Are generation labels even a real thing?

Generation thinking, does it actually exist? You can read about it in this column, which appeared on Ziptone on Nov. 29, 2023.


Generational labeling is a hot topic within the customer contact industry, especially regarding the challenges brought by Generation Z (or Gen Z, for those who prefer fewer syllables). You know, the group of people who make you gasp when you see their birth year and secretly calculate whether they’re legally allowed to work yet.

Generational nonsense

Managers are dealing with big issues. “How do I retain the new generation in my organization?”, “I don’t understand anything about the new generation,” and “I won’t hire anyone under 25 anymore.” Here are just a selection of statements I’ve recently heard from industry peers who are at their wits’ end regarding the challenges of the new generation of colleagues. Gen Z experts are helping these companies better understand how to lead these “snowflakes.” In other words, a person who justifies unlimited and higher demands due to an inflated sense of uniqueness but at the same time is over-emotional, easily offended, and unable to handle setbacks.

“Hear, hear,” shouts the group that, in this definition, precisely recognizes the growing group of employees who seem to behave so differently from others.

“Nonsense,” argue the deniers of generation thinking from the other end of the spectrum. Generation fatigue, generation chatter, and the pending question of whether generation thinking even exists. According to Utrecht University, it does not. “Generation labeling is utter nonsense.” The differences between people within a generation are just as large as the differences between generations.

A generation is a group of people who live in the same period because they were born in the same period. But there is no fixed definition of such a period. Some say it’s 15 years, but others think it’s longer, or we even see it differs per generation. And that’s exactly the problem of generation labeling: there is no consensus on when one generation starts and the other ends.

Mind gym

Does that draw a comparison with centuries, I wonder? After all, a century is a clearly defined period of 100 years, and when we talk about the previous century, we all understand that it refers to the 20th century or the period from 1900 to 2000. But if something happened a century ago today, that would be in 1923, and thus the definition of the century has shifted again. People born within the same century have as many differences among themselves as with those from another century. No one will argue that someone born in 1899 doesn’t differ much from someone born in 1901. But the difference between a person from the 7th and 21st centuries is much clearer overall. But the difference between a person from the 7th and 21st centuries is much clearer overall.

Talking about your generation

About 80% of people do not recognize themselves in the characteristics of their own generation, while the rest identify with another or with no generation at all. Recognizable figures, considering the distribution of generation thinkers versus generation thinking deniers.

Is Gen Z really so different from other generations? This question can only be answered if you compare apples with oranges.

What is clear, though, is that Gen Z is in a life stage that other generations have already left (far) behind, and thus, they face very different challenges than seniors, mature adults, and the elderly. But they also grew up and were raised in different socio-economic circumstances, with different types of parents, and different challenges. Understanding the product of all those differences helps leaders in customer contact tackle their diversity issues within teams. And if it’s easier to bundle those differences based on the name of a generation, then I’m completely okay with that.

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Hai! Ik ben Cynthia: expert in leiderschap van klantcontact teams

Sinds 2006 heb ik als (eind)verantwoordelijke van klantcontactteams verschillende nationale én internationale miljoenenbedrijven geholpen om hun klantcontact afdeling te verbeteren. Merken waar ik mee heb gewerkt zijn onder andere Flinndal, MessageBird, NMBRS, BESTSELLER, Talpa Network en Budget Thuis. Hier heb ik diverse veranderingen doorgevoerd op het gebied van leiderschap, team dynamieken, processen en werkwijzen.

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