Happy Wednesday, everyone!
Today, I want to talk about generational gaps and how they affect us all in the workplace. What is a generation gap, you ask? Well, according to The Online Oxford:
noun: generation gap; plural noun: generation gaps
1. differences of outlook or opinion between people of different generations.
The generational gap I’d like to discuss today is the one that exists between Generation X (‘Gen-X’) and Generation Y (‘Gen-Y’), as this is the most pertinent correlation to what I notice in my adventures as a young professional. Where are we getting lost in translation; and, more importantly, how is it affecting our success in the workplace? Alternately, how can we work alongside our more established peers and work colleagues in order to improve the quality of our business interactions, to be taken more seriously, and to integrate ourselves better into the business world?
Generation X: Who Are They?
1. the generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to mid 1970s), often perceived to be disaffected and directionless. (definition sourced from here)
-Value work/life balance
Generation Y: Who Are We?
1. a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000; a Generation Y-er.
2. an abbreviation for millennial generation, is a term used by demographers to describe a segment of the population born between 1980 and 2000 (approximately). Sometimes referred to in the media as “Generation Y,” millennials are the children of the post-WWII baby boomer generation.
-Millennials are lazy
-Millennials are screwed
-Millennials are stupid
-Millennials are lazy entitled narcissists
We grew up in a time of rapidly evolving technology. In my lifetime, I’ve used everything from dial-up internet to high speed wi-fi; I’ve owned a walkman, a discman, a primitive MP3 player, a minidisk player, a first generation ipod, an ipod touch and now an ipod nano as my go-to media player; and I’ve gone from landlines to the old bricks of Nokia cell phones, the Motorola RAZR, an android powered smartphone, an iPhone 4, and now an iPhone 5c as my primary phone line. Basically, in my 23 years, the world I live in has gotten smaller in the sense that I can contact anyone anywhere at (virtually) anytime; however, it has also expanded in ways I don’t think anybody could have predicted even fifteen short years ago. My life has been marked by the perpetual advent of bigger, better, faster technologies – in fact, the iPhone I use on a daily basis is more powerful than the Voyager 1, which made it into deep space in the 1970s (neat read on that here). As soon as I learn the ins and outs of the newest greatest thing, I am back to square 1 when the even newer, greater thing is released. This is the world I know, and the world I love (SEO and social media research and optimization are pretty much the number one things that interest me these days), but it’s a new world – a world that makes even less sense to those that weren’t inundated with it all from childhood.
In addition to the massive technological shifts we have experienced as millennials, we also saw some pretty major political and social events that have marked us as a fearful, overly cautious, and incredibly skeptical generation on the whole. In addition to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, we have lived through long winded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, watched the Twin Towers crumble on September 11th, 2001, seen Yugoslavia disappear, felt the effects of the “war on terror,” and gone to school amidst headlines revolving around school shootings (most notably Columbine and Virginia Tech). What sets us apart from the Baby Boomers with the Vietnam War is the lack of a clearly unified or even radical reaction to these events. Perhaps what prior generations see as our apathy is actually a reflection of us having grown up in an increasingly violent, security-theatre ridden world.
Us vs. Them: Generational Gaps in the Workplace
When our parents were entering the workforce and becoming established in their careers, fax, telex, and snail mail were the methods most commonly utilized for communications; receptionists used switchboards, and computers were an emerging technology that were not yet the industry standard that they are today. It’s understandable that for them, the way that communication has evolved is overwhelming; and, though not an excuse, a fair explanation for some of the prejudices that they commonly hold against the GenY employees which are beginning to make a name for themselves in the business world.
On the flip side of the proverbial coin, us millennials are now entering the workforce en masse (and by ‘entering the workforce,’ I am referring to our beginnings as young professionals, not our first jobs out of high-school), and come along with our own set of pretenses and prejudices. As I mentioned earlier, we grew up inundated with the perpetual advent of newer, cooler, more advanced (and easily accessible) technology than ever before. We are used to these technologies and we are comfortable using them; however, tend to become easily frustrated by the overwhelming assertation from our GenX peers that our new methods of communicating, networking, and conducting business make us ‘lazy,’ ‘unprofessional,’ and even ‘rude.’ We don’t see it that way – we see it as the norm. Again – it isn’t an excuse; however, it does serve to explain some of our frustrations with older generations.
Us AND Them: Bridging The Gap
By now, you’re probably wondering what the heck this article has to do with anything, let alone this blog. Well, the answer is that it has EVERYTHING to do with my job, and on a broader scale, it has EVERYTHING to do with the way we conduct (and will conduct) business in the future. The fact of the matter is that revolutions in technology (see: the Industrial Revolution) have and will always be shifting the way that business is conducted. Humans are curious beasts, and we are fuelled by the desire to create – something bigger, faster, more effective, less time-consuming – it is the defining characteristic of our species that fascinates and drives me the most.
Now, I suppose that how a person feels about these changes in technology, methodology and attitude is largely derived from their personal situation at the time these major shifts happen. If you compare myself to the GenX colleagues I have, I tend to be excited about new technologies (as I have grown up with them from early childhood); whereas my older (wiser!) colleagues tend to be apprehensive, afraid, and wholly turned off by the prospect of introducing new, ‘useless’ technologies (in my case, usually social media) into their lives. Where we see exciting new features to explore and play with, they see excess time ‘wasted’ on something that they do not understand. Both of these vantage points are fine and fair; however, somewhere in the middle lies a largely untapped and grossly underutilized wealth of opportunity in which we meld these two very different worlds and create something unbelievably powerful.
GenX—>GenY: The Lessons We Should Learn
1. “I’ll listen, but I can teach myself.”
Our GenX colleagues are, on the whole, much more solitary at work. They value the challenge of being given a task and carrying it out independently. What we should take from this is the increasingly lost art of figuring things out for ourselves and reaping the associated satisfaction. If we think hard enough about it, fellow GenY-ers, I’m sure we can all remember a time without Google, a time where we actually cracked books open to study with and learn from. While I’m not saying that we should abandon the technology we now have at our disposal, we should take a cue from our older (wiser!) peers and remember (or learn, if that is the case) to do it for ourselves, by ourselves. It feels amazing to accomplish something that felt impossible all on our own.
2. Professionalism Is King
Where we feel comfortable waltzing into work half an hour late looking like we just rolled out of bed (again, please remember that I am generalizing and drawing from stereotypes here – I cannot stress this enough), our GenX peers were raised to present themselves as well-kept, timely, and on top of the proverbial ball. The key here lies in the previous sentence: GenX-ers became professionals in an era where face-to-face communication was practically the only way; therefore, they developed habits that are largely lost on us GenY-ers. We have been fostering our professional selves in a world where we can negate boardrooms in favour of Skype, and set our own hours thanks to the advent of the remote office (note: there is something to be said about working in ones pyjamas, but I digress). We should take a cue from our older (wiser!) peers and remember (or learn, if that is the case) that the way we present ourselves as professionals, regardless of our work situation (office-based, home-based, casual, formal, et cetera) reflects not only upon how we are seen physically, but how seriously we are taken as workers. If you agree to a deadline, meet it. Take the time to brush your hair and don’t wear ripped jeans to the office. Learn how to give (and receive!) a good handshake. All of these seemingly trivial things will only help to further your life professionally.
3. “I expect to be between jobs about five times in my life.”
GenX saw career changes as an integral and unavoidable part of professional development. GenY was raised by GenX to seek out “stability,” and we often feel that our GenX parents rushed, pushed, or even forced us into post-secondary school so that we could graduate by 22, get an entry level job, and begin climbing the corporate ladder, armed with a magical piece of paper that was supposed to protect us from career switches and instability. Well, that is usually not the case – I myself have a degree in neuropsychology, worked in the field for all of a few months, decided that I hate it, and probably will never use that (very expensive, might I add) piece of paper ever again in my life. I understand why my parents pushed me into it right out of high school; however, it didn’t accomplish what I think they had hoped for it to. As an overarching result of this style of upbringing, we tend to be petrified of career shifts, seeing it as a personal failure, where GenX would have seen an organic transition through personal and professional development. We should take a cue from our older (wiser!) peers and remember (or learn, if that is the case) that what we see as failure might very well be a bigger, better, brighter opportunity staring us in the face. Instead of being terrified about what we may end up doing 5, 10, or 20 years from now, we should shift our focus to learning as much as we possibly can from our current situation, and transferring those skills to whatever new opportunities present themselves along the way. Instead of brick walls, we should learn to see springboards.
GenY—>GenX: The Lessons We Should Teach
1. Working Hard and Hardly Working Might Look The Same To YOU…
One of the biggest frustrations as a young professional working within social media and SEO is hearing that “all I do all day is tool around on the internet and waste my (and my employers’) time”. Well, that isn’t the truth, although I do totally see where that critique comes from. It may appear that all I do all day long is ‘play’ on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/et cetera; however, the fact of the matter is that I am simply not. Social media is the single most powerful and advantageous form of marketing, networking, and promoting ones business these days, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. With a well executed Facebook post, I can reach 15,000 people with one mouse click, whereas that same reach would have been viewed as nigh impossible but thirty years ago. What I wish I could tell you is that instead of criticising things which you do not understand, it would be more productive for us both if you would take the opportunity to learn a little bit about the complexities, challenges, and benefits of my job. Though you may not understand these platforms, I do – and I want to help you utilize them to their full potential. I might look like a “slacker,” but I’m actually working my tail off to help us build and promote our company, which I am proud to be a part of.
2. 9-5? I’m Connected ALL THE TIME!
With the advent of the remote office, many GenY employees don’t see the inside of their office building, well, ever. There has been a notable increase in flexible hours, and while our GenX peers often view this as ‘lazy’ or ‘lacking in professionalism,’ what they often fail to see is the fact that we are connected all the time, even if it isn’t necessarily on THEIR time. For example, I have the Slegg Mortgage Blog/LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook/Email/et cetera synced to apps on my phone. Email comes in at 10pm? I’ll read it. Facebook comment on a Sunday? I’ll reply. Maybe I’ll be out of the office half way through a day (or, y’know, in LA for a week); however, I am constantly able to (and I always do) check up on what is happening, who is connecting with us, and maintain these lines of communication – business communication – 24/7. Where GenX valued a work/life separation, our work/life balance is much more skewed. What I wish I could tell you is that even though I do not necessarily keep “regular” business hours, I am no less dedicated, informed, or committed to my job than you are. Different means of conducting business allow us to work much more constantly, while still enjoying our lives.
3. You Call Me Anti-Social, I Call You Wrong.
Our generation is widely viewed as being anti-social, as we tend to spend our time in relative solitude, even when out in groups (ever seen a group of 20-somethings out for dinner, silent, all on their smartphones instead of conversing? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s where this notion stems from). We are, on the whole, a generation that values our seclusion; however, even when sequestered, tend to be connected globally to friends that we can keep/make contact with via the internet. Good part of the reason why I value Facebook in my personal life is precisely that – I have friends and family worldwide, and Facebook allows me to stay in constant contact with them for free, where that would have been nigh impossible (or at very least, VERY expensive) 20 years ago with long-distance calls and snail mail). GenY is a bit of a misnomer – we’re anti-social in person; however, hyper-social online. This is not a bad thing – in fact, when compared to our GenX colleagues, we tend to be able to work in teams, brainstorm, and come up with solutions as a team much more efficiently and effectively because of our ‘anti-social’ tendencies. Case in point? While writing this article today, I posted a Facebook status to my friends asking them to weigh in on the GenX vs. GenY debate. Within 10 minutes, I had 6 replies from various friends all over the world (plus an email from my fiancé). What I wish I could tell you is that you aren’t wrong, but you aren’t seeing the bigger picture. Of course it is bizarre to you that I text my friend who is within shouting distance; however, just because you can’t see the contact we have doesn’t mean that it isn’t there in spades.
X + Y = Success
In closing, I just want to reiterate that when it comes to this debate, nobody is right and nobody is wrong. It all comes down to perspective. If us GenY-ers can learn to step back and understand where our GenX colleagues are coming from, we will find that there is a lot of great life knowledge that they have to share with us from days gone by. If GenX-ers can swallow the bitter pill that is accepting that there is a lot about the world today that they don’t necessarily understand and allow us GenY-ers to help them understand it better, they will find that we are capable of (and for the most part, actively doing) so much more than just posting silly memes and listening to our iPods.
Together, we are so much more powerful than we are apart.
Both generations need to step back and work together, instead of trying to put each other under microscopes and pick each other apart.
Let’s try something new, shall we?
If you read this and enjoyed it, I want you to share it with a hyperlink and the hashtag #GenXY. My GenY counterparts, use your multitude of platforms as an advantage – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg, et cetera – let’s see how many people we can share this article with.
If you have no idea what I just said, I want you to find someone (likely a younger someone) and ask them to show you how to share it yourself.
Let’s see if we can get this trending worldwide –
#GenXY. Let’s bridge the gap.
Have a brilliant afternoon, folks.