This is the second of two columns on generations in the workplace. Human resources professionals say generational differences can be one of the most open divides in the workplace.
Although experts say there are as many as five generations in the workplace, my observations are deliberately simplified generalizations because I think the issues defy categorizing people merely by the year in which they were born.
The previous column tackled what the older generation needs to know and keep in mind about the younger generation. Here are thoughts on what the younger generation can learn from the older.
The younger generation should remember that older generations have weathered more unpredictability than they have. For example, a 30-year-old with a college degree has spent more than half his life in a system where baseline efforts yields almost certain results — a high school diploma, a college degree, a driver’s license. But the older you get, the less correlation there is between output and success. Applying for jobs doesn’t always lead to an interview. Interviews don’t always lead to jobs. Current jobs don’t always lead to future promotions. Resilience and disappointment can each be great teachers.
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In addition, older generations have been the younger generation. With the exception of technological innovations, rarely is there an issue in the workplace that the older generation hasn’t dealt with — whether at the job itself or in the industry.
Older generations in the workplace tend to have a heightened sense of getting the job done over always calculating whether a specific job is in their job description. The point isn’t that older generations are better team players than younger generations, just that they have a more expansive idea of what a team is. Older generations tend to have a better honed sense of judgment on how to do a job rather than just exhibiting skills.
Though most of the older generation deals with advanced technology to almost the degree that the younger generation does — smartphones, social media use, facility with computers — older generations are more apt not to confuse technology with communication. Being able to reach someone almost instantly — a privilege most of the younger generation takes for granted — does not mean that is the most effective way or time to communicate with someone.
Few people have ever liked long meetings, but older generations in the workplace better appreciate the importance of face-to-face communication or, at minimum, a phone conversation rather than just communication from one technology device to another.
When it comes to diversity, the older generation has seen and been on the receiving end of more workplace discrimination — the opposite of fostering diversity. Laws and workplace policies have never prevented individual supervisors and companies from making decisions inappropriately and illegally. Those experiences or observations of others’ experiences, over time, can change a person’s sense of trust in the workplace.
These generalizations, and the ones in my first column about the generations, aren’t meant to promote stereotypes about age in the workplace. Rather they are meant to get people to think about how the generation they were raised in does contribute to and shape how they do their jobs and interact with others.
The generations will grow and change, and it will always remain in a workplace’s best interest — and an employee’s best interest — to respect the diversity of varied experiences.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook/diversitydiva.