Olivier S.E. Courtois
Generational Differences? Let's Not Stereotype!
Updated: Feb 26
Generational differences are the subject of many publications and research. It has almost become a business with its gurus, research and publications. And it's hard to keep up. Unless you're an HR expert, it's not easy to distinguish between the silent generation, supposedly traditional and stable, the collaborative but change-resistant baby boomers, the independent but morose Generation Z, the motivated but entitled Millennials, the progressive but disloyal Generation Z, or the Alphas.
These categories have the merit of making people think about how best to approach each other, but like any category, they may encourage stereotypes. Just like gender or cultural differences. It is also difficult to distinguish between potentially generation-specific characteristics, and characteristics of an age category regardless of generation. In other words, was I different at 25 than my daughter is today? There are also strong personal differences between people of the same generation, and to say that generation XYZ is more this or that does not make much sense in itself!
So should we ignore these categorizations?
In my opinion, they are useful because they encourage us to develop our emotional intelligence. Whether they are generational, gender-based or cultural, it is important to avoid stereotypes. Everyone has their own history, values and beliefs. We must therefore be attentive to understanding who the individual in front of us is.
On a more collective level, it can be useful to take an interest in the context in which the young (or older) people you deal with have lived. When you were born in a serene environment, you don't look for the same thing as when you have lived in a precarious environment. When everything is unstable around you, you develop your agility. When information circulates at high speed thanks to technology, you expect to get data at a click. In this respect, generational categorization can help to better understand certain generational reflexes conditioned by specific societal circumstances. But nothing more. The differences attributed to generations are often circumstantial.
It is also important to remember that when faced with the same events, each person has their own way of reacting. For example, as a late baby boomer/early Generation X, I have always been very optimistic and eager to change, not necessarily characteristics that are attributed to my generation.
So let's look at all these categories as an incentive to reflect and apprehend "diversity". Let's apply emotional intelligence, but let's not take easy, stereotypical shortcuts. The quality of our leadership and talent management decisions depends on this.
To live well together, let's try to create the psychological safety necessary for everyone to contribute to their full potential.