were like most teenagers you openly – or covertly – stereotyped that group to simplify – the jocks, cheerleaders, emos, stoners or the band kids.  Yet, all from the same generation. When you consider this group of students, would you agree that they are motivated the same way, have the same interests and definition of success? Of course not. Yet, no matter your age – this high school lunch room represents a tiny microcosm of your generation and with big diversity even within the same hometown.

Yes, generations share common world experiences that bind them together. Millennials have grown up with social media and sharing their lives hour by hour. Generation X experienced a changed life after 9/11. Some Boomers experienced the civil rights movement firsthand. Yet, these shared world experiences don’t make us the same. Millennials and even Generation X have generally grown up expecting personal choice.  But, so do many of the Boomers ready for their second act. So, what to make of the generational research based solely on our birth dates?

Research certainly reinforces the changing expectations of work and careers and the Millennials are pushing that trend. The traditional organizational practices used in business today have roots in the 60’s and 70’s when the goal was to create structure, hierarchy and make careers more the same than different. Lifetime employment or the corner office was once the carrot if you paid your dues. If generational habits and trends cause us to relook at how we do business and careers – it’s a needed impetus to change. Too much of what we do in organizations today to grow talent is past its ‘sell by’ date.

The downside of these general stereotypes is that we shortcut and oversimplify the conclusions by individual. There are too many broad generalizations that give the ‘5 easy steps to connect to Millennials’ or ‘read what Gen X wants’. Each generation is made up of individuals. There are new graduates who love the structure of the business world – as I was reminded in a conversation this week. There are many 40+ early adopters who have embraced social media and experiment with the latest technology. Just like we should never assume that a woman isn’t tough enough to be the CEO or that someone with a disability lacks the stamina to do the job, we can’t profile an entire generation either.

In the last few weeks, these comments gave me pause. “The new grads can do all their onboarding online – they don’t care as much about individual conversations.” or “Honestly, we need someone new to the workforce who’s really comfortable with technology.” When these generational profiles and stereotypes make their way into specific decisions, it will undoubtedly affect the best outcome.

So, read up and absorb the generational research as it may give you the push you need to kick off needed change. But, stop short of believing that a generation is homogeneous and ‘one size fits all’. Look hard enough and you may find some selfless Millennials who thrive on in-person connections.  If you have any doubts, pause and consider how much standardization you experienced back in your own high school cafeteria.

 Patti Johnson is the CEO & Founder of PeopleResults at  She can be followed on twitter @pattibjohnson or her company @people_results.