From Generation to Generation at Work: a book review

For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workplace at the same time: Traditionalists (those born before 1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen Xers (1965-1980) and Millennials (1981-2001).   Each of these generations grew up with  experiences that shaped their ideology,practice and assumptions. Traditionalists (or Builders) came back from World War II and built  many of the major companies and still lead many of these organizations. Boomers entered the work force and climbed the corporate ladder by putting in long hours. Gen Xers were smaller, and so did not move up the food chain as fast as Boomers did (because Boomers keep not dying). Millennials have now entered the workforce, but are not as inclined to follow the rules as much as the older generations (Gen Xers weren’t either but because of their small numbers, did not effect much change).

Haydn Shaw has written Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Ploces They Come Apart to help businesses leverage the strengths of each generation. Each of the generations has something to offer. Traditionalists built many of the organizations, industries, and companies.  They and Boomers still occupy places of significant leadership, but have not always passed on important information. Gen Xers have navigated the business world (as defined by previous generations) and have risen to meet various challenges. Millennials are poised to creatively contribute to the market but find that they are judged by other generations for their work ethic, lack of experience, and disrespect for authority.  Stereotypes about each generation abound, and often the other generations are dismissed for where they are found wanting. Shaw helps us appreciate the gifts of each generation that is rooted in their history.

Shaw examines each of these generations, providing an overview of their characteristics and history before discussing the 12 ‘sticking points’ which create generational tension in the work place. These are:

  • Communication
  • Decisions Making
  • Dress Code
  • Feedback
  • Fun at Work
  • Knowledge Transfer
  • Loyalty
  • Meetings
  • Policies
  • Respect
  • Training
  • Work Ethic

In each of these areas, Shaw helps us acknowledge the tensions, appreciate why the tension is there, identify where organizations can ‘flex‘ to accomodate different approaches, leverage the strengths of each generation and resolve how to handle these areas.

I appreciate many of Shaw’s insights and I think this will be a helpful book for people working together from different generations. Because my own vocational goals are ministry, I immediately translate Shaw’s insights to that context. I think he names some of the tensions of intergenerational ministry but his focus is specifically on the work environment (i.e. company policies, work ethic, etc). Some of this is translatable to a church setting (though not all of it).

One of the insights of this book that I appreciated was Shaw’s explanation about Gen X as a ‘squished generation.’ When Gen Xers entered the workforce, they did not climb the corporate ladder the way their parents did, nor were they able to effect organizational change because they did not have the numbers Boomers have.  As a result, they have learned to navigate working with the older generations, playing by their rules (but breaking rules and asking for forgiveness later). Many of the features of Millennial generation are held in common with Gen Xers but because of their numbers, they will effect greater change in business and industry. However, for the moment Gen Xers are working in dynamic tension between Boomer leaders and Millennial’s entering the business world. They have to navigate both worlds.

Books about generations are by necessity generalizations. Shaw admits that his characterizations describe generations but may not describe individual members of each generations. When generational characteristics are used as a hammer, they do not do justice to the personhood of the people they attempt to describe. Thankfully Shaw has put the hammer away and has written a book which helps us appreciate the different assumptions we carry to the workforce and how their can be a greater level of cooperation across generational lines. I give this book 4 stars.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


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