For the first time in history, we are experiencing at least four generations laboring side-by-side in the workplace. In fact, six living generations exist representing six distinct groups. Collective experiences in life — wars, financial collapse, tech bubbles, nation building — have formed collective characteristics of like-minded people within each of these groupings. There’s a little variance in the classification of these generations but it looks like this:
- GI Generation – born 1901 – 1926
- Silent Generation – born 1927 – 1945
- Baby Boomers – born 1946 – 1964
- Generation X – born 1965 – 1980
- Generation Y/Millennials – born 1981 – 2000
- Generation Z/ Boomlets – born after 2001
As writers, we’re generally good at developing our main characters. In fact, the characteristics and traits of our heroes are what make them stand out. Many times, these characteristics set them apart from the general traits found within their generational grouping. That’s what makes them interesting and engaging. But, what about the rest of the cast of characters?
Bringing credibility to your writing starts with everything that surrounds your hero. Your secondary characters should bring a sense of realism to the overall feel of the story. Nailing your sidekicks and secondary characters is what helps your main character stand out even more.
To help you “get it right” we’ll break down the four main groups with the following cheat sheet of generally accepted characteristics and traits. Remember, people – and readers – have observed these stereotypes, and writers can make use of them to quickly establish a character. So, these aren’t necessarily my opinions, but a gathering of general impressions.
Baby Boomers: Anti-war, Anti-government, Equal Rights, Optimism, Spend now-worry later, Team-oriented, want to make a difference.
Generation X: Entrepreneurial, Fun, Highly educated, Independent, Seeking life balance, Self-reliance, Suspicious of Boomer values.
Generation Y: Civic Duty, Fun, Self confident, Members of Global Community, Tech Savvy, Highly educated, Spiritual
Generation Z: Tech Savviest of any generation, Independent, Eco-fatigued, Brand-oriented.
Baby Boomers: Confident, Competent, Conservative, Do more with less, Ethical, Fiscally Prudent, Hard-working, Trust authority, Sacrifice, Strong work ethic.
Generation X: Crave independence, Competent, Angry but don’t know why, High degree of brand loyalty, Strong sense of entitlement, Work/life balance.
Generation Y: Work well in teams, Attached to gadgets and parents, Diversity focused, Eager to spend money, Loyal to peers, Patriotic
Generation Z: Optimistic, Self-absorbed, Strong sense of entitlement, Want to please others, Losing “kid” attributes at an earlier age.
LIABILITIES or FAULTS
Baby Boomers: Expect everyone to be workaholics, Don’t like change, Judgmental, Not good with finances.
Generation X: Cynical, Skeptical, Dislike Authority, Lack people skills, No long-term outlook, Don’t understand the optimism of other generations.
Generation Y: Don’t like menial work, Need supervision, Inexperienced, Lack skills for dealing with difficult people.
Generation Z: Impatient, Demand respect at young age, Think they know better, Wasteful, Greedy.
COMMUNICATION AND INTERACTION TRAITS
Baby Boomers: Diplomatic, Speak openly, Good grammar, Use body language, Get consensus, Use inclusive language
Generation X: Blunt, Direct, Presents facts, Email is primary tool, Talk in short sound bites, Emphasize “What’s in it for me.”
Generation Y: Polite, All tech communication all the time, Uses action verbs, Uses language to portray visual pictures, Positive, Communicate in teams.
Generation Z: Less vocal, Short abbreviated language, Almost entirely digital communication.
Of course, each of these categories has plenty of crossovers. The jury is still out on Generation Z — this primarily consists of the very young and the tweens. As you build your supporting cast, you can use this guide to help you keep your characters either in line with their generational stereotypes – or you can go astray from it to make them stand apart.