NASHVILLE - Back in the old days, if a young person didn’t see eye-to-eye with an older person, the differences were blamed on the prevailing generation gap. It is hard for people to understand each other when they come from such different backgrounds due to when they were born. But the gap doesn’t have to be so hard to bridge if people understand how opinions, lifestyles, and habits can be molded around the era in which a person is born.

Nita Brooks, International Service Leadership (ISL) business development manager, defined the various generations during a seminar at the ISL Meeting held in January at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Brooks said that she wants HVAC contractor members to “understand the impact of generations on the workplace. People that are born within a 15-20 year time span have shared experiences that shape their thinking.”

Brooks’ seminar handout included a definition of the generation gap, which is a gulf between a younger generation and an older generation, due to difference in cultural norms. A gap is caused in generations because of differences in experiences, opinions, habits, and behaviors. These gaps in the workforce can cause a number of different problems.

“You need to bridge the generational gaps, possibly involving conflict resolution strategies,” said Brooks.


There are four defined generations in the workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millenials.

Traditionalists are born between 1922-1943. There are 69 million people in this group, influenced by both World Wars, the atomic bomb, and the Great Depression. Although most are retired, there are still 1.5 million older workers still seeking work today. Some characteristics include: close-knit families, education is important, jobs are careers, respect for authority, privacy, and intimidation by today’s technology.

Baby Boomers are born between 1943-1960. This generation grew up with the Civil Rights movement, race to space, assassinations, Vietnam War, Watergate, and women’s lib. Some characteristics include: distrust of authority, hard work to earn a living, buying on credit where “now” is more important, self-centered and judgmental, less flexible to change, sharing information freely and willingness to get involved, and providing quality service.

Generation Xers are born between 1960-1980. They have witnessed the Challenger disaster, fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rising AIDS epidemic. This generation is labeled the “latch key” kids from blended, sometimes dysfunctional family backgrounds. They feel neglected by workaholic parents and strive to provide more stability for their own families. Some characteristics include: technically savvy, divided loyalty and poor people skills, creative and independent, cynical, and providing casual, friendly atmosphere to educate.

Millennials are born between 1980 and present. This is the second wave of Baby Boomer children, sometimes called the Echo Boomers, Generation Y, or Nexters. They come from a loose family structure but are respectful of families. Some characteristics include: multitasking, inexperience with handling difficult people and lack of face-to-face skills, appreciate support and structure, and with lowest parent-to-child ratio in United States history, they are groomed to achieve and excel.

Brooks added that she can see characteristics in her everyday life. “Now I know why Generation Yers will jump up at 5 a.m. to start the day,” she said. “They want a more balanced life with time at home. They don’t want to become like their Baby Boomer parents - working too many hours.”

Being able to understand characteristics of each generation can go a long way to finding the right fit for employees and for resolving conflicts. Whereas the Traditionalists are great with face-to-face people skills and not so good with technology, the reverse is true with Millenials and Generation Xers.

“Maybe the best way to communicate with a Traditionalist is to send a handwritten note while the best way to communicate with a Millenial is to send a text message,” said Brooks.

She added reasons why finding a common ground is so important. “Contractors will find challenges including distrust, misunderstandings, differences in priorities, and low morale,” said Brooks.

The seminar fit right into ISL’s theme of “Getting on the Bus.” As ISL president Milt Baum said, “Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off. Find the right seats for the right people and get the bus pointed in the right direction.”

Publication date:03/05/2007