Do Not Trust Anyone Under Forty?
You cannot attend any professional conference without seeing at least one presentation on the intergenerational workplace. There are entire cottage industries dedicated to addressing the work ethic, learning styles and dedication of the various age groups found in the typical workplace.
Interestingly, most of the lessons are directed at baby boomers who tend to be in positions of authority because they have been around longer. In addition to Boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964) there are Generations X and Y. There is even a Generation Z (those born after 1995) poised to enter the workforce.
Presentations are usually upbeat when they talk about the fact that different generations have different values and beliefs regarding family, career, the work/life balance, training and development, loyalty, gender roles, the work environment and expectations of leaders. It makes sense that managers learn to harness strengths and address priorities in order to get the most out of their employees.
Privately, however, there is often a lot of head shaking and eye rolling from us Boomers. We might have our issues with being overly loyal to employers, detail oriented and define ourselves in terms of our work and formal roles or titles. But those "youngsters" are just sloppy, have no loyalty, cut corners and are more concerned with their social life than work.
Many of us are from a generation that was, in our youth, fond of saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30." Now the sentiment is closer to, "Don't trust anyone under 40." For many older laboratorians studying Generations X and Y is akin to learning tricks on how to treat an animal to avoid being bitten. Where's the love?
Many Boomers were lumbering towards retirement with the clear goal of relinquishing the reins to younger workers in the very near future. Because of the economy and the fact many of us are not financially stable enough to retire, we may well continue to work for a few more years. Some will formally retire but continue to work part time, possibly reporting to a Gen X or Gen Y boss.
That also means, Gen X, Y and Z, that you are going to be rid of us as quickly as you thought. We might be around for a while longer.
So it behooves us all to see that interacting with different generations is not merely a short-lived inconvenience. We have much to teach and to learn. We can both give and receive. But for the foreseeable future we will have to learn to draw on our respective strengths, rather than merely tolerate each other.