Generational Differences: What Role Do They Play?
Throughout the ‘Living In The Grey’ series, we have been examining some of the factors that have led to the divided world of communication, tension, and strife that we are faced with today. While these problems can feel crushing, I don’t believe that they are insurmountable by any means. So far, we have mostly examined the cultural or personality differences that have, either through the actions of bad actors or by our human nature, driven wedges between various groups of people. However, in this piece, we are going to examine another demographic difference that is affecting us in negative ways: the generation gap.
As the Baby Boomers age into retirement, and Millennials begin to occupy an increasingly large role in both society and the workplace, the psychological differences between these two generations have led to many misunderstandings about Millennials in particular. We will look into several of these, with a focus on the workplace, and show not only that they are false, but also how the truth reveals less of a gap between the generations than appears on the surface.
As a quick refresher, the main distinction that we are looking at in this series is between what we’ve called ‘black and white’ communication, and ‘living in the grey.’ Some characteristics of black and white communication include: a lack of empathy, an inability to consider alternate perspectives, defensiveness, and division.
Some characteristics of living in the grey include: compassion, a willingness to listen to others, critical thought before making a point, and embracing diversity and uncertainty. My hypothesis is that, in order for us to solve many of the problems dividing us and our society, we all need to embrace what it means to live in the grey, and everything that comes with it.
Generational Gaps in the Modern Workplace
Millennials have shouldered an unfair share of the blame for workplace tension, social change, and the future outlook of our world. Whether it’s the many things that the media claims Millennials are ‘killing,’ or the difficulties that older generations have keeping up with the rapidly changing technology trends or cultural fads, to the untrained eye, it appears that the generational gap is bigger than ever.
Some examples of Baby Boomer complaints about their new Millennial workmates include laziness, disrespect for authority, and an unwillingness to follow the way things have always been done. Some examples of Millennial complaints about their Baby Boomer co-workers include rigidness, an unwillingness to explore new possibilities, and technological illiteracy. As is normally the case, these perceptions can be quite far from reality. The Baby Boomer/Millennial distinction is the kind of black/white distinction that we’re trying to root out and eliminate. Our ideal workplace culture actually lies somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes, and finding it is the professional life equivalent of living in the grey, or as we will call it ‘working in the grey.’
Working in the Grey: What’s Next for the Workplace?
The key to bridging the generational gap in the workplace is to synthesize the unique skills and mindsets of each generation, in order to create an environment of symbiosis rather than constant clashing. Strength in diversity comes from recognizing how differences can build on one another to achieve a sum that is greater than its parts, rather than an organization torn apart by internal strife.
Working in the grey involves Baby Boomers sharing their hard-earned wisdom with Millennials, to help them use this timeless knowledge in the modern world, to shape the fulfilling career paths they seek. Working in the grey involves Millennials guiding Baby Boomers through the milieu of our rocketship technological landscape, which is shifting and growing by the day, so that these tools serve their true purpose of bringing us together and increasing productivity, rather than fracturing relationships and forming communication cliques.
Most of all, working in the grey requires a shared understanding that, while the generations may disagree on certain issues, there are still the shared values of enthusiasm for work, striving for success, and fulfilling our need for social community, which are ingrained in our DNA. By applying the lessons learned from living in the grey to the workplace, the generational gap becomes an advantage, with the differences becoming utilizable resources rather than an uncrossable chasm.
In the next piece in the Living in the Grey series, we will examine what has been lost as division has crept into our homes, politics, and workplaces, and seek out a way to turn this knotted mess into a futuristic utopia of compassion and understanding.