A while ago, I wrote about the assumptions made by ‘Generation Y’ about ‘Generation X’, namely that older people are less creative, less ethically minded and altogether less familiar with the imperative to value people at work. I pointed out that Generation X had, infact, laid the foundations for many Millennial red-line issues and in some cases had built the whole house. This is not to say that middle-aged people can’t improve in these areas, of course they can, but they are surprisingly people-oriented. Members of Generation X are interested in collaboration, creativity and they possess many other attributes that younger workers sometimes feel are exclusively theirs.
Of course, not all older workers are comfortable with collaborative working or working much more via technology. Neither are all millennials really keen on sacrificing pay for a more exciting and worthwhile job: most young people in most of the world would still rather earn a bigger salary over having the satisfaction of doing good in the world. As with all stereotypes, it helps to take a reality check of the headlines.
However, there are undoubtedly issues that can separate older and younger workers. If nothing else, the conversations between groups of peers can be very different depending upon the stage of life you are at. There can be resentment and frustration towards older people perceived as ‘holding others back’ just by occupying a role. Styles of communication are generally different from one generation to the next and, as we all know, problems with communication are BIG organisational problems.
Even the very notion of what constitutes ‘work’ may cause controversy. Does ‘work’ include thinking time? Is a meeting just a waste of time? Is travelling to have ideas, ‘work? Are hierarchies there to give meaningful structure to organisations, or are they anachronistic and divisive: only there to reinforce outdated power mechanisms?
Whatever the intellectual observations, people of different generations will increasingly be working side by side both at the bottom and top of organisations. Generation Z will soon be joining in. In the workplace of now and tomorrow, we can’t ignore the need to enable different generations of people to learn to respect the similarities and differences that we all have. Of course, this is a platitude: it is only by working closely together, giving and receiving feedback without prejudice and great corporate reinforcement of generationally-friendly organisations that we can stopping viewing each other as threats and start seeing each other as allies