The Generational Divide

GenY workers are going to need to come into the workplace and approach their older coworkers, managers and peers in ways that make them “user-friendly.” I’ve been fortunate enough to land in an environment where the favor is returned many-fold, which is to say — the boomers I work with and for take an active interest in not just “what” I’m saying…. but “why.” I think that’s a pretty good start for a survival guide to working across generations over the next several years. Thanks to this economy, we’re all going to be working together a lot longer than anyone thought 😉

I’m a fan of Clive Shepherd’s blogging and regard him as one of the best learning technology writers around. He has a real sense of the big picture from the inside out, and as a younger practitioner and budding vision guy, I like the fact that I’m always learning something from his blogging.

However, Clive’s opinions on GenY have popped up a couple of times, and for some reason, it really pokes a stick at my pancreas, prompting me to respond in rant-like ways. When that happens, I have to share what’s on my mind. It might be rude, but when the Lord was passing out the congeniality filters, I must’ve been running to the loo (I like to try and write British when given the chance).

Case in point today: Clive’s post on how GenY will weather the seemingly inevitable recession. Having been accused of being brash, arrogant, obnoxious and a prima-dona on more occasions than I care to recall, I guess I identify with GenY even if I’m a couple of years too old for the label, going on most people’s math.

You should read what Clive and I both wrote in context, but I’ll pretty much copy-and-paste my reply here to get the gist of my point. In the US, the divorce rate for the parents of GenY is above 50%. Their parents, mostly of the Boomer set, are of a generation replete with examples of the worst kinds of greed and corruption. The guys who ran Enron to the ground? They were Boomers, not GenY. The guys waging this unconscionable war in Iraq? They’re boomers, by and large — not GenY. The CEOs of these insanely large lending firms that are foisting a US Mortgage crisis on the global economy? They’re also boomers. This broad brush doesn’t paint the whole picture of baby boomers, but let us acknowledge reality: raised in the 80s and 90s where toys, gadgets and items of commerce often made up for the inability to spend time with your kids… well, GenY is what the boomers made of them. You have a generation where most kids did not come from the “nuclear” family mold and were among the first generation to truly have to take care of themselves as their parents had to work more and more. To be fair, I’m positive Gen X and Gen Y is filled with scum, too — we just don’t get as much fanfare as Mainstream Media gives to the Boomers. To see our band of miscreants, you can always turn to YouTube.

So when you have an entire generation who have been raised by a generation that appears to have spent much of its integrity in the late 60s, worked insanely hard, got a little drunk on the prosperity handed down to them by their parents and grown fat on the interest earned in various power and money grabs (junk bonds, savings and loan scandals, risky mortgage schemes…) why shouldn’t GenY want more?

Why shouldn’t they expect more? Not just “more” in terms of treasure or comforts — but more out of themselves? Society has let the bar drop so low that what seems to me as such simple demands as respect, dignity and self-worth pass now as arrogance.

For the first time in living history, GenX and GenY are inheriting a world that has dimmer prospects for the future than the current state — that’s a marked difference from the world and workplace people born in the 50s and 60s inherited.

I think GenY could stand for a little mea culpa from the baby boomers. For all the whining and moaning I read about how GenY is so impetuous and demanding, I think it’s both naive and arrogant to assume that GenY, GenX or just about ANYONE should have to go through a parade of jobs (not careers) where as an employee you’d be expected to attend endless gamuts of meetings with no point to them (the famous “meeting to plan a meeting” meeting, as an example)… or put in the 50-60+ hours a week knowledge workers in the States are pretty much expected to put in now only to see their salaries only marginally increase year after year… or any number of humiliations bestowed upon knowledge workers humorously jabbed at in episodes of “The Office,” where the laughter you emote is always tinged with a touch of bitters because it rings home just a little bit too true. I should reiterate.. it’s naive and arrogant to think anyone should have to work like this just because you might have “paid your dues.”

THANK THE MAKER (as C3PO might say) that I have it good. I have a great job. I feel like I actually contribute something to the world. I feel like I’m actually making an impact — slowly, but I can see subtle imprints on my organization.

I have lots of peers who after 10+ years in the workforce are STILL questioning why they ever left mom and/or dad’s house.

WOW! That’s quite a rant, huh?

So how does this relate to learning again? Well, it’s quite simple: audience awareness. GenY workers are going to need to come into the workplace and approach their older coworkers, managers and peers in ways that make them “user-friendly.” I’ve been fortunate enough to land in an environment where the favor is returned many-fold, which is to say — the boomers I work with and for take an active interest in not just “what” I’m saying…. but “why.” I think that’s a pretty good start for a survival guide to working across generations over the next several years. Thanks to this economy, we’re all going to be working together a lot longer than anyone thought 😉