This year’s Delta Days keynote dealt not with racial diversity or gender diversity but rather with age diversity. Keynote speaker Audrey Nelson, who holds a B.A., M.A. and a Ph.D. in Communication, focused on the differences between each generation currently in the workforce. Nelson along with the audience identified the different characteristics and stereotypes of each age group to enhance understanding of each generation.
Though nearing the end of their time in the workforce, the Silent Generation, those born between 1922 and 1943, harbors characteristics left over from impossible to ignore events. A Silent Generation audience member mentioned the fact that his generation was more affected by war and the depression than any other generation. Depending on when they were born within the date range, a Silent may have lived through the Roarin’ Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II—such a spread of life-changing events that later generations can have a hard time empathizing.
Nelson listed several characteristics of the Silent Generation and their origins to help younger generations better understand their older counterpart. “They believe in an honest days work,” Nelson said. “I had a manager who gave a Silent the day off because he had done such a stellar job and gone beyond the call of duty. He said, ‘Please don’t give me the day off because my neighbors will wonder why I’m not at work when they see my car in the driveway. How can you pay me if I don’t put in my 40 hours a week.'”
Speaking in generalizations, the Silent Generation does not expect deep meaning or fulfillment from their work, prefers face-to-face communication and tends to keep their thoughts to themselves. “This is not the generation that sought counseling or marriage counseling or therapy,” Nelson said.
Unlike the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomer generation, those born between 1943 and 1960, is currently the largest group working in the U.S. When asked to describe their generation in three words, a Boomer audience member used love, peace and rebellion. Though those may not be the words that younger generations would use to describe the Baby Boomers, it is often overlooked that the Boomers lived through and most were influenced by the 1960s. In the U.S., the sixties brought three major assassinations, Vietnam War, space explorations, protests and civil disobedience and nearly every important and influential movement including civil rights and women’s rights.
Generation X, those born between 1960 and 1980 form an interesting bridge between the revolutionary Boomers and the entitled Generation Y. For example, Generation X spans the technology gap between Boomers and Gen. Y. Generation X was the first generation to be tech-savvy, yet not quite as tech-savvy as the following generation.
To describe this generation, a Gen. X audience member used independent and cynical. Nelson credited Gen. X’s independence to the entrance of women into the workforce. “Gen. X was really the birth of the latch key kid. The ‘I can do it myself. I can let myself in the house. I can do my homework when I’m supposed to,'” Nelson said.
Generation Y, the generation that most students and young professionals belong to, spans 1980 to 2000 and is believed to be the most confident and entitled generation yet. According to Nelson, they grew up with more diversity than their predecessors and, with the help of the Internet, grew up with the world at their fingertips.
Generally speaking, Generation Y is expected to go to college and be successful, and education is viewed as the key to success. In addition, loyalty is not so much an issue as it was with previous generations. According to Nelson, Gen. Y will shop their resume immediately after landing a new job.
So, what is the point of all these generalizations, an audience member asked. How are they to be used?
“We all stereotype. It’s a necessary evil. Some of your stereotypes you should keep to yourself, (and) are there individual differences, yes,” Nelson said. In social science we make assumptions and conclusions. If you put this together and that together, this is probably what you are going to get. Stereotyping in communication helps us know how to behave with people. That’s how you use this.”