Cultural Norms

Lesson 3: Topic 2 of 19

American cultural norms have made an extraordinary move away from communal perspective toward highly individualistic thinking over the past 100 years. Throughout the 20th Century, factors such as the “frequency of individualist themes in books, preference for uniqueness in baby naming, frequency of single-child [families] relative to multi-child families, frequency of single-generation relative to multigenerational households, percentage of adults and percentage of older adults living alone, small family size, and divorce rates (relative to marriage rates)” all serve as indicators of American culture moving in the direction of high individual autonomy. This means that people overall no longer consider themselves a member of a community accountable to those around them. These markers are indicators of a strong trend toward individualism, rather than causes of it. We would be better off considering these as symptoms of the shift away from belonging to a larger civic community.

And yet individualization is not universal. The word “tribe” has become widespread – it means those who’ve bonded over shared interests and or life stages, who choose one another rather than automatically accepting family and neighbors as the “in group” to which they belong. Even so, this generational group is far from a monolithic block. A research firm has identified six distinct types of tribes Canadian Millennials fall into according to the worldviews held; it should not come as a surprise if something similar is going on with their American counterparts. And, as is true of any generalization, there are plenty of exceptions to these findings.

We have to be careful not to oversimplify a group of people and their values or habits.

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And so when looking at the younger generations of workforce participants among us, please avoid the temptation to apply stereotypes across the board. The word “entitled” is often used for these people, and there are studies and surveys, such as those cited above, that have confirmed the problems among them. Yet there certainly are entitled people who are older; the WWII postwar generation (a.k.a “Baby Boomers”), let’s not forget, has had plenty of equally valid, substantiated criticism laid at their feet as well. As a manager or supervisor, remember to treat those who report to you as individuals and not over-generalize by judging them by their age cohort. 

Pause and consider: Are you able to set aside bias when dealing with other generations? Are you able to set aside stereotypes to see individuals who excel?