Friday, March 1, 2013

Making Sense of the Generation Gap


Anyone who has managed people outside of their generational group knows the challenges involved. It comes with the life experience of having grown up in a different time and a different set of cultural dynamics. The book, The Xers and the Boomers - by Claire Raines and Jim Hunt does a great job of highlighting those differences. With this knowledge we can perhaps find a more comfortable starting point for our conversations. Here are some highlights from the book.  

Here's what Generation Xers say about Boomers
  • They're self-righteous
  • They're workaholics
  • They think a half-day means leaving at five
  • They thrive on office politics
  • They talk the talk, but they don't walk it.
  • They ask for our opinions, then do it there way
  • Their lives center around their jobs
  • They demand constant validation
  • They are always in other people's faces
  • They are too intense
  • They follow every management fad-of-the-week
  • They're set in their ways
  • They've quit learning.
  • They're clueless about the future.
  • They've always had it easy.
  • They take a comfortable retirement for granted.
Here's what the Boomers say about Gen Xers
  • They're slackers.
  • They're whiners.
  • They don't want to pay their dues.
  • They think 'job' instead of 'career'.
  • They're rude.
  • They lack social skills.
  • They are always bucking the system.
  • They refuse to wait their turn.
  • They're not loyal.
  • They constantly ask 'why?'
  • They have no work ethic.
  • They aren't committed.
  • They have a 'you owe me' attitude.
  • They're self-focused.
  • They spend too much time on the internet.
Let's look at a slice of the times that shaped each of them. The answers as to which applies to each Generation is below. 
  1. Having grown up with sophisticated TV shows and advertising , they learned as children to distrust the media. As adults, they are wary of any message that seems to be cliche.
  2. Sally Field, a member of this generation shouted 'You like me! You really like me!' to the Academy Awards audience. This generation, generally masterful at establishing rapport, seems to care about personal approval more than any other.
  3. Because there are so many of them, they have set the trends for four decades. In the seventies, fern bars and tennis were all the rage; in the eighties, it was BMW's and Ben and Jerry's; in the nineties, cholesterol blockers and car pools.
  4. The oldest of them were thirteen when President Nixon resigned. Many counseled a parent through an ugly divorce. Today, they don't give extra respect to someone just because of age, range, title, or status.
  5. They were the first generation graded on their report cards for 'works well with others' and 'shares materials with classmates'. They have taken that orientation to work with them where they have promoted team concepts like quality circles, consensus, and participative management.
  6. They watched their parents and neighbors laid off in the eighties. They don't have much faith in  institutions. They tend to think of themselves as free agents and believe they will earn job security only through improving their own skills.
  7. More members of this generation believe in UFO's than believe the social security system will be there for them when they retire. They believe that if there's going to be a retirement program for them it will be one of their own making.
  8. In the decades they've been in the workforce, they've driven the length of the average work week up and up. As a generation, they've used work as a means to prove their worthiness.
  9. In the sixties and seventies, this generation participated in the civil right and women's movements. On the job, they brought the same kind of pressure against bureaucracy and hierarchy.
  10. They are far less attracted to leadership positions than any other generation. Organizations that have traditionally used promotion to management as a motivator are being forced to find other means of motivating employees.
This was adapted from the board game, Connecting Generations, by Claire Raines and Sandy Mazarakis.
Xers - 1,4,6,7,10
Boomers-2,3,5,8,9

When it comes to viewing and dealing with the world around us, Xers and Boomers are different.
View of the world of work:
Xers think 'job'. Boomers think 'career'
Communicate:
Xers are blunt. Boomers are diplomatic.
Relate to authority:
Xers are unfazed. Boomers are impressed.
Feel about approval:
Xers feel indifferent. Boomers seek validation.
Think about resources:
Xers see scarcity. Boomers see abundance.
Regard policies and procedures:
Xers mistrust business practices. Boomers defend them.
Depend on others:
Xers are self-reliant. Boomers are team-oriented.
Define 'work ethic':
Xers seek balance. Boomers remain driven.
Focus at work:
Xers are task and results oriented. Boomers are relationship and results oriented.
Interact with technology:
Xers assimilate it. Boomers accommodate it.
View entitlement:
Xers want to be judged on merit. Boomers want their experience to count.
Think of the future:
Xers want to survive. Boomers want to change the world.

Just as nations have different aspirations based on timing, history, traditions etc. so do our generational experiences taint all of our perspectives.   

If we want to survive, never mind thrive, these are thought provoking ideas to keep in mind.  

(Note: Special thanks to Mike Fox: BrightLights for this blog inspiration

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