Generation Edge: An Early Look at America’s Youngest Generation

27 Nov

For more than a decade, colleges and the business world have been trying to adjust to the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial Generation – those who were born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.

The differences among the generations often create misunderstandings.

For example, that sense of independence – if you want to do it right, do it yourself approach — brought to the workplace by Generation X (born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) was clashing with the collegial ethos of the Millennials. And unlike the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to the early 1960s), who put a lot of value in working long hours at the office, Millennials place a higher premium on getting the job done efficiently.

Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.

Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.

For Boomers and Xers, the unwritten rules at work said that as you climbed the hierarchical ladder, you would be involved in discussions of higher importance. That workplace culture is almost anathema to Millennials, who want to be part of those discussions from their earliest days at an organization. They prefer a collegial, more horizontal organizational.

The differences among the generations are often stark. But just as some organizations have learned to adjust to the Millennials’ expectations and create a more peaceful co-existence among the generations, a new generation with its own trends and traits is beginning to emerge.

Generation Edge – those who were born since the mid-1990s – is about to enter colleges starting next year. And some have already joined the workforce.

Will they be like the Millennial Generation – tech savvy, team-oriented, optimistic and with high expectations? While they are likely to be even more technologically advanced, the early indications are that they are quite different in many respects.

Cheshire High School students -- members of Generation Edge -- share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).

Cheshire High School students — members of Generation Edge — share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).

That subject was among those discussed recently at Southern during a forum, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The forum looked at the characteristics of the various generations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kim Lear, an expert on generational trends and changes for a Minnesota-based company called BridgeWorks, gave the audience a glimpse into what the early research says about Generation Edge, sometimes referred to as Generation Z or NetGen.

She pointed to three budding trends:

*The brains of today’s youth may actually be changing, probably as a result of their technological immersion. Lear said that while people often refer to “multitasking” as a skill, it is not something the human brain can actually do. She notes that the actual skill should be called “switch tasking,” which is based on how much or little effectiveness you lose in between tasks, such as doing your homework while reading your text messages and watching part of a television show. “There are Harvard studies so far showing that GenEdgers are losing significantly less (effectiveness) than the rest of us do,” Lear said. “This is a function of their brain that other brains may not actually have.”

*GenEdgers may be able to create authentic, meaningful relationships with people via Skype and other technological devices in which people can see each other, even though they may be physically a long distance away from each other. “When the virtual world was becoming really big, there were a lot of studies to see if human beings can create relationships through a screen,” Lear said. “The conclusion was basically ‘no.’ But there is a study being done right now on young children and their relationships with their grandparents. There are some kids who are spending a lot of time on FaceTime and Skype and who only see each other once or twice a year. There are some theorists who are projecting that this may be the first generation that can build real connections with people through a screen. That obviously would completely change the workplace and even the marketplace over the next 15 or 20 years.”

*While Millennials are known for having a collaborative spirit, GenEdgers have a much more competitive spirit. This may be due to a change in parenting styles. Baby Boomers are largely the parents of Millennials, while GenXers are usually the parents of GenEdgers. Lear pointed out that GenXers are known for their straightforward, no sugar-coating style of communication. “We are actually seeing that their direct style of communication is exactly how they are speaking to their kids,” Lear said. “And when we are talking with 12-year-olds, their knowledge of the recession is unbelievable. Their parents are telling them money doesn’t grow on trees. Student loans exist. And these kids know that they’re not just competing for jobs with the people sitting next to them. They’re competing for jobs with kids in China who can do with that they can do, maybe better, and for less. That is going to have a huge impact on the way that people work and what they are motivated by in the future.”

The following is a chart of the 20th and 21st century generations, the corresponding birth years and the characteristics/milestones of each: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum-gen.html

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