Understanding Thought Patterns

Understanding Thought Patterns: A Key to Corporate
Learning Objectives
1. Know the three major generational influences that make up the majority of the current workforce
and their different perspectives and influences.
2. Understand how decision biases may impede effective decision making.
Generational Influences on Work Behavior
Psychologist Kurt Lewin, known as the “founder of social psychology,” created a well-known formula B =
ƒ(P,E) that states behavior is a function of the person and their environment. One powerful environmental
influence that can be seen in organizations today is based on generational differences. Currently, four generations
of workers (traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y) coexist in many organizations. The
different backgrounds and behaviors create challenges for leading these individuals that often have similar shared
experiences within their generation but different sets of values, motivations, and preferences in contrast to other
generations (Table 10.8 “Managing Generational Differences”). Effective management of these four different
generations involves a realization of their differences and preferred communication styles (Rathman, 2011).
The generation born between 1925 and 1946 that fought in World War II and lived through the Great Depression
are referred to as traditionalists. The perseverance of this generation has led journalist Tom Brokaw to dub this
group “The Greatest Generation.” As a reflection of a generation that was molded by contributions to World War
II, members of this generation value personal communication, loyalty, hierarchy, and are resistant to change. This
group now makes up roughly 5 percent of the workforce.
Photographer Dorothea Lange’s photo Migrant Mother, taken in 1936, embodied the struggles of the
traditionalist generation that lived during the Great Depression.
Wikimedia Commons – public domain.
The generation known as baby boomers was born between 1946 and 1964, corresponding with a population
“boom” following the end of World War II. This group witnessed Beatlemania, Vietnam, and the Watergate
scandal. College graduates should be aware that this group makes up the majority of the workforce and that
boomer managers often view face time as an important contribution to a successful work environment (Fogg,
2008). In addition, a realization that this generation wants to be included in office activities and values recognition
is important to achieving cohesiveness between generations.
Generation X,born between 1965 and 1980, is marked by an X symbolizing their unknown nature. In contrast
to the baby boomer’s value on office face time, Gen X members prize flexibility in their jobs and dislike the
feeling that they are being micromanaged (Burk, et. al., 2011). Because of the desire for independence as well as
adaptability associated with this generation, you should try to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question to avoid
the risk of Gen X members moving on to other employment opportunities.
The generation that followed Generation X is known as Generation Y or millennials. This generation is
highlighted by positive attributes such as the ability to embrace technology. More than previous generations,
this group prizes job and life satisfaction highly, so making the workplace an enjoyable environment is key to
managing Generation Y.
Table 10.8 Managing Generational Differences
To effectively lead today’s corporations, knowledge of the firm’s products and services are not enough. Executives
must understand how to manage an increasingly diverse workforce. For example, navigating the differences
among the three generations that currently dominate the workforce is crucial. We illustrate some of these
differences below. One important caveat is that not all members of each generation fit these general descriptions.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) Generation X (1965-1980) Generation Y (1981-1990)
Background: Children of the post
World War II “baby boom” grew up
during dramatic social events including
Beatlemania, the first moon walk, the
Vietnam War, and Watergate.
Background: Generation X refers to the
unknown nature of this generation, who
grew up amid an increasing divorce rate as
well as political experiences such as the
end of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin
Background: Known also as the Millennial
Generation, this group is comfortable with
technology, and is often associated with
“helicopter” parents who are far more involved in
their children’s lives than parents have been in the
past. Because of the trend toward valuing
participation in competitive activities rather than
outcomes, this group is sometimes called the
“Trophy Generation.”
General characteristics: Optimism,
politically conservative, competitive.
General characteristics: Independent,
cynical, adaptable.
General characteristics: Team-oriented,
technologically savvy, need considerable feedback.
Communication preferences: Increased
accessibility to touch phones reduces
the need for interaction with this group,
where a quick phone call can be
effective to convey a message.
Communication preferences: The ability
to reach out by mobile phone anytime is
the hallmark of this generation.
Communication preferences: Pictures, personal
details, and immediate access to friends and family.
What you should know to manage this
group: This group makes up the
majority of the work force, and this
group is susceptible to burnout and
stress-related illness. Be sure to not
scrimp on praise and the funding of
office parties for this group that values
recognition and enjoys begin part of a
What you should know to manage this
group: Because of their independence and
adaptability, this group is especially prone
to switching jobs to climb the career
ladder. Micromanaging this group is rarely
effective, but providing flexibility as well
as being able to answer the question,
“What’s in it for me?” can be helpful.
What you should know to manage this group: Job
and life satisfaction is the key to keeping this
generation’s talent so the opportunity to make work
fun should not be downplayed with this group, and
providing feedback is an important role in
managing this generation that has often been
Wise members of this generation will also be aware of the negative attributes surrounding them. For example,
millennials are associated with their “helicopter” parents who are often too comfortably involved in the lives of
their children. For example, such parents have been known to show up to their children’s job orientations, often
attempting to interfere with other workplace experiences such as pay and promotion discussions that may be
unwelcome by older generations. In addition, this generation is viewed as needing more feedback than previous
groups. Finally, the trend toward discouraging some competitive activities among individuals in this age group
has led millennials to be dubbed “Trophy Kids” by more cynical writers.

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