You’ve heard it. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself. “Young people today have NO work ethic!” What does this one statement do? It degrades the value of an entire generation (or possibly two generations) in one sentence.
A Brief History Lesson
The Greatest Generation was once known as the Lost Generation. Boomers were once called spoiled and reluctant to grow up, but are now known as ambitious and hard working. Gen Xers were called coddled and complainers. Today they are skeptical yet self-reliant. Millennials are being called narcissistic, lazy, and entitled. My question is, what will they be known for tomorrow?
Much of what we may think is a generational norm is inexperience in life combined with a lack of understanding of a particular generation.
What about our youngest generation entering the workforce? As a believer in self-fulfilling prophecies, let us not label them with negatives.
What is Myopia?
Literally, myopia is “a common type of refractive error where close objects appear clearly, but distant objects appear blurry.” According to the National Eye Institute, “When you look at an object, light rays reflect off that object and pass through the cornea and the lens of the eye, which bend (or refract) the light and focus it on the retina at the back of the eye. If you have perfect vision, the rays focus directly on the surface of the retina. But in a myopic eye, the eyeball is usually too long from front to back. This causes light rays to focus at a point in front of the retina, rather than directly on its surface. This makes distant objects blurry.”
Figuratively myopia can be defined as lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight. When responding to the question why can’t we just look at people as individuals, Erin Meyer in her book, The Culture Map, states, “Unfortunately, this point of view has kept thousands of people from learning what they need to know to meet their objectives. If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly.” I believe the same holds true for viewing the world through our generational lens and even through our gender.
The Cure for Myopia
The first step in broadening your generational lens of the world is to understand how different generations work and the reasons why we behave differently at work.
Traditionals/Silent Generation/Greatest Generation
This generation, depending on what chart or which expert you turn to, was born in 1945 or earlier. They came of age in the Great Depression, fought in World War II. They are stubbornly independent and many work as non-paid volunteers.
Our most experienced employees want to contribute to the common good and supervisors are encouraged to capture and apply their wisdom, help them embrace new systems.
Born 1946-1964, some of the biggest influences in Baby Boomers’ lives are the facts that there were so many of them and infrastructure simply was not ready for such a large generation. Classes were overcrowded. Children at school sometimes even had to share a desk! Large families and tight class quarters forced boomers to learn how to work well in groups.
This attitude about work is reflected in the change in workplace layouts. Boomers changed office structures from cubicles and separate offices to open spaces and rooms for groups to gather.
In 1965 children became unfashionable. Gen X, born between then and 1976, saw the lowest birthrate in 10 years. The number of women who married dropped 47%. By 1970s 50% of Boomer marriages ended in divorce.
Gen X became independent spirits as they were latchkey kids, often left to themselves. Gen X was shaped by Sesame Street and MTV, expecting fast-pace and entertainment even in work.
Gen X saw the decadent 1980s and an early 90s recession. Seeing their parents lose jobs, Gen X did not have the automatic loyalty to employers that previous generations did.
Gen X overcompensated for latchkey kids by becoming helicopter parents. Born 1977-1995, Millennials are risk-averse, yet optimistic. They are technical experts who enjoy social networking. They Integrate life and work. Millennials are sometimes called the echo boom as they are a larger generation and currently make up more than 35% of the workforce.
Our youngest generation is already entering the workforce. Born 1996 or later, this generation has more stay-at-home dads, more stay-at-home moms or part-time employed parents. They have been online (high-speed) since toddlers. They text an average of 2899 times/month.
Millennials and Gen Z work in a way that is different from previous generations. While our Traditionals and Boomers might go to work 9-5 and give 100% of their effort and energy during that time, they generally aren’t working outside of those hours. Our younger generations don’t see the same separation between work and personal life; they blend the two together.
Millennials and Gen Z sleep with their phones on. The first thing they do when they rollover is check their Instagram and Snapchat. Then they check their work email and Tweet on the company’s Twitter account. Having already done some work off hours, they see no problem with occasionally responding to personal texts or social media notifications during work hours.
When we understand where each generation comes from and what circumstances shaped their view of work it makes it easier to work together. (Stay tuned for more information about the differences in generations and the way they work.)
Acknowledge that we’re human. We judge and we stereotype. Become aware of inner thoughts and feelings and how they affect beliefs and actions. When we have a stereotypical thought follow it with an alternative thought based on fact.
If we hear ourselves thinking, “Young people today have no work ethic.” We need to remind ourselves that perhaps the younger generations work in a different way. Digital natives are never truly “off the clock.”
My wish for you would be to strive to eliminate harmful words and phrases from your vocabulary. Don’t lump entire groups of people together. Don’t say every, always, or, “That’s just like a…” Believe the best in people. Most people really do have good intentions and good hearts.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi