March 30, 2009

Tired of the Generational Wars? Me too!

It is very common to hear these days about the war between the generations. You know, how the Boomers can't deal with the Millennials, and how Generation X is misunderstood, while Generation Y (unlike everyone else, apparently) wants "work life balance" and on and on. This so-called generational conflict is itself generating enormous billable hours and white papers from consultancies. Well, frankly, I'm a bit tired of the whole thing. I'm tired because these discussions are based upon such gross generalizations and they do not seem to move us any closer toward a shared understanding. On the contrary, they seem to fuel an "US vs. THEM" attitude in the workplace. I also think there are major misconceptions inherent in the discussion; for example:

1. There are 84 million Baby Boomers. We don't all think alike. We don't all act alike. I have more in common with many Generation Y-ers and X-ers than with many Baby Boomers. In other words, there is great diversity WITHIN the generations, so these sweeping statements often fall short.

2. Good leaders must be able to deal with all types of people--short, tall, fat, thin, young and old. It doesn't matter whether they belong to Generation Y, Z, AA, or whatever.

3. There is a tendency to confuse DEVELOPMENTAL issues with GENERATIONAL issues. A 59 year old Baby Boomer manager is in a very different place developmentally than a 25 year old generation Y professional. There is a big difference between starting up your career vs. winding down, or beginning to think about starting a family vs. preparing for retirement and grandchildren. These are life stage issues that all generations face though granted the evolution of time has changed the landscape within which these issues are confronted.

4. There are Boomers who are more tech savvy than their youngsters. OK, this is not so common, but it does exist. But the fact is: Boomers are not all technology neophytes and 20 somethings are not all technology geniuses.

5. The desire for work-life balance does not reside with one generation. Many people want a life outside of work. How to accomplish this successfully is the real challenge, and over one's lifespan, the balance between time at work and time at home frequently shifts.

The bottom line---there have always been differences between generations and there always will be. It springs naturally from the fact that we are born and raised during different times. However, individuals are shaped by a variety of factors including: personality, gender, ethnicity, age, cognitive style, education, parental values, culture, professional skills/interests and more.

Maybe we should change the discussion--focus more on celebrating our uniqueness as individuals, on what we can learn from each other and on those things we all have in common. We may find this makes getting along at work a whole lot easier and it may save you some money on consulting fees.


  1. I agree with your thoughts completely. I would also add that what helps move the dialogue forward are two things:
    1. Avoid treating individuals as if they were an 'entire group' with a full compliment of related stereotypes!
    2. When we learn to focus on connecting with the 'individual' (regardless of what generation they may be in), it helps to build a bridge(one person at a time) rather than creating an unneccesary divide.

    We all have strengths and weaknesses. The key is to maximize strengthes and diminsh weaknesses (by learning from each other)!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anonymous..I couldn't agree with you more !