The generational debate rages on in today’s workplace if you want to put any one generation on the defensive, talk to a baby boomer (aged 45 – 63) about the work ethic of generation y, (born after 1982, end-date to be determined) the youngest generation to enter the workplace

The generational debate rages on in today’s workplace

If you want to put any one generation on the defensive, talk to a baby boomer (aged 45 – 63) about the work ethic of Generation Y, (born after 1982, end-date to be determined) the youngest generation to enter the workplace. It is not unusual to hear this new generation described as “the entitled generation”; one that is sometimes described as spoiled, lazy, cocky, brash, selfish, impatient, irresponsible, disloyal and disrespectful.

At the crux of these perceptions is a clash of values resulting in misunderstandings and resentments between the generations at work. According to a recent survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, more than 60% of employers say they are experiencing tension between employees from different generations. The survey found more than 70% of older employees are dismissive of younger workers’ abilities and nearly half of employers say that younger employees are dismissive of the abilities of their older co-workers. None of this can be good for morale or the bottom line; therefore it is crucial to the success of any organization to educate its workforce regarding the reasons why we see the world and the world at work from different vantage points.

Understanding frames of reference

Generation Y often perceives their baby boomer parent’s generation as one that needs to get a life and have more fun. The reality for the boomers, however, is that work has given them a sense of identity and pride for many years. The traditionalist generation, or “radio agers”, (born 1925-1946) taught their boomer offspring that the key to career success is to be grateful they had a job, respect their employer, work hard, go above and beyond and you will reap the financial rewards, as well as a promotion, job title and maybe a bigger office. They passed on their experience of showing appreciation and dedication to their employer by hard work and long hours…understandable when we remember their values and attitudes toward work were shaped by two significant watershed events of their time; World War II and the Great Depression. Boomers learned these values but began questioning them during the recessions of the 1980’s and 1990’s when they personally felt the effects of a post-Woodstock world and a changing economic landscape. Many lost their jobs due to downsizing and restructuring (are you feeling a sense of d?j? vu?). It is my view that many of us boomers are still conflicted regarding our own work values. In fact, we have been sending our children mixed messages. On the one hand, we taught our Generation X’s (Born 1964 – 1981) and Generation Y’s to be resilient, self-reliant and at the same time to respect their career path, yet we seem disgruntled when the new generations we now work with have less trust in management and complain about feeling undervalued.

Paying your dues…A clash of generational values

It should therefore come as no surprise that our younger cohorts have a completely different take on the idea of career. They have grown up in a post 9/11 world where altruistic causes are of great interest to them. In addition, they have been afforded the highest level of educational opportunity than any preceding generation from parents who have communicated loud and clear that the world is their oyster. They have not known a world without cell phones or computers. We think that this generation’s social skills have been compromised by the amount of time they spend on Facebook, text messaging, etc. Yet, they feel more “connected”. Who is right?  The internet and social media have given them exposure to a powerful form of self-expression. As a result, they are savvier and deeply interested in their environment. Many are seeking fulfilling employment with an organization that demonstrates a commitment to making a meaningful difference at a global level. A job for life is more like a life sentence for the “Ys” who cannot imagine being with one employer forever.  For this new generation, a job is a stepping stone to the next opportunity. When their parents or managers talk to them about climbing the corporate ladder to achieve professional success, they are speaking a foreign language. Gen Ys are thinking “aren’t you the same people who told me I could be and do anything I wanted?”

When baby boomer managers or co-workers tell them to “pay their dues”, generation Y feel that they already have; in terms of years acquiring an education and student loans. They want to be treated as equals…working “with” but not “for” a manager. They are frustrated with the traditional manager/subordinate dynamic. For boomers, career success and job satisfaction has always been closely aligned to a heightened sense of self-worth. From their vantage point, generation Y consciously choose a “work to live” philosophy and as a result, have created an awareness amongst all generations for a re-awakening and re-prioritizing of the term work/life balance. The ideal workplace is one where differences are appreciated; where the younger generations can learn from the wisdom and experience of their older coworkers and conversely, the older generations can learn from the enthusiastic, tech-savvy younger generation. From a core value perspective, how different are we? We all have a deep desire to be understood, valued and appreciated.

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