The Quad—Four Generations Operating in the Workforce Today

By Maria Gamb

Having insight into your audience’s wants and desires will help you comprehend the factors that lead to their perceptions of authority, leadership, values, virtues, and work ethics. These are mobilizing factors. Here, you gain that insight by breaking down the workforce into the beautiful Quad — the four generations currently operating in the workforce today.

During adolescence, people make determinations about what is cool, healthy, natural, and worth their time; sexuality emerges, and passion and ambition start to pique their interest. Opinions based on outside influences create the framework to ultimately determine what they want. The formative years also play a large part in determining how people will view the world. Their perceptions and reactions to different stimuli, such as how their parents raised them, current events, music, politics, and so on, create opportunities to draw conclusions on safety, security, money, career, government, and so on. These outside factors create their mindset and way of being in the world. Although no two people will react the same, general conclusions about generations can be derived.

Listen with an open mind. Don’t judge. Be aware of what may be your own preconceived notions of who and what each generation in the Quad represents.

Generational cohorts are defined by a period of development within a certain span of time. To some extent these boundaries are arbitrary, and defining and labeling generations can vary from sociologist to sociologist, though for the most part they vary by only a few years. The author uses the research of noted sociologists William Strauss and Neil Howe to bracket the generational periods. Feel free to adjust the years based on your understanding if needed.

In the figure, you may be surprised to be classified not as a Baby Boomer, but on the outer edge of Generation X. Or you may be more Millennial than you knew.

vbl-quad
The current workforce Quad.

There are three main generations that make up the current workforce: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. On the outskirts are the almost completely retired Silent generation and the emerging Homeland generation. Together, they make up the “bumper” generations of the current workforce and are classified as the fourth part of the Quad.

Just so you know, the Quad has mixed feelings about you, the leader, and what you can or can’t do. They wonder about your ethics, trustworthiness, and commitment. Are you surprised? You may chalk it up as normal, and it is. But you should know why they may mistrust you. Emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and reflective moments will be a staple on our journey together.

Everyone has life experiences that help create perceptions of how things should or will be. Each cohort has reason to be skeptical and critical of leaders in general. Events and experiences may have caused them to mistrust authority and leadership. These events fostered the seeds of mistrust.

Workers of all ages have become exasperated by leaders who lack authenticity, compassion, and transparency. Will their leaders do what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it? Tell them the truth and take responsibility. For example, in 2015 Japan’s Takata Corporation recalled their airbags and set out to repairs tens of millions of products placed in Honda motor vehicles. However, it wasn’t without pressure from U.S. regulators that set this remedy in motion. Takata leadership took responsibility for the issue and ultimately made it right.

The Quad is a reflection of our society — fatigued by empty promises, unaligned values, and the inability to trust authority. They want more. The good news is that they are willing to give more. You can’t change history or their life experiences, but there are some things you can do to change their experience right now. That starts with you, not them. Welcome to values-based leadership.