Why generational differences should matter to military members

  • Published
  • By Col. Cherie Roff
  • 315th Mission Support Group commander
  As military members it has become increasingly necessary to consider generational differences within our ranks. Generational differences are a part of how we communicate, what we value, and what motivates us as military members.  Our professional military education covers a great deal but never really looks at generational experiences and how it shapes our communication, motivations, and our development.  We are a service of all three generations Boomers born 1946-1964, GenX born 1965-1980, and Millennials born 1981-2006.  Each generation has a unique collective experience for example Boomers experienced the aftermath of WWII, the atom bomb, the Cold War, human rights era, Korean War, and Vietnam.  In general, Boomers are considered the optimistic generation that questioned authority, were highly competitive, idealistic, focused on title and monetary compensation, and garnered validation from hours spent at the office.   They often prefer to communicate in person, prefer paper copies, and generally will use meetings to discuss concerns and topics in an exploratory manner.  They value and are motivated by position, value long hours worked, and monetary benefits or recognition mementos.  

      The GenX generation however, emerged as the “Latch Key” generation as well as the digital evolution generation with computers and electronic advancements. The GenX generation is considered conservative, self-reliant, skeptical of authority figures, and focused on time management or productivity verses time on the job.   This generation communicates more with technology whether with a  Smart phone or IPAD, and use meetings sparingly for decision points or directional guidance.  The GenX generation values time outside work most of all versus the long hours of their predecessors.  The also value having independent responsibility, being allowed ingenuity, and use of creativity in processes.  They are motivated by independence, competency, and the flexibility to get the job done the way they determine is the most efficient. 

      The Millennials collective experience is one of sheltered or helicopter parents, had the highest rates of single parents raising them, lived in the shadow of 9/11 terrorist attacks, lived through school shootings and killing sprees, they are also the most educated generation.  This is the Facebook/Twitter generation that has always had a voice; they have a strong sense of entitlement, a civic responsibility view point, and are most apt to multi-task.  They value their time in other pursuits outside of a job and look for validation based on skill sets verse time in position.  They are also, less likely to stay in an environment that does not seem to value them, their opinions, or ideas.  

    Generational differences are necessary for us as military members to understand when we are faced the need to effective communicate, provide inspirational leadership, and retain talent at all levels.  Each generation brings with it a unique perspective that if understood can reduce the amount of frustration in the workplace, increase the productivity, and retain our best talent across the spectrums.  Please consider this as you walk through your workplace today and think of what you could do to bridge the generational differences and truly get the most out of our people. 

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