Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is the generational conversation over?

There's an interesting conversation going on over at RenegadeHR as to whether we should care about whether or not we have a multi-generational workforce. The writer, a Gen Y, says it's not generations but work preferences that matter.

Although I think he's got some valid points - and he's right that generalizations are dangerous - I disagree that your generational footprint doesn't matter.

I think there are a lot of Gen Xers specifically who can vouch for me. We entered a workforce in the 1990s that was dominated by Boomers. And Boomers like process. So there was always a "right way" and a "wrong way" to do things - and there was no handbook for the Xers. So we did what we always do - start "doing" and learn as we go. And that caused quite a bit of conflict.

The Boomers process orientation came from their formative cohort experiences - they read Dick and Jane (everyone has a role and nobody crosses into other's roles), they went to schools that were overcrowded (teachers needed strict order to avoid adolescent chaos), and they went to college when all the rules were changing (and yet there were still rules).

The Gen Xers "learn as we go" orientation came from their formative cohort experiences - watching Sesame Street (learn by playing), playing video games (who ever read the directions to Pac Man?), and going to school during a time when things weren't so strict (my Boomer mom took handwriting class - during my high school experience, content was important - not penmanship.)

I can see why Gen Ys would be annoyed with new labels being applied to them. Xers hated it too. And Ys aren't as different from Xers as Xers were than Boomers in the 90s. It's all about living through technological change as a kid. The Boomers were grown up by the time technological change started really revving up. But although the technology may have been different between the X and Y youth - the change was the same.

So the Y's are entering a workforce that's not all that foreign to them - yet they're being treated like foreigners. But that doesn't mean their helicopter parents, over-scheduled childhoods, and living through 9/11 as children doesn't impact their adult behaviors.
So what do you think?


Chris Ferdinandi - Renegade HR said...

Interesting take on the issue. I want to address your comment about Gen Y hating being labeled.

I actually think I may be in the minority. The rise of sites like Brazen Careerist, which you're quite active on yourself, demonstrates that many Gen Y people don't mind being labeled as Gen Y. In fact, they often embrace it.

Do generations display some commonalities? Of course. They are as much a culture as any other subset. The grander point of my article, though, is that the variation within most generations is equal to or greater than that of the variation between generations.

Given that, I think most of the energy spent on multigenerational issues would be put to better use by focusing on individual work preferences.

jenx said...

i just have to ask - have you read Ross Honeywill's article about how Boomers are in control of the world???

I think I mentioned this in a previous comment - that I've put a lot of emphasis on time and place being the divide among we humble humans in the workforce, but when I think of what has driven me batty, personally it is the innovator vs. early adopter vs. early majority vs majority vs laggards. I see Baby Boomers as majority and laggards and this is what has primarily driven me nuts. When I realized this, I was less angry with them. That is until ROSS HONEYWILL CAME ALONG.

hahahaha! Great post, Suzanne. You always make me think.

GenXpert said...

@Chris - thanks for the comment. I was hoping you'd find this post. I agree that we often put too much blame on generational issues. However, I just wanted to point out that I wasn't saying 20-somethings mind being labeled Gen Y, but that Gen Y as being labeled (i.e. Gen Y doesn't know better than to wear flip flops to the office).

@JenX - I have not read the Honeywill book, I will check it out. Also, I hear you're collaborating with my writer pal Naomi! We used to work together...

Anonymous said...

I'm a generation yer and I do object to being labeled as a member of this allegedly wonderful generation. As the youngest in the family, with two older generation x siblings, I've always identified with their cohort rather than mine.

juvenal said...

Same here. I also have two older gen x siblings. I don't see what the.big hype is about the so-called " millennials".