Reinforcing Generational Stereotypes

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If there is any hot button that raises my fur it is when people make assumptions about me or others by assigning them to a particular generational bucket. Not being a fan of oversimplified infographics, I was particularly annoyed at one that I saw last week showing how to provide incentives to each of four different generation types. Oh, it was factual in its origin, statistically drawn from survey data, and gave pretty good ideas about what makes people tick… until you begin thinking, “There is so much crossover in those observations and suggestions they could be applied to anyone regardless of generation!” The danger of providing simple approaches at analyzing a complex problem is that it offers instant gratification to simple minds. People are not all wired the same. Anyone who claims that it is possible to pigeonhole people into neat categories has not met very many people.

As most of my Facebook friends can attest, I complained about my treatment at Macy’s in the Danbury Fair Mall. I loathe shopping for clothes, so when I finally made a decision that there was one particular North Face jacket that met my needs for a lightweight coat I waited until my wife could go with me so that we could use a 20% discount coupon she had received in the mail. Ugh! Two trips to the mall in one day! The boomer-ish looking sales associate reminded me of the part time IBM retirees that I’ve seen in local job fairs trying to regain some of their old glory. The frowning clerk shook his head and mumbled something to the effect that many manufacturers don’t “play the game well” meaning that he didn’t think the Macy’s discount would work for this particular brand. One laser swipe and a beep later, he confirmed that there was no discount. I informed him that if there is no discount, there is no sale. Just keep it.

Feeling that I was starting the agonizing decision process all over, we drove to a nearby Eastern Mountain Sports store near the mall in hopes that I could find something there. Not only did they have the same jacket on the rack, it was under a sign saying it was 20% off! The cheerful Millennial-ish looking sales associate started to ring it up and I asked about the discount. He checked and gave me the 20% off and added another $15 discount as a “special marketing promo” so it ended up being less expensive than the same item at Macy’s even if they had decided to honor the discount coupon. Thanks to my young friend at EMS I am now a happy camper! I’ll definitely go again even though it is farther away and less convenient. The sales people are courteous, helpful, smiling, and understand their customers… even old farts like me.

Before you think this is an verification of the myth of a generational difference, consider that the boomer was employed by a stodgy old marketing driven bureaucratic department store. He was not empowered by his bosses, who were probably much younger than him, to listen or act on a customer’s needs by management edict. It is highly probable that a more youthful smiling clerk would have given me the same answer. On the other hand, the GenY clerk at EMS works for a company that markets to an active outdoorsy crowd and much of their repeat business is by customer referral. A senior working there would have had the same opportunity to make me a satisfied consumer.

So before you accept generational myths to be factual, consider the big picture. Corporate culture, management, and training go a long way to boosting the morale of employees and also building a good company brand. It all starts with hiring a fit to the company brand, providing reinforcement through feedback, and rewarding success. Also, if you don’t believe in generational stereotypes, don’t be one!

Image credit: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo