Can the generation gap be bridged?
At this year’s conference of the Branch Chamber I was greatly impressed by the presentation of one of the lecturers who spoke about the differences between generations and the mistakes managers make related to their attitude to employees. I had read articles on the topic, but honestly, I had not attached much importance to this issue. Now, with much insight into the subject and with hindsight, I can confess that I was not right about a number of things. I tried to make people work according to my understanding and values, offered them incentives that I would see as such wondering why this did not work.
Almost every company employs people from different generations. According to the year they were born people are grouped in several main groups. Currently the oldest working people are those belonging to the post-war generation of the baby boomers (1946 – 1964). Then, there is the majority of people employed – generation X (1966 – 1980) and ‘the millennials’ generation Y (1981 – 2000). Generation Z (2001 – 2010) and generation α (2010+) are the next to join the labour force and are still not the object of special research.
The world is changing very fast and these demographic cohorts are born under different circumstances. This is what determines their different characteristics, priorities and expectations. I am not going to focus on the scientific characteristics of each of these generations – there are enough thick books about that. I would like to share with you my observations.
Many colleagues of mine have talked about the problems they encounter with employees who do not want to work but expect to get things they do not deserve, who demonstrate irresponsibility and apathy… Some managers say: “If they are not up to the job, I’ll fire them and hire new people.” But is this the best and widely applicable solution? The constant labour turnover, the need for time and resources to train every new employee act as a deterrent to company development. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if we first discussed the issues with the employees and tried to find out what motivates them, what their ambitions were? It might turn out that there are no insurmountable problems, but simply a discrepancy between the approaches to their solution which is due to the generation gap. For instance, whereas the people from my generation believe that the most important thing is to feel useful doing meaningful things, what the younger colleagues find important is the dynamics in their work and their independence, older people like being appreciated. Each generation has its strengths. My advice: talk, ask, listen, pay attention! People are the most valuable capital of any business even when they represent a generation different from ours.