This book review, which discusses the impact of
multi-generational age groups in the workplace, was written by Amy
Proni (now Amy Ranger) in the
form of a ten-minute presentation, for the course
ILS-565, Library management, taught by Dr. J. M. Kusack, Southern
Connecticut State University, Spring, 2004. Assignment:
Read a good management book. As a tip, a book dealing with personnel
issues is always a good bet. And a second tip, any book that uses
animals as primary characters is probably not a good bet.
Read the book and from it write a speech you would (in theory) give to
your staff / the local Rotary Club / the ALA executive / upper
management / the local school principals / etc., that espouses the
management techniques found in the book. Serious marks deducted for
listing chapter headings as the primary substance of your speech.
Remember that it is a speech and so has to be lively and informative.
The presentation/review must emphasize how the book can be applied. The
review must indicate substantial engagement with the content of the
book (rather than short-cut scanning of chapter headings). The review
should take approximately ten minutes to present or be less than three
pages in length. Book review
When generations collide: who they are, why they clash, how to solve
the generational puzzle at work
Good morning. The working environment in the
University Libraries has been under stress lately, due to
administrative changes and retirements, technological innovations, and
the state’s budget crisis. Morale is low, and productivity is down. So
today I would like to talk to you about a book that I read recently —
it’s called When generations collide: who they are, why they clash,
how to solve the generational puzzle at work.
I found this book to
be relevant to our situation – we have four distinct generations
employed here, and it seems to me that a “one-size-fits-all” strategy
is unlikely to help us motivate, manage, and retain high-quality staff.
These four generations consist of Traditionalists, born between 1900
and 1945; Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born
between 1965 and 1980; and the Millenials, born between 1981 and 1999.
Let me just give you some brief facts about each generational group.
Traditionalists learned to make do or do without: their world was
rocked by two world wars and the Great Depression. Federal programs
like the New Deal and the G.I. Bill, as well as a very cohesive
society, helped them get through tough times. They are extremely loyal.
They learned that the military model of top-down management is most
efficient for getting things done. Traditionalists live by the chain of
command. Rewards for them include the self-satisfaction of a job well
done; working hard, then retiring; and the desire to leave a legacy.
Baby boomers were born into a surging post-war economy in which there
were jobs and educational opportunities for everyone. Boomers are
optimistic; they were raised to believe that they could do anything.
This generation is marked by high ideals and competitiveness. A single
medium, television, gave them a common language and a front
window into deeply divisive issues such as the war in Vietnam, civil
rights, and Watergate. From that they developed a willingness to
challenge authority. They were derided as the Me generation
when they discarded the concept of societal well-being in favor of
individual well-being. Status-conscious boomers want visible rewards
like a great career, money, titles, recognition, and the corner
Generation X is half the size of the Baby boom population. Innovation
ruled their childhoods, from cable TV to cell phones, microwaves and
personal computers. At the same time, though, nearly every major
American institution was called into question and the divorce rate
tripled. It’s no wonder that this group of people is comfortable and
adept with technology, but is skeptical about the permanence of
personal and institutional relationships. Xers are self-reliant,
resourceful, and more likely to want ‘self-command’ than any other
management model. Job security doesn’t interest Xers as much as career
security. They want portable skill sets.
Millenials are just now entering our work force, primarily as student
employees. Even though they have been raised by optimistic, idealistic
Boomer parents, this generation has been exposed to a steady increase
in societal violence, national traumas like the space shuttle
disasters, Okalahoma City and September 11th, and numerous school
shootings. In a word, they tend to be realistic. Access to a wide world
of information, through daycare, travel, the media, and the internet,
has led to what the authors call “diversification expectations” – this
generation expects their workplace to resemble that same diverse
culture. Thanks to their Boomer parents, Millenials are adept at
collaboration and multi-tasking, and will be well-suited to parallel
There are three other, smaller generational groups that I’d like to
bring to your attention. These are “Cuspers,” people who were born
between 1940-45, 1960-65, and 1975-80. They may serve as a bridge
between generations, because their experiences have crossed the
timelines. Cuspers can be a great help to managers who want to close
the generation gaps.
These generational differences really come into play when we talk about
using rewards to motivate staff. Traditionalists equate work with duty,
Boomers associate it with self-fulfillment, and Xers view it simply as
a way to get compensation. Millenials value work that is meaningful to
them. With such diverse views on the transactional nature of work, why
try to motivate each generation with a one-size-fits-all reward?
Tailoring rewards to individuals is one solution, but will work only if
the entire staff perceives the rewards as fair and equitable. I suggest
that instead of focusing on who gets what, we make why
the primary attribute. Base rewards on performance. Rewarding increased
productivity lets everyone, including the Libraries, win.
I’d like to touch on the topic of feedback in context with our
generational differences. For the stoic Traditionalists, no news is
good news. Boomers tend to document everything, and expect an annual
formal review. Xers want to know how they are doing all the time, and
Millenials will probably expect immediate feedback at the touch of a
button. The sensible thing is to offer feedback a la carte.
staff what format they prefer (face to face, via email, or by
telephone?); their frequency preference (annually, semi-annually,
monthly, or weekly), and style preference (formal or casual?). Also,
feedback needs to go in two directions, from the director down, and
from the staff up. As it is now, we have no formal mechanism for staff
to critique their supervisors and managers, but enabling staff to
provide constructive criticism would give the management a
As I’ve mentioned, people work for different reasons. If it is true
that an organization’s greatest asset is its employees, then retaining
staff must be a priority. It’s not high salaries that will allow us to
retain qualified staff – we must offer a mix of benefits which are both
perceived that will engender a sense of loyalty to the organization.
Our retention strategy should be tailored to fit the needs of the
different generations. Why not ask staff if option like cross-training,
part-time work, flexible schedules, or time off without pay appeal to
The bottom line is that generational values and attitudes toward work
and life have drastically changed in the past 50 years, but our
organization has not. I hope that some of the observations and
suggestions that I’ve gathered from the book When generations
collide will help the management of the University Libraries
rectify that. Thank you.
Lancaster, Lynne C., Stillman, David. (2002). When
generations collide: who they are, why they clash, how to solve the
generational puzzle at work. New York : HarperCollins.