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GENERATION GAP ON THE JOB: It's up to the Baby Boomers to make it work
THREE different generations are increasingly working, cooperating and often clashing in organisations. And as you will see it is this generational conflict that can damage the cultural climate in organisations.
Let's first be clear about the generation breakdown. Gen Y were born after 1980, Gen X were born between 1965 and 1980, and the Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.
This article specifically deals with the contrast between Baby Boomers and Gen-Yers. But a younger Gen Xer might exhibit behaviours of the Gen-Yers, while an older Gen-Xer might behave similar to the Baby Boomer.
A recent poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found that almost 25 per cent of human resource professionals reported some generational conflict in the workplace. Forty-seven per cent of younger workers complained that older managers were resistant to change and had a tendency to micromanage.
About 33 per cent of older respondents complained that younger workers' informality, need for supervision, and lack of respect for authority were problematic. While many people believe that conflict amongst generations is nothing new, it appears that this time, conflict revolves around apparently opposing perspectives these generations take on work and life.
Older workers are concerned about younger employees "inappropriate use or excessive reliance on technology."
Thirty-one per cent of younger workers responded that their managers had an "aversion to technology".
Reports across the world further highlight a variety of differences.
Gen-Yers value flexible schedules that allow them to pursue leisure activities away from work but, still, they are willing to make themselves available both after hours and on weekends. Boomers are seen as work obsessed -- working long hours into evenings and even weekends. They are seen as too rigid and micro-managing.
Gen-Yers are tech savvy, and adept with social media. They are great at multitasking if the tasks trigger their motivation.
And they speak their minds if they don't get what they want -- their parents, often in the Baby Boomer generation, taught them to speak up!
This generation has learned that education is key to success and they are programmed to seek jobs that offer the opportunity to learn and grow. Hence, they oppose mundane tasks that don't challenge them. They want professional growth fast and are not necessarily willing to work their way through the ranks -- as role-modelled by the Baby Boomers.
In fact, Gen-Yers don’t necessarily see the role model “Baby Boomer” as a success. They saw the hours and the growing stress that Baby Boomers put into work to meet their need for job security but then experienced how companies retrenched their parents. Too often have they experienced their parents’ frustration and fear of not being able to find a new job.
What to do about all this?
Let me propose that one way to solve the conflict between Gen Yers and Baby Boomers is based on a higher tolerance level of the latter to the Gen-Yers.
This might sound drastic, but consider the following. Baby Boomers, at least theoretically, understand the challenges of change best.
They always argued for the need of rapid and constant change as key to organisational improvement and they know how to navigate through a rapidly changing environment and grasp the inherent risks.
But based on their history and often unconsciously, they often cherish security and, more often than not, wish that others would change first.
Still, their professional background and experience actually allows the Baby Boomers to mentor the Gen-Yers to get assimilated into the business environment.
They can teach the Gen-Yers to navigate the challenges that companies face today while benefiting from the Gen-Yers’ deep understanding of the usage of technology.
To be able to do this, Baby Boomers need to be more tolerant with the “quirkiness” of the Gen-Yers.
This includes tolerance for the piercings, the odd-looking hairstyle, their tattoos or their slang. Lecturing of Gen-Yers should be avoided, as these are not their children.
It starts at the recruitment stage. This process must be designed so that cultural conduct in the company gets explained. If the difference between the behaviour of the candidate and the acceptance of the company is too large, someone has to change, or the recruitment should be avoided.
It is easy to say that it boils down to tolerance and more communication, but this is it.
Communication is key, and it should be driven by curiosity of what makes the other party tick and to accept what is important to them.