Bridging the generation gap at work

The broadcaster J.B. Priestly put it perfectly when he said early in the last century, “There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age – I missed it coming and going.” Generational divides are not new, nor should they be. Generational perspectives keep us moving forward, and the Xs and Ys will, for sure, change how we organize and lead. How we all manage the shifts in technology, communication, behavior and how we relate depend heavily on our mutual expectations. And right now, expectations are very different.Perhaps you have heard the arguments that younger professionals aren’t loyal, lack a focused work ethic and are always playing with the computer. If we look at these criticisms through a future prism, we might see compliments. It all depends on our perspective.The average job tenure for a baby boomer is about eight years, or roughly four jobs in a professional lifetime. Most Xs and many Ys have already had that many assignments, because the average job tenure for them is about three years.However, if our future professional world relies on workers who are conceptual, flexible and follow what they care about, this is not such a bad thing. After all, the traditional employee contract of a stable and secure tenure at one company has been gone for two decades now, and it may be time for us “mature” professionals to let go of our old perspectives and expectations.The current work structure and culture will not sustain the job-for-life scenario, and that new generations intuitively recognize this is the case.

Multiple rolesWhat about being on the computer all the time, communicating through social networking, intuitively learning new applications and creating their own work and social cultures? After all, this is their world.Twenty years ago, e-mail was relatively new, and we can remember people saying that would never work. Today, we can’t live without it, and it is a powerful productivity tool. However, most teenagers, the workers of tomorrow, hardly use e-mail, instead relying on Facebook and other tools to interact at a faster pace.All this playing with the computer has created new ways to work, and all this energy can benefit the professional and the organizational missions if we let it.The multi-generational workplace that is flexible, agile and portfolio in nature will be the standard. People will be attracted to the work they care about, and deploy themselves to the assignments that fulfill their needs for professional interest. Our workplaces will establish environments and cultures that result in creative and conceptual products and ideas.As leaders, we will encourage multiple roles and assignments that fulfill people, regardless of generational perspective, with meaningful work. Our systems for managing our teams will morph into providing seamless shifts in assignments, and workers and employers alike will produce better results.Of course, we all still need to work out how these progressive changes will happen, but one thing is for sure – newer generations will always change things, and older professionals can too. The next time you hear someone say they don’t understand the new worker, think about what might happen if they tried. Let’s not miss it coming and going. Let’s meet it where it is, and use these new generational dynamics to our collective benefit. The new professional generations represent the future of everything.Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm, is project manager of the Future of Everything. Core project participants on this topic included Tammy Hildreth and Paul Philbrick, co-founders of Network for Work, Dennis Delay, an economist with N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies and Elyse Barry, a partner with Sojourn Partners. For more information, contact 603-472-8103 or