Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Happy Birthday Generation X

March 24th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I am a member of generation X – the late end I would like to point out, but a Gen Xer nonetheless.  The specific boundaries for each generation are not clear.  Some would argue that Gen X includes folks born as early as 1961, others site 1964.  The last Gen Xers were born somewhere between 1976 and 1982.  If you buy the earliest start date for the Gen Xers, the first individuals from this generation turn 50 this year!  Incredible.  It is worth giving some thought to Gen Xers at work.  It is worth looking at ‘generations’ in general for that matter.  

While I believe the difference in dates is trivial, there are some would could argue this at length.  From my perspective, it does not really matter because there are few implications related to being born in one ‘generation’ versus another.  

Proponents of generational theories believe that being raised in a common social context creates a set of shared values and viewpoints that allow us to understand the motivations and behaviours of large groups of people.  For generation X (in North America), the popular world was shaped by movies such as Pretty in Pink and the Breakfast Club, TVs shows such as 90210 (the original!) and Friends.  We were the first generation to play video games in a meaningful way – remember Pong and Pac Man.  We also witnessed the Challenger explosion, the cold war, the Dot-come bubble, AIDS, techno music, and the death of Princess Diana.  

In terms of life experience, Gen Xers followed Baby Boomers.  We are the smallest generation around today.  This has had clear demographic implications for Xers.  Our social reality includes high levels of education relative to previous generations, lower starting salaries, and high unemployment rates.  We are in the wake of a group of people who changed the world to suit their needs and we have not always enjoyed the consequences.  That being said, these effects are truly demographic in nature.  There are still many more differences among Gen Xers than there are similarities.  This means that understanding that folks belong to one generation versus another has not been very helpful for understanding important individual differences such as learning, performance, or motivation.

There are some excellent researchers who would disagree.  Sean Lyons at the University of Guelph is looking at the values across generations and the implications for the workplace.  He has managed to identify some consistent differences.  However, others have had difficulty making such connections.  In cases such as this, when research findings conflict, it could be that we have not defined the construct well enough (i.e., we do not have a clear understanding of the boundaries of the generations), or there are factors that interact with generations to complicate the relationship with meaningful outcomes.  In other words, the effect is not direct but mediated or moderated through other factors.  At the moment we do not know enough to draw broad conclusions about this area of work.  

Nevertheless, in 2011, when some of my generational colleagues are turning to the half century mark I must wish you happy birthday.  May your year be full of memories of  Charlie Sheen (circa Platoon, not winning), casual sex, Ferris Bueller, and ‘grunge rock.’  All the best. 


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