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Article No.: 11-11

Article Title: Dispelling Generational Myths: Each Generation Speaks Out

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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One of the questions I asked in the interview process for my book with Robin Throckmorton, Bridging the Generation Gap, was, “What do you want other generations to know about your generation?”  Responses were quick, passionate and candid.  Each generation in today’s workplace is smarting over what they feel are inaccurate impressions under which other generations operate.  In this article, I’ll share the responses my co-author and I received to this question.
 
Radio Babies (Born 1930 – 1945)
 
More than any other impression they want to dispel, Radio Babies want younger people to know that they may be physically slower but their brains are still moving at warp speed.  Medical technology has enabled people in their 60’s and 70’s to feel healthy longer and act much younger than people of the same age 50 years ago.  I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “40 is the new 20”.  I like that sentiment.  Radio Babies have seen enormous and exciting changes in the world around them from the time they were children, and they’ve adapted and worked through all these changes.  Why wouldn’t Radio Babies continue to adapt to change, they argue.
 
Radio Babies also want to explain that loyalty to a company – or to an idea – doesn’t mean they’re afraid of change or just resting comfortably on their laurels.  If working for an organization has been a positive experience that has afforded growth opportunities and challenges, that company deserves acknowledgement and loyalty in return.  Even in bad times for the company.  The people I interviewed want the rest of us to know that they’re willing to adapt their ideas and work methods for a sound reason.  If change is indeed necessary, they said, they’re willing to learn new techniques and approaches…..really.
 
One other point came through across all the Radio Baby interviews:  experience and savvy come with years in the workplace, not just a college degree.  They appreciate that younger people may have more of a formal education than they were able to achieve, yet they don’t ascribe wisdom automatically to those who have an MBA.  It’s how you apply the knowledge obtained in college that makes a difference, just as it’s how you apply on-the-job experiences to continuous learning.
 
Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964)
 
One recurring theme throughout the interviews with Baby Boomers is that teamwork is necessary to provide a quality product or service – individuals can’t expect to always be “the star”.  The Boomers said that each person in an organization has unique talents and skills, and that’s great, but those talents should be added with those of their coworkers to ensure that the best possible job is accomplished.  They’re not attempting to hide within a larger group, they said.  Instead, they’re trying to leverage the competencies of everyone within the group for a better end product.
 
Another point that Boomers wish to get across is this:  “you can’t always get what you want.”  At first, this seems to be a contradiction to what we think we know about the Boomer generation.  What we’ve seen is that this generation believes in “going for it” and pursuing the so-called American Dream.  However, the interviewed Boomers said that there may come a time, or a moment in one’s career, where there are natural impasses that can’t be overcome.  Instead of whining, they said that it’s better to accept dead-ends and pursue other alternatives.
 
The last concern on the Boomers’ minds was that younger generations think they’re not willing or capable of learning technology.  As a matter of fact, the youngest Boomers (born in the early ‘60’s) remind us that they grew up with technology just as much as the Gen X’ers.  The older Boomers remind us that if they can organize and lead a civil rights movement, if they can protect the country in times of war, and if they can build on the infrastructure their parents started, they can learn how to operate an iPad.
 
Generation X’ers (Born 1965 – 1976)
 
Gen X’ers wanted to dispel the notion that one might wear a suit to work in order to be serious about their job.  Whether dressed in traditional business attire or cut-offs and tennis shoes, this group stressed that they’re still ready to work and they’re focused on the job at hand.
 
Gen X’ers I interviewed were very taken aback that they’re viewed as complainers.  They argue that they’re simply concerned about issues such as environmental problems – global warming, recycling, and reducing industrial pollution.  Just as their parents took a stand against how the “establishment” did things, the X’ers I talked with said that they’re simply voicing their displeasure over how older people have mistreated this planet.
 
This age group also wants others to know that they don’t job hop because they have no attention span.  They change jobs frequently, they said, if the organization for which they work isn’t interested in meeting any of their needs.  These needs include flexibility on the job and around the job so they can balance work and family life.  Why can’t they get the work done in their home office sometimes?  Why not consider flextime or job sharing?  What’s more important, they argue – getting results or meaningless “face time” in the workplace?  They want everyone to know that they have a work ethic – it just takes a different form than that of older generations.
 
Generation Y'ers or Nexters (Born 1977 – 1991)
 
Our youngest generation in the workplace had one main theme during the interview process.  They want others to know that they may have less experience in years; however, their education is strong and their technology skills are excellent.  They can make solid contributions in their organizations right from the beginning.  Their least favorite phrase is, “Kid, I’ve got socks older than you.”  This generation doesn’t understand the concept of “paying your dues” and engaging in meaningless tasks to that end when they can be making real contributions in the workplace.
 
Another myth this generation wants to dispel is that there is a direct and inverse correlation between brainpower and number of body piercings.  They have difficulty understanding why strict dress codes prohibit jewelry or expressive clothing, short of safety regulations.  They’d like older coworkers to get past what’s on the outside and focus instead on what they have to offer.

 
If you would like to know more about generational differences, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Gravett at lsg@justthebasics.com or use our contact form by clicking here.  Also Bridging the Generation Gap is available at amazon.com or directly from the publisher at www.careerpress.com.

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