Understanding different generations is key to appreciating them

MINNEAPOLIS — The keynote speaker at Minnesota Pork Congress said understanding the differences between generations is the best way to work with family members, employees and clients. 

Haydn Shaw, president of eMergent Generations Consulting in Frankfort, Ill., said since people are living longer, it's not uncommon for a business to have four generations of employees. Marketers have five generations of customers to work with, all of them raised in different cultural contexts that shape everything from the way they like to dress to the music they enjoy.

It used to be that younger generations had to simply "wait their turn" to run things their own way, but that no longer applies. 

Generations are like different countries now and who is to say which one is better or worse, asked Shaw.

"The most important thing we can do is understand that and chill out," he said. 


An effective relationship with someone from a different age group requires appreciation and understanding about why they are the way they are.

For that, Shaw provided the audience with a history lesson. 

Traditionalists, born between 1901 and 1943, lived through the Great Depression, or grew up hearing stories about it. Their motto, "waste not, want not," explains their high focus on saving everything in case its needed later. They won World War II, which embedded a deep sense of the value of sacrificing for the common good. At work, they're used to long-term, stable jobs and communicate with memos. 

Baby Boomers, born from 1944-1964, were raised with optimism, at a time when manufacturing had exploded in the United States.

A massive move occurred from living on farms to homes in the cities. Drug use and crime increased, not because people in the city were immoral but because the city setting was more suited for it, he said. 

"Literally, the population in the United States flipped over," he said. 

This generation believes in working hard to get ahead. 

GenX, born from 1965-1981, grew up in a time when it was assumed women would work away from home, which meant families were juggling more on their plates. Divorce increased as it lost its stigma.


This generation saw tough economic times. GenX members were raised when kids were less of a focus in society. They put more of a focus on their own children and their safety. In work, they're ready to learn and enhance skills and are willing to work as hard as they have to in order to enjoy life. 

Millenials, born from 1982 to 2003, grew up with the Internet and are used to instant access of movies and other media. 

"They don't have to talk to each other anymore," Shaw said, because texting and other forms of e-communication are so common. 

This generation has high expectations because their parents taught them they can do anything. Their family oriented. Five out of 10 Millenials pick their parents as their hero out of a list of possible heroes.

At work, they want to express their passion. They're prepared to leave work at 5 p.m. but log back on that night. 

A fifth generation exists for children seven years old and younger. Though a name for them hasn't been created, they're considered a market for influencing family purchasing decisions. 

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