Generations and the Workforce

Generations and the Workforce

Gen Y has been described as "Gen X on steroids." Is it stereotypical of us to see a new generation with eyes of the previous and try to confine them within definitions of the past? Or is it an effort to use familiar terms while communicating across generations? It's like we acknowledge the similarities but still whine about the differences. And it seems that our collective memory is so short that we forget our times and do not enjoy finding ourselves on the other side of the coin. Think about it, weren't people once wary of Baby Boomers entering the workforce, then were scared of Gen X and now hate Gen Y. Is it not a cyclical event then, a basic premise of resistance to change than about generational differences?

Let's all face it; every generation is different and shaped by the events of their formative years. Yet every generation is alike, as they all bring new energy, new ideas, and new beliefs about work and life in general. Historical and technological forces have always combined to bring the generations together in some ways and to draw them apart in others. Generation gaps are thus natural and timeless but talks consistently go on about generational tensions and finding ways to reduce them, more so when the time comes to assimilate the new generations at work.

Gen Y has joined the workforce and demand fast-paced environment where creativity and independent thinking are encouraged. They are confident, want learning and growth opportunities and want employers to appreciate a job well done. Is there anything inherently wrong with this expectation? Think about it, what they demand is what other generations have secretly desired for, just that they did not have faith in their own beliefs and were not frank enough to speak their minds out. Given a chance how many people (belonging to any generation) would willingly like to work 60-hr work-week or sacrifice their families for building a career. So what if Gen Y now has the confidence to ask all this of their managers, believing firmly that work and life are an integral part of each other.

Workplaces often have reflected each generation's unique perspectives, attitudes, and values about work. It's a story of growth and adaptation. When Boomers placed work above family, they became hardworking loyal employees. When Gen Xer's wanted work-life balance, flexible working hours came into being. When Gen Y brings tech-tools to work employers eventually adapt. Each of these generations brought their lifestyle to work and forced employers to change their beliefs. And change they did. Some did gracefully seeing the future in sight but others resisted and were left far behind.

Its time then that we all accept the fact "Change is the only constant" and be willing and prepared to embrace it. How about we learn and understand what motivates a generation long before it comes to work. After all, Boomers are parents of Gen Y, in most cases, and would clearly know how to handle them. They had clashes with their kids as differences in ideologies came to the fore. And they had to understand their child's psyche and communicate in the same language to keep the family going. So why is it so difficult to carry the same practice at work?

Why then is there a lot of concern about how Boomers would stand Gen Y, the tech-savvy, constantly connected IM-generation? Many Boomers themselves now use some sort of technological tools in their routine work. Do we not see elderly people working at department stores using scanners and computers at check-out counters? Do you think they never resisted when these gadgets were first introduced to them? But eventually they bowed in to the ease these devices brought to their routine work. As key technologies in the workplace become increasingly user-friendly, all generations would adapt and in the process come closer. It's more about how people accept changing times.

There are some pioneers in all generations, who accept technological changes right in nascent stage long before it becomes mainstream. These people have the same spirit and carry their attitudes on sleeves, a characteristic that cuts across all generations. Isn't it then far more important to know the individual as a person than think about which generation he belongs to? Would it not be better to pay attention to individual personalities and find their triggers? Attitudes rather than cohorts would then become discussion themes and generational talks would be put to rest.

I wonder then if the solution lies in a fresh perspective to look at generational tensions or accept it as a manifestation of basic human nature—"resistance to change".

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