Generations Inc by Meagan Johnson Book Summary

Generations Inc, From Boomers to Linksters – Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work by Meagan Johnson and Larry Johnson


For the first time in US history, five generations populate the workplace. They range from the eldest “Traditionals” born before 1945 to the youngest “Linksters” born after 1995. Sandwiched in between are “Baby Boomers, Generation X” and “Generation Y.” Intergenerational specialists Meagan Johnson (Gen X) and her father Larry Johnson (Boomer) offer point and counterpoint examples from their personal and professional backgrounds as part of their innovative model for managing across the ages. While the research is specific to the United States, getAbstract believes international managers can also absorb some useful ideas from this fascinating book and recommends it to managers and workers who want to bridge the generation gap.


  • Today’s workplace employs five generations of workers.
  • A defining set of historical and socioeconomic events formed each generation.
  • Managers have to understand the strengths, limitations and demographic “signposts” of each generation.
  • The “Traditional Generation” has the most job experience and hard-won wisdom.
  • The “Baby Boomer Generation” wants managers to engage them, but not to micromanage them.
  • “Generation X” – former “latchkey kids” – likes to work alone and often asks why.
  • “Generation Y” employees need strong connections with their managers and co-workers.
  • “Generation Linkster” is just now entering after-school and summer-jobs.
  • Good management boils down to understanding skills and motivation.
  • Managers must regard every employee as an individual.
Generations Inc Book Cover

Generations Inc Book Summary

From Generation to Generation

For the first time ever, people from five generations share the US workplace: “Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y” and “Linksters.” Their traits affect how employees and managers perceive one another. Managers must bring these generations together to work for the best interests of the group and company as a whole. Certain “signposts” define each generation:

  • “Personal” and “group signposts” – Past events in individuals’ lives or the lives of their generational cohort can have a lasting personal and professional impact. From the group perspective, these signposts include identification or association with certain demographic subsets – for example, how you identify with your race and gender.
  • “Generational signposts” – Specific historic events affecting one generation more than others – for example, Woodstock’s impact on Boomers.
  • “Life laws” – Events that occurred before your memory but which affect your life. For example, Gen Xers and Gen Yers never experienced racial segregation in schools, so they know nothing other than an integrated society.


Born between 1918 and 1945, the Traditional Generation is 52 million strong. The older members lived through the Roaring Twenties, were teens during the Great Depression and served their country during World War II. Due to age and retirement, they account for only about 8% of the workforce, though many more are active volunteers. Generational signposts include the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Pearl Harbor bombing, World War II, the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Korean War and the Salk polio vaccine.

“Each generation has…differing sets of expectations of…how they should behave as employees, how managers will manage them and how they will manage others.”

Traditionals rarely complain and often demonstrate a “fatalistic attitude and nonconfrontational nature.” During World War II, millions joined the military or worked toward the war effort. After the war, they used the GI Bill to get college educations, buy new homes and start businesses. Many found “jobs for life” with big companies. The GI Bill set the stage for the “prosperity and high expectations in which Traditionals would be raised in the 1950s.” Now in their 70s and beyond, they offer solid experience, tempered wisdom, good people skills, a willingness to learn, dependability and a solid work ethic.

“Smart companies are preparing Generation Xers and fast-tracking Generation Yers to take the place of disappearing Traditionals and retiring Baby Boomers.”

Make sure Traditionals feel part of a common cause; tap into their knowledge, teach them new technologies and give them worthwhile assignments. Recruit older workers by asking for referrals from current employees or rehiring your firm’s retirees. Once hired, pair them as mentors with younger workers. Provide one-on-one training and support, especially when it comes to new technology. Show that you value their contributions.

Baby Boomers

America’s birthrate exploded between 1946 and 1965, resulting in the largest-ever single segment of the US population: the Baby Boomers. Their generational signposts include President Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Act, the first moon landing, Woodstock, Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, the murder of John Lennon as well as the first Macintosh computer.

“As Generation Xers and Generation Yers become the core of the world’s workforce, their values, likes and dislikes will determine how they respond to any efforts to direct, motivate and inspire them to perform.”

Boomers search for the meaning of life, question authority and seek a better world. Crowded public schools through the 1950s taught them the value of sharing and teamwork. Television expanded their worldview. The civil rights movement spurred them to work for racial equality. Many lost faith in the government due to the Vietnam War and Watergate. Many antiestablishment Boomer “hippies” morphed into “yuppies,” trading in “the values of radicalism for the benefits of capitalism.”

“Generation Xers have little patience with the concept of ‘paying your dues,’ believing that ‘If I can do the job, I should get the promotion, regardless of my seniority’.”

Boomers are a valuable resource. Many plan to work past traditional retirement age. Pay attention to Boomers, but don’t micromanage them or hold their hands. Let them mentor and nurture Gen X and Gen Y workers. Older people can find work boring, so challenge their creativity. Provide ongoing training in new programs and procedures. Fulfill their desire to serve society by co-sponsoring volunteer opportunities. If you are a younger manager, respect Boomers’ seniority. Tap into their strengths and skills with meaningful projects, and capture their knowledge and wisdom to minimize the “brain drain” your firm will suffer when they retire.

Generation X

The 49 million babies born in the US between 1966 and 1980 make Generation X the smallest US generation on record. The birth control pill and the rise of the women’s movement allowed Boomer parents of Gen Xers to delay having children and to have fewer of them. Gen X signposts include the introduction of the cellphone, the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, Bill Clinton’s election as the first Boomer president and the dot-com boom. Fast-paced entertainment taught them that “learning should be fun,” a preference they bring to the workplace. Group signposts include “antichild” movies like The Exorcist or Carrie.

“Taking a team approach with a Boomer goes a long way toward cementing your relationship with him or her.”

Being “latchkey kids” who took care of themselves after school because their working parents were not at home had a tremendous impact on Gen Xers, who now value work-at-home options, flextime, part-time work, telecommuting and job splitting. These people tend to have lasting marriages and more children than their parents. They value family time and don’t appreciate working overtime or weekends. Their Boomer parents lost their “jobs for life” during the layoffs of the early 1990s, disabusing Gen Xers of traditional loyalties to an employer. They prefer to work alone and question “stupid rules” and the concept of seniority.

“For the [Linkster] generation, the computer is just another appliance.”

Tell Gen Xers what you expect, provide tools and training, and get out of their way. They care more about achievement than title or rank. On teams, they prefer an individual role and the freedom to achieve goals as they deem best. Reward them with merit-based promotions and pay. Gen Xers define “job security” as the ability to get another job, and they value training. Yet, firms that train Gen Xers have less turnover. Gen Xers don’t understand office politics. They like to be challenged, prefer a fast-paced environment and want to have fun at work. Gen Xers manage Boomers and Traditionals just the way they would like someone to manage them.

Generation Y

Born between 1980 and 1995 and making up 26% of the US population, the 70.4 million members of Generation Y represent a second baby boom. Generational signposts include the Oklahoma City bombing, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Columbine massacre, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the invasion of Iraq and the Virginia Tech shootings.

“Given what happened to their parents…[Generation Xers] tend to respond cynically to talk about company loyalty, team spirit and being one big, happy family.”

Overprotective Boomer parents indulgently catered to Gen Y children and now “wonder why they won’t take responsibility for themselves.” Armed with high self-esteem and good educations, Gen Yers generally make good workers but they often need explicit explanations and instructions. Technology is second nature to them. Because they grew up during the prosperous 1990s, saw the tech bubble burst in 2000 and have coped with recession since 2008, they yearn for job security and, unlike Gen Xers, they desire opportunities to advance within a single organization. They seek a sense of kinship at work, integration of their professional and private lives, as well as a social engagement via company-sponsored volunteerism.

“We can safely conclude that there was a kinder, gentler, more indulgent approach to raising Generation Y than there was to raising Generation X or the Baby Boom Generation.”

More than 35% of US workers are Gen Yers. Help them build close, albeit professional, relationships at work. Be honest, and don’t sugarcoat bad news when outlining new projects or reviewing completed work. Gen Yers abhor inane rules, so if listening to an iPod at work doesn’t hurt your company, let them listen. Managers may become their “surrogate transitional parent” since they want you to care about them, teach them, support their success and help them learn to be responsible, accountable adults. Thoroughly explain what you expect of them and why. Be specific, state any deadlines and ask for questions. Offer frequent feedback – daily if possible. Gen Yers need regular reassurance, coaching and guidance.


The oldest of some 20 million Generation Linksters born in the US after 1995 are now adolescents and entering the workforce on a part-time basis. No generation before them has been as connected through cellphones, texting and the Internet. Most don’t remember September 11, the O.J. Simpson trial or the controversial 2000 presidential election. Their significant events include reality-based TV, the 2008 economic crisis and President Barack Obama’s election.

“Although Generation Y is accused of being spoiled by caring, but sometimes overprotective, parents, they are poised to contribute significant value to any organization.”

Linksters have close relationships with their Gen Xer parents, grown-up latchkey kids who often suffered through their Boomer parents’ divorces. Gen Xers crave a stable family environment for their Linkster children. Linkster babies grew up with technology and began using email, posting photos to their own websites and using cellphones before they were five years old.

“Since Linksters were “born after 1995…their vocabulary lessons included words like ‘terrorism’ and ‘Google’.”

Managing Linksters requires you to “think strategically” to integrate them into your company. They need constant oversight and clear instruction. Provide detailed job descriptions, outline exactly what you expect and give them a timetable. “Orient them to the obvious” by specifically teaching them, for example, to let you know if they will be late or miss their shift. Employers are seeing a decline in teenagers’ people skills, notably face-to-face communication. This affects customer service jobs, where Linksters will need extra training.

“Baby Boomers live to work [and] Generation Xers work to live…Generation Yers don’t see work and life as any different; they blend into one.”

Respect their part-time contributions, and include them as part of the team. Set up a buddy system, pairing your Linkster with an older worker to serve as a role model, mentor and someone to sit with in the lunchroom. Implement a “microcareer path” program that gives Linksters training, a sense of direction and something to work toward. Take a few minutes to meet and thank their parents, who often drive their teen children to and from work.

Managing Across Generations

Four basic principles of good management apply equally to all workplace situations and to all people, no matter their generation:

  1. “Everyone’s different” – No two workers are exactly alike. Give credence to each person’s unique experiences, skills, goals and generational signposts.
  2. “There is no ‘truth’” – No single silver-bullet company policy will give you the right answers in all workplace situations.
  3. “The one with the most tools wins” – The more managerial skills you acquire and the more flexible you become, the better your odds of making good decisions.
  4. “Mutual reciprocity” – Salary, benefits and job descriptions aside, if you put energy into meeting the needs of your employees, they’ll reciprocate.

“Senior citizens who want to work have much to offer an organization compared to their much younger counterparts.”

When managing employees or volunteers, draw from these five management models as appropriate to the circumstances, generations and individuals involved:

  1. “Directing mode” – You are in charge and give the orders.
  2. “Teaching mode” – You train your people to do things the way you want them done.
  3. “Persuading mode” – You inspire, motivate and persuade people to work toward common goals.
  4. “Collaborating mode” – You solicit and discuss the input of your colleagues and subordinates before making final decisions that affect group activities.
  5. “Coordinating mode” – You demonstrate a level of trust by outlining goals and letting workers decide how to achieve them. Boomers can usually handle this mode. Independent-minded Gen Xers expect it from day one. Gen Yers aren’t ready yet.

“Not once have we discussed pay and benefits…when people get their needs met at work they’re more likely to be there for you when you need them.”

Take into account each employee’s generational signposts, characteristics, expectations, experience and longevity in the workplace. Assess whether the task at hand involves clear procedures, a “need for speed,” and coordination of disparate workers and project details. Consider each employee’s “proven competence” when deciding how to manage his or her work. Address head-on any jealousy issues that may arise among subordinates when you manage one of them differently.

About the Authors

Meagan Johnson and Larry Johnson are the Johnson Training Group, a consulting firm specializing in enhancing corporate culture and intergenerational workplaces.

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