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To learn more about how to unleash the potential of Generations X, Y, and Z, I recently spoke with Jane Buckingham, generational expert and founder and president of the consumer insights firm Trendera. Buckingham will speak at the 2016 NAIS Annual Conference in San Francisco on February 25.
1. Jane, could you start by telling us about the unique characteristics of Generations X, Y, and Z?
Jane Buckingham: On Generation X, ages 36–50.
“Everybody talked about [them] as the slacker generation. And yet we don’t see them as that; we see them as the generation that went through their midlife crisis 20 years too soon.
“And they just sort of feel like they had the rug pulled out from under them, and they’re the ones who sort of emerged from that crisis feeling like, you know what? Things are never going to be the way they were in the past. And they’re going to have to redefine what happiness, success, and the future looks [like going] forward. They’re never going to be able to guarantee that they could rise to the top of the corporate ladder. They could never guarantee that they wouldn’t get divorced when they get married. And so for them it was about rethinking what family, future, career, and all of that would look like.”
On Generation Y, ages 20–35. “For them, it was about everybody thinking that they were entitled, that they wanted everything immediately and they deserved everything. And the reality is that yes, they do want a little bit of that, but in some ways it’s not their fault. They were the generation that got a gold sticker for going to the potty. They got a trophy for just showing up at the soccer game. So it’s no surprise that they want rewards along the way.
“But the good news is they’re a generation that is positive, it’s hopeful, and looks at things differently than other generations have. So we can’t sort of assume that everything about them is bad.”
On Generation Z (or V for viral), ages 5–19. “They’re still developing, so the question is, how are they going to turn out? We haven’t had a rebellious generation in two generations. Generation X and Generation Y were not rebellious generations. Yet probably rebellion for [this generation] will not be protesting and marching the way previous generations have. It will probably be about saying, ‘We’re not doing things the way other generations did’ — whether it’s not going to a traditional work space, whether it’s not having to get married to have children, whether it’s relationships that look like something else, whether it’s really remaking what society looks like.”
Buckingham: “I think it’s really important to recognize that Generation Y values different things in the workplace. They are going to need more constant feedback, so just giving them a review at the end of the school year isn’t going to work. They may need more time off, so it might mean that looking at different ways of giving them mornings off or afternoons off at different times than Generation X or Boomers are used to…. Recognizing that they learn in different ways and want different training than previous generations have is certainly going to be an important part of their lives. And also, they probably want to work in groups in ways that previous generations haven’t. So the most important thing with this generation is to say, ‘They do things differently, and that isn’t a bad thing.’ “
3. How can Generations X and Y maximize their strengths as they become leaders in schools?
Buckingham: “I think they are very complementary generations to work together if they let themselves. I think they spend so much time resenting each other, and that’s their biggest problem.
“They are very different, and so they spend so much time saying, ‘We’re different from each other’ and ‘You don’t get me,’ and that’s their biggest fault. Generation Y is so good at tech and social media and thinking about problems differently. Generation X, on the other hand, is a great go-between between the Boomers and the Ys, [with] a great way of looking at the more traditional parts of an institution and things that have happened before.
“So rather than saying, ‘You don’t get me, you don’t get me,’ [they should] say, ‘Well, how can we work in a complementary way versus fighting each other all the time?’ ”
4. How can both Generations X and Y minimize their weaknesses?
Buckingham: “By understanding that they’re not going to be all things, all the time. Generation Y does not like to do things in the process-driven way. Generation Y probably does like to have a shorter day. Generation Y probably does like to work remotely. Generation Y does want more feedback. Generation X has to accept that.
“On the other hand, Generation Y probably has to compromise and recognize that, yeah, they probably have to be [at school and work] more than they expect to. Generation Y has to accept that [school and workplace] processes will not allow them to be promoted as quickly as they want to.
“So it’s probably about recognizing that not everything is going to work the way they each want it to, and it doesn’t mean that [a particular] institution is bad, the people are bad, but that they have to recognize that some things can’t change immediately. I think everybody thinks that it’s all about immediate change. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen, typically, in big institutions like school.”
5. How should parents and educators help Generation Z gain the skills to be successful in the new career landscape?
Buckingham: “I think the question is, how do you plan for an unknown future? … You know, everyone is talking about learning to be critical thinkers, learning to plan for the unexpected, learning to not hold onto our old traditions so much that we assume that that’s what’s right….
“I think [the key is] embracing new ways of teaching and learning and not dismissing things because we don’t like them. As an older person of an older generation, we may not like that our kids’ primary way of communicating with us is texting, but that’s the reality. So we can’t fight these things. We just have to think about, how can we best incorporate them into our teaching? How can we best incorporate them into what will make our kids successful in the future?
“I think it is so important to not take our old ways of learning and our judgment and our own baggage and put that on top of new generations, because they will experience things the way they experience it whether we like it or not.”
6. How can educators best communicate with Generation Z?
Buckingham: “On their level. I think that everyone is saying that email is dying, right? And it’s not that email is necessarily dying, but certainly for a younger generation, they don’t use email. And to force them to speak in a language that they don’t use is not going to work.
“So whether it is through setting up a school blog, whether it is through setting up a school text, chances are [different communication is] going to be more effective. So [is] looking for ways to communicate with them more visually…. Do I think that learning should be done though video games? No, not necessarily. But do I think that some of the things that make video games engaging could be incorporated into teaching? Yes, I do. Do we need to memorize all of the things that we’re memorizing now that we have the search capabilities? Maybe not. Do we need to teach our children how to master search? Yes, we do.
“So I think [the solution is] rethinking what is essential now that the world has progressed in the way that it has.”