I had an interesting LinkedIn exchange recently with a smart young woman who called me on using generational labels. Her position is that it’s discriminatory to use such labels, akin to racial profiling. She also felt that the facts we’d included in our Best Practices paper on Generations and Technology were not supported by research. (Actually, three of the five points we listed are just math — like the fact that the youngest Millennials have been working for two decades now — and the other two were quoting research from Nielsen and Forbes).
Her point about being discriminatory deserves attention though. Labeling people in ways that demean them or block them from opportunities is of course wrong. Agism in the workplace is a real issue, and I imagine many younger generation employees encounter a few hurdles in being taken seriously as well.
One issue with using generational labels is the tendency to forget that generations are composed of individuals. Using those labels with the assumption that all people in that generation think, feel, believe or act in a certain way is just not accurate. It’s also offensive to those who balk at the generalizations.
At Tribe, we do look at the demographics of employee audiences. Part of the demographics we consider include how the population falls into the generations of Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Traditionalists. This is useful because it helps us consider employees in terms of the context in which they grew up, entered the work force and have accessed communications and information over their lifetimes. We also consider other demographic information, such as education, geography, job function and seniority.
Demographics are just statistics. They’re not feelings or beliefs; they’re numbers. They allow us to look at a large group and see patterns and trends. Studying the demographics is the exact opposite of looking at individuals. Still, this sort of data can be useful in helping us understand the differences in each generation of employees. (For statistics on Millennial employees being a highly educated, well prepared group of employees, try this blog.)
Demographics are the forest and individuals are the trees. Both are important to understanding an employee audience. That’s why our discovery process includes both surveys and personal interviews. Themes rise to the surface through demographics, but the story is best told in terms of the individual.
The point I take away from our exchange on LinkedIn is that generational labels sometimes offend people. It’s a reminder to refrain from making far-reaching assumptions based on birth years, and to see the statistics as merely hints about the possible world view of a large group, not definitive descriptions of individuals.
Interested in exploring the generational differences in your employee audience? Tribe can help.