Generational Issues

"If you understand where a person is coming from, it will help you predict their behavior. 
It will help to know how to communicate with them."
             ---Center for Generational Studies (Aurora, CO)

From 1985 to 2001, the workplace was populated with over-50 managers trying to manage under-30 workers.  Most of those
managers did not communicate well with their younger subordinates.  They saw them as impatient, unwilling to "pay their dues," spoiled, and disrespectful.  Although many of these young professionals were from excellent schools with excellent academic records and leadership skills, they found themselves in frustrating jobs.  They attended multiple meetings where decisions were never made.  When a decision was reached, it required several layers of management approval to be implemented.

Risk-taking in this period was not encouraged and changes happened very slowly.  Not surprisingly, the young workers labeled  management as "incompetent, belligerent, and stupid."  They saw their managers as being "too stuck in the way things had always been done to see a new, good idea."  Many young professionals left for jobs with smaller companies during the last 15 years of the 20th century.  They learned to reserve loyalty for people, not employers.  In the 1990s, individual productivity declined markedly.  Morale was lower, more effort was needed to replace and retrain personnel, and projects slowed.  As recent college graduates became increasingly frustrated with their new jobs, the news reached younger classmates on-campus and it became difficult to recruit.

In "Generations at Work" (Amacom, January 2000), authors Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak describe the four
basic age groups comprising today 's workforce: Veterans; Baby boomers; Gen Xers; and Nexters (aka, Millennials).  Each of these groups is defined by historical influences.  The Veterans are shaped by the Great Depression and World War II.  They value civic duty, loyalty, and respect for authority.  The Baby Boomers reflect the extreme optimism, opportunity, and progress of their era.  They tend to be self-centered and "spotlight conscious."  They also are team-oriented, but largely because there are so many of them.  Generation X grew up as latch-key kids.  This created a survivor mentality best summed up in their favorite question: "Just tell me, is this going to be on the test?"
Nexters are a product of the excessive 1980s and 1990s when parents arranged their own schedules around their children's lives.  This made Nexters extremely self-confident.

The core values each of these generations learned on their first jobs determined their perspective.  For example, 25 years ago professional excellence and performance (at any cost) were valued.  Manufacturing was conducted on a small scale, marketing was shunned, and the business climate was relatively easy to understand.  Today, technical excellence takes second place to marketing, and the business
environment is wildly competitive.  When the generations collide in the workplace, the older sees the younger as placing style above substance.  The younger sees the older as narrow and rigid.  This is evident most in the software industry where development moved from a hero-oriented, ad hoc process to a controlled, team-driven managed process.

Resistance to change is universal in all age groups, but the responses differ.  The older individual feels it unnecessary to fix something that is not broken.  The younger worker feels that individual creativity is being infringed.  Age should be treated as a diversity issue -- just like
race, gender, or sexual orientation.  As a diversity issue, it is best to raise the awareness of the executive-level staff first.  As one consultant reminds her clients: "Often a younger person's bright green hair or inappropriate clothing is so distracting that older employees don't hear what the younger worker is really saving.  Conversely, younger employees may discount and not listen to what an older employee is saying because they feel that the older employee is too out of touch to have anything of value to add."
Diversity inevitably causes conflict, and age diversity is no exception.  It is best to have the issues out in the open where the generations can talk to each other about them. 

Mind the Gap, IEEE Spectrum, February;
Review by A. J. Vendeland (ti0221)