Since the 1960s people have talked about “the generation gap,” the difference in ideas, opinions and behaviors that separates older from younger people.
The divide narrows or widens from time to time, but it’s always there, and at the moment it seems to be cutting through the workplace in a particularly complex way: Very soon, four generations will be working together or living under the same roof.
With retirement disappearing as a concept for more and more mature professionals who are having to work longer than they intended to supplement their pension, there are fewer job opportunities for those who are younger. That’s led not just to higher levels of youth unemployment, but also of a sense of unfulfillment among greater numbers of professionals around the world who suffer from increasing levels of stress and lack of purpose in their work.
When the baby boomers (born from 1946 to the 60s) and generation X (those born in the 60s and 70s) do come together in the workplace with the much younger millennials (the connected generation of “digital natives” born in the 80s and 90s), there are often tensions.
It will be interesting to see the new and very real challenges and opportunities arising when all these groups are joined by those among generation Z (those born from the mid 1990s onwards), who have never known a life without super-fast communication and unlimited access to media technologies, smartphones and online shopping.
The baby boomers and some in gen X often perceive their younger counterparts as having an unjustified sense of entitlement, with no real work ethic, and unwilling to “pay their dues” by starting at the bottom and working their way up.
At the same time, younger employees see their seniors as intransigent, inflexible and no longer best equipped to make the right decisions. Generations Y and Z expect to have knowledge at their fingertips and the independence technology gives them to be able to work anywhere and for whom they choose. Highly transient and mobile, they expect immediate responses from others.
However, because they prefer to sit behind and communicate through the screens of their PCs, laptops and smartphones, their under-developed ability to communicate face to face could put them at a disadvantage when it comes to managing staff, making presentations and connecting with those in other generations.
Whatever the relative truth of the matter, this can make for a challenging mix.
For many in this generation war, the young seem to be winning so far, with the millennials squeezing out the baby boomers and even gen X’ers in a battle of