This is the first of a two-part column on generations in the workplace. This could be a five-part column, given that many human resources professionals are finding the most workplace conflicts along generational lines these days.
I could get into baby boomers versus generation X or Y, but I choose not to. I’m dividing my discussion between older generation and younger generation, being deliberately simplistic to make my points. When you’re reading these columns you’ll know whether the material applies to you or not.
OK, here goes.
The older generation needs to remember that the younger generation is literally wired differently. The younger generation, for example, doesn’t think of having smartphones, just phones — that just happen to be cameras and mini-computers filled with apps that stream music and video and the latest news.
The younger generation is used to getting information quickly, freely, and without any filters. Its members are used to egalitarian access, which is a strength. Whereas older generations can remember when a computer was larger then a bathroom, the younger generation takes for granted having a computer literally in the palm of its hand.
The younger generation has grown up living and seeing the fruits of the battles of earlier generations. More young people than ever have grown up going to school and work with people who are different races, from different countries, have a different sexual orientation and don’t have to hide it, or just plain grew up completely differently from them.
Therefore, the younger generation often really has a blind spot, for good and bad, to seeing the issues of discrimination based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and other pretty basic distinctions between people. Many of the younger generation have had bosses and people they report to who are something other than a straight white married male. Many of the younger generation have a different norm.
The younger generation has a different relationship with authority from older generations. Many in the younger generation have grown up with a comfort toward not questioning authority so much because they don’t see the authority to begin with. The younger generation has a more fluid relationship with authority in which it is not a negative to ask questions and offer opinions and commentary. The positive of that is that workplaces all across the country get the input of wider ways of addressing issues and problems, and providing better service.
The younger generation also has a healthier evaluation of work-life balance. Family is no longer something that only women think about as part of building a career. Knowing the importance of mental, emotional and physical health and understanding the correlation between work and those things is something that the younger generation is more comfortable with.
The lessons for the older generation to learn are that youth is not necessarily wasted on the young. Being older doesn’t necessarily make you wise. Being older doesn’t necessarily make you more knowledgeable. Being older doesn’t necessarily mean that you win by default in a disagreement between you and someone from the younger generation.
I think it’s safe to say you can guess what part two of this column will address.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.