Crossing The Generation Gap

By IAN FERGUSON MUCH has been said and written on the differences between the four generations present in today's workforce. A number of titles have been given to them, but for the purpose of this discourse, we will refer to them as Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Truth be told, we have lived in this shrinking global village for some time, and much of the forces throughout the world affect generations in every country. While there may be some cultural differences, there are distinct similarities between Baby Boomers living and working in Corporate UK and those living and working in Corporate Bahamas. This discussion should help us understand the forces at work driving the actions and behaviours of the various generations. Traditionalists or Veterans (born before 1946) have a very strong work ethic. Their life's motto could easily be: 'Make it Happen' or 'Get it done'. Traditionalists believe in making impossible tasks possible. They have a 'never give up' attitude towards everything, including work. They remained in difficult, unfaithful marriages, and they will remain on the job, if they are allowed, until they cross Jordan. They are very loyal to leadership, and have issues with others who fail to respect authority. They have grown up in a world that was shaped by the Great Depression, and many of them have known abject poverty. This has made them very frugal people, who believe in putting something away for a rainy day. The core values of the Traditionalist are self-sacrifice and dedication. The Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are said to have created the 60-hour work week. They are workaholics, and will sometimes work themselves into ill-health. They are highly competitive and will work towards being the best at what they are doing above their co-workers. Boomers are generally optimistic about their own lives, and believe that if you set goals and work hard, you can achieve whatever you set out to do. They have less respect for rank and hierarchy than their predecessors, but still respect the hierarchy of leadership, particularly if they serve in leadership. Bahamian Boomers have lived through social and political change, actively participating and watching the revolution as it occurred. This has encouraged them to set long-term goals and have the 'no pain, no gain' attitude towards life and work. Their core values are probably best described as hard work and achievement. Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) are the free agents of the workforce. They are independent, self-reliant and entrepreneurial. They do not find value in wasting time with non-essential activities. They believe in working smart, and reject working hard unnecessarily. They are more ready to embrace change that any preceding generation. Generation X-ers have grown up in a world with rapidly changing social and moral values adversely affecting family life. This has created a greater sense of awareness and need for work-life balance. As a result, Gen X-ers are fiercely protective of family time. They tend to be sceptical and practical, and value leadership by competence. They have no respect for service, title or rank, and have declared that they will not allow work to kill them or overwhelm them. Their core values are life balance and respect for individuality. Generation Y or the Millenia Generation (Born between 1980 and 2000) is a very entrepreneurial generation. Many of them work for organisations, but dream or have started small businesses of their own. Generation Ys are technology-savvy. They've never known a world without mobile devices and 24/7 connectivity. They see themselves as citizens of the world, and feel very connected through the Internet. The world is easily accessible to this generation, and so the mindset that nothing is out of their reach is clearly seen. This generation values teamwork and is trusting of others more than previous generations. This generation is the superior multi-tasking generation, seemingly creating new frontiers for juggling multiple activities simultaneously. They believe they can make a difference in the world and are bent on making their mark. This generation is also seemingly more able to respect and accept diversity in the workplace. Our reflection on the various generations in the workplace reminds us that despite our age or the period of time we have been born in, we all have some contributions to make. If we are to arrive at a place of mutual understanding, our efforts must be towards moving from mere tolerance to acceptance and respect. NB: About the author Ian R. Ferguson has a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Miami. During the course of his nearly 20 years in education, talent management and human resources, he has served both the public and private sector. He currently serves as manager of the Chamber Institute.


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