What’s in a Label?

By Sue Voyles / April 16, 2018 /

Labels are very important in life, aren’t they? We look at labels on our foods, drinks and medicines to find out if there’s anything in them that we – or our loved ones – are allergic to. You could even say that labels could mean the difference between life and death in this case.

Too often, though, we may find that putting labels on things, places and people isn’t such a great idea. For example, there’s a trend now of labeling generations. In fact, this trend has been going on for 30-plus years with the advent of labeling the Baby Boomers, people born between approximately 1945 and 1964.

Now we have the Silent Generation, Boomer, Millennial, Gen X and Gen Y. But is any of this labeling doing us any good? I recently heard a colleague speak about the fact that only in the United States do we use these generational labels. In Europe and other parts of the world they don’t do this. Why do we feel compelled to label people this way?

Perhaps it’s our way of trying to understand things, but there are always exceptions to the rules. And we all know someone who’s an exception. For example, everyone assumes that when you bring a millennial on to work in your company that they’ll automatically know everything about technology and social media and so that’s where they should fit in. However, I know people in their 50s and 60s who are incredibly adept at social media and technology. After all, wasn’t it the baby boomers who adopted (and developed) computers in the workplace? (And it was the boomers who dealt with the dreaded “blue screen of death” on their computers, something that I don’t think many millennials have seen.)

Regardless we should be looking at people as people. We should look to see what each age group brings to our workforce. Yes, each generation has some particular events in their history that shape them (think JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Watergate, Vietnam, 9-11 and the 2008 financial meltdown), but they all have their own individualism.

So I would argue that we stop thinking of people with labels and start looking at them as people with interesting ingredients that we need to learn more about.


-Sue Voyles