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This chapter is from the book

Stereotypes and Generalizations

This book contains a lot of generalizations. We realize that not all Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers hold the same views or behave exactly as the stereotypes suggest. We also realize that not everyone born in 1979 is an Xer, nor is everyone born in 1980 all Millennial. Nevertheless, we will use the labels throughout the book. First, there are measurable differences anyone in a managerial role will benefit from understanding. Second, people treat one another according to those stereotypes rather than as individuals. For both reasons, it is therefore necessary to discuss them.

If you read just a few books or articles about Millennials or Xers, you will find a variety of dates used to demarcate the generations. Demographers tend to use the ranges 1946–1964, 1965–1977, and 1978–1999 as the birth years for the Baby Boom, X, and Millennial generations. These ranges correspond to peak, trough, and peak in the histogram of the number of babies born each year in the United States.

We prefer the date ranges 1943–1960, 1961–1979, and 1980–2000 as the birth years for Boom, X, and Millennial. We view generational “personality” as the product of macro social events. The events most impactful in shaping those personalities don’t coincide exactly with the demographically determined dates. (We cover this in more detail in Chapter 6, “Generational Differences: Fact or Fiction?”) Not all individuals are impacted by events in the same way or to the same degree. However, generational (or age cohort) experiences influence one’s view of the world.

Overcoming Stereotype Threat

Historically, the focus of ageism was reserved for those in the twilight of their work life. But let’s pause and look at the effect ageism may be having on the other side of the age spectrum.11 Today’s scholars are expanding the definition of ageism to “widely held beliefs regarding the characteristics of people in various age categories.”12 With that in mind, there may be a kind of reverse ageism in which younger workers are impacted by negative stereotypes.

Millennials are an easy group to identify in terms of their appearance and are therefore highly subject to being stereotyped. When a negative stereotype about a group is relevant to performance on a specific task, it is referred to as “stereotype threat.”13 An example would be “She is too young to handle the Walmart account.” Individuals who are highly identified with a particular group may experience increased susceptibility to stereotype threat.14

Informal expectations can lead to stereotype threat against an individual and a group of individuals. A generation’s attitudes, beliefs, and values play a role in the overall social construct. When we look at the formal age structure (i.e., where those who are older are in charge), power resides with older cohorts who share ideals about work attitudes, values, and behaviors. It can be argued that the larger the cohort (or group), the greater the influence over norms and expectations.

We don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too early, but when we asked older workers in our survey, “What is the downside of being managed by a Millennial?,” the second-most-frequent response was “dealing with their immaturity.” In this case, the definition of maturity may be a generational construct. For instance, a 60-year-old manager could ride a bike through the office and have people see him as playful and fun—and even cheer him on. A Millennial could do the same thing but be considered immature and inappropriate. It can be incredibly frustrating, but you have to understand what is going on and learn to be proactive and not reactive.

Immaturity can mean a multitude of things. For the sake of our conversation, we would like to define it as a lack of self-regulation. Therefore, immaturity is the inability to act in your own long-term best interest or consistent with your deepest values. Self-awareness is critical to self-regulation in that it is the process of identifying, among other things, our values.

Overcoming negative perceptions has more to do with you learning about you than with others changing their opinions of you.

In the next chapter, we will discuss the difficulties of transitioning into management and share more results from our survey.

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