In business, communicating with “the other generation” can seem like a step into insanity. It’s hard to maintain civility when your statements or questions are met with confusion, frustration or, on occasion, downright hostility. Be reassured; you are not crazy, and, surprise, neither are they.
Almost no one on either side of the proverbial generation gap fits the stereotype 100% of the time. Indeed, the bulk of communication probably goes by relatively smoothly. But even the occasional hiccup can trigger the “You’re all like that!” reflex. So let’s take a look at where we stand, explore differences, and see the world from a slightly different perspective.
The Other Generation Generalizations:
The Established Generation: “These kids think they’re entitled to everything. They haven’t paid their dues. They’re constantly asking, “Why?” and driving me crazy. They don’t have a work ethic, at 5pm they’re out the door. They have no loyalty to the organization, you blink and they’re gone.”
The Incoming Generation: “Senior managers are outdated. They don’t have the technical skills or knowledge to compete today. They have no idea what is really going on. They set arbitrary requirements that don’t make sense, but demand that we abide by them.”
Do these sound familiar?
Take a step back, and consider two views of the business world – the stable and the unstable universes.
Business today exists in two very different universes. And each of these contributes to the disconnect between individuals in the workforce.
The Stable Business Universe
In the stable universe, organizations are solid, ongoing and predictable. Senior business leaders are charged with making the right decisions, based on their experience. Leaders give orders, newcomers follow them. As newcomers gain experience and “pay their dues,” they receive greater responsibility and move into decision-making positions within the organization.
Organizations and employees are loyal to each other. Employees do their jobs, and barring a catastrophic error, no one is fired. Organizations provide a living wage, cost of living increases, and promotion possibilities. “Good employees” are expected to fit their home lives around the needs of the organization. They are in the office ahead of schedule, stay past quitting time, and do as instructed.
The Unstable Business Universe
In the unstable business universe, change is constant and accelerating. Technology charges ahead at a breakneck pace, blurring the line between work and leisure time. A staff member may bolt out the door at 5pm sharp, but spend hours answering work text messages from home.
“Here today, gone tomorrow” is the dominant expectation. Jobs, supervisors and entire companies can be gone in an instant. The skills and people needed to compete are in constant flux. Corporate history and seniority are less valued than immediate production. Job security depends on having exactly the skills needed for the next specific task. A team is assembled, produces, and is dissolved.
Promotion and termination are equally likely. Unemployment is an ongoing threat. Under these conditions, job security and employee loyalty can indeed be foreign concepts.
Two Universes, Two Views
Senior managers understand the stable universe. Many industries and businesses have thrived and continue to thrive under this model. These businesses have stability and predictability. They expect minimal change. Business risk is relatively low, and income streams are fairly predictable. There are promotion possibilities within the businesses and industries, and historic experience can contribute heavily to future growth strategies. New arrivals are expected to do as they are told, arrive on time, commit to extra hours onsite and “pay their dues.” In return they can expect greater job security and promotion possibilities than in more volatile organizations.
For the upcoming generation, the unstable business universe is the world as they know it. They benchmark fields such as information management and technology, where speed and innovation are critical and historic precedents less relevant. Value in the workplace is dependent on asking the right questions, getting the right answers and producing results. Following rote instructions, spending the required hours in a certain place and amassing seniority are often viewed as irrelevant and useless exercises.
Successful Living with the Other Generation
Most businesses are a blend of the stable and unstable. There are elements in flux, and those which are relatively constant. The challenge is to create a structure, staff and expectations which match the task at hand.
A leader of a stable business needs to identify and hire individuals who value stability, structure and long-term opportunity. And yes, even in the “other generation” entering the workforce, there are individuals with these qualities. Top level managers need to direct and mentor junior staff members, sharing insights and effective strategies.
A leader in a volatile industry needs to seek individuals with targeted skills, who aren’t afraid to ask “why?” get answers, and produce results. The role for a senior leader is to create the team, answer the “whys?” keep them from charging over a cliff, and otherwise get out of their way. The stereotypical “other generation” is well suited for this.
Potential employees of all ages need to assess the expectations and structure of potential employers and evaluate these against their personal expectations. A highly structured business with a strict protocol might not be the best fit for a “no boundaries” personality. And a revolving door employer might not be the best match for someone with long-term progressive career aspirations.
The Bottom Line
You’re not crazy, and neither are they. Everyone is eminently reasonable and correct in their assessment of the workplace. We simply are blessed right now with two different models. Identify your world view and take a look at the world from the perspective of the other generation. There’s room for all, an opportunity for all, and great potential when we work together as one.
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Author: Ellen Huxtable