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NEWS | Sept. 17, 2015

Why generational differences should matter to military members

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 contribute to how we communicate, what we value and what motivates us as military members. 

Our professional military education covers a great deal but never really incorporates generational experiences and how they shape our communication, motivation and personal development.  We are a service of all three generations Baby Boomers born 1946-1964, GenXers 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, the human rights era and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  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 paper copies, face-to-face communication and generally will use meetings to discuss concerns and topics in an exploratory manner.  They value and are motivated by position, 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 versus time on the job.   This generation communicates more with technology (i.e.  Smart phone, IPAD, etc.) while using meetings sparingly for decision points or directional guidance.  The GenX generation values time outside work more than the long hours preferred by their predecessors.  They also value independence, responsibility, ingenuity and creativity.  Competency and flexibility are motivating factors in determining the most efficient means to get the job done.

The Millennials collective experience is that of the highest rate of single or helicopter parenting,  living in the shadow of 9/11 terrorist attacks and seeing mass shootings in schools and work places. 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 pursuits outside of a job and look for validation based on skill sets versus time in position.  Additionally, they are less likely to stay in an environment that does not seem to value them, their opinions or ideas. 

As military members, it is important and necessary to consider generational differences because of the need to effectively communicate, provide inspirational leadership and retain talent at all levels.  Each generation brings a unique perspective that, if understood, can reduce frustration in the workplace, increase the productivity and retain the best talent across the spectrum.  Please consider this as you walk through your workplace today. Think of what you can do to bridge the generational gaps and truly get the most out of our people.