In tilting my ear toward a discussion of generational differences in the work place, I’ve been surprised that it doesn’t take long before the temperature starts to rise. Words like entitled, demanding and pampered start to slowly creep in, countered by inflexible or hierarchical. I’ve seen friends grit their teeth describing the “antics” of new members of the workforce who routinely seek reassurance they’re on the right track and making progress. I’ve had to catch myself from channeling one of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen in conversations about the way things used to be.
Years after we began examining the impact of a multi-generational workplace, the topic still touches a surprisingly emotional chord. It sometimes feels like there is a quiet battle being waged to see which generation will emerge “victorious” and in victory supplant the “losers” and all they value. I don’t believe there is a zero-sum game operating here, but I do believe it sometimes feels like it.
So why are we so exercised about these differences? Or perhaps, more importantly, what do we do about it?
What I’ve observed is that one of the best ways to defuse any tension is to separate the individual from the monolith of his or her generation. Be curious about the person in front of you—his or her preferences, ideas, background and interests. An understanding of generational traits is a great way to start the conversation and provide context, but is certainly not intended to be the end of the dialogue. I also think we need to be conscious of the emotional currents that may be warping our perceptions or, in some cases, making us nostalgic.
Have you sensed that this topic runs a bit hotter than others? What’s your advice to get past some of the emotion and focus on creating a workplace that unleashes the talent and gifts of all our people?