Generation gap

Building Bridges to Cross the Generation Gap at Work

Generation Gap Differences

Love them or leave them – the fact is we simply can’t ignore them – the generation gap between employers, the Baby Boomers and their younger employees, the Millennials.

One of the most common complaints Baby Boomer leaders have about Millennials is that they seem to have a sense of entitlement. This is a result from a co-dependency with their “helicopter parents” hovering forever over them, always at the ready to meet their every need.

For Millennials it is the rigidity, the lack of flexibility, the “overbearing attitude” of the Baby Boomers that drives them to despair.

And the frustration is not just between Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X is in the mix as well. Gen Xers are the often-overlooked generation that shares characteristics with Baby Boomers. They show up to work on time. Boomers attend formally dressed, and are content to wait patiently for five years or more. This is when they might ask for that long overdue promotion.

In an interview with a group of Millennials in Germany one young employee was recently asked about the generational differences. The employee said, “We have much to thank the previous generations for. No generation has grown up as carefree and with as many possibilities as ours. However, it has come at a price. We have been left with a society that revolves around profit rather than sustainability. A society where material prosperity counts more than individual happiness.”

Generational similarities

What is surprising, however, is that if you go beyond the surface you will find that each generation wants the same things. Each has similarities. They want respect, security, and acknowledgment. They want to make a meaningful contribution, live meaningful lives and have a secure future.

The vastly different environments in which Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Gen X grew up is what determines how well they understand each other. Or not.

Clearly, they have all experienced vastly different economic climates. The older generation grew up in a stable economy. An economy where they could join one company and climb the corporate ladder. This results in gaining promotions. You could afford a home and have a family along the way. As long as you worked hard and paid attention, your future was secured.

Not so for Millennials. In today’s world with less security, the economic climate is far less predictable. It is no longer true that the route to success is by climbing the corporate ladder.

Millennials want more than anything to be valued “as individuals” rather than as “production units” in a business world.

So asserts Jenny Watson, a human resources specialist. Jenny explores generational relationships as part of her master’s degree at Middlesex University, London. Watson is the co-founder of Swiss-based company, Leading Brains. The company pioneered the Human Behavioural Framework as a way of applying brain science to the real world.

Generational Research

According to Watson, research shows that all these generations share the same desire to fulfill basic human needs. To fulfill the need for self-esteem, to have some control over their lives and the need for meaningful relationships.

It’s how they get there where the gaps develop. “Perennial values and a combination of upbringing and personality do not change – but their life experiences are different,” says Watson.

“Millennials feel the need to make an impact, and they are just as motivated about career progression, but how they express their ambitions is vastly different. They want companies to invest in them, develop them, and if they do, they will, in turn, invest their time, skills and dedication in the company.”

Older generations want their employees to invest. They want them to show their commitment first before they’ll consider returning the investment. They expect youngsters to get to work on time, pay attention while they are there, and get the job done.

It seems that the gap is not so much a generational gap. It appears it is a cultural gap.

Perhaps if we spent more time learning from each other instead of focusing on the differences and perceived shortcomings, we can ensure the future benefits from the present.
After all, we do want the same things.

By Lynn Erasmus: Lynn Erasmus is Managing Director of Cape Town-based strategic communications, marketing and public relations consultancy HWB Communications Pty Ltd. a member agency of the Public Relations Global Network. 

The original article can be found on the PRGN website here.