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I had the pleasure of doing a workshop recently for a staff of career services professionals at Iowa State. The staff was conducting a beginning-of-the-year retreat and wanted to address the issue of working in a multigenerational workforce. The staff of about 10 people ranged from early Baby Boomers to late Millennials.
To have that range in an office this small provides a very unique opportunity to study multiple generational interactions as they happen, while also helping to prepare students for those same realities as they enter the workforce.
The staff discussed an idea that has been addressed in comments on this blog before, the idea that the study of generational issues is not an exact science. In reality, descriptions of varying generations are broad generalizations. One should be careful not to believe that all people who are born between year "x" and year "y" behave in a particular manner, because there is more to be taken away from someone’s personality or behavior profile then his or her age. However, age is important as those common experiences that happen during a particular time period do shape our perspectives, which in turn influences our personality or behavior.
This sentiment regarding experiences was evident in the room as the group was divided into pairs to discuss what irritated them about those they knew in other age groups. Each pair talked about the lack of appreciation for some type of perspective or experience that they personally held dear. It was clear that the group did not want to label themselves.
What was interesting to note was the response from the Millennials toward the belief that they behave like an entitled group. The 20-year-olds in the room said that they always been taught to play nice we each other, that can achieve whatever they want and that technology will make your life easier. As I thought about their responses two questions dawned on me: When did this become a bad idea? Are Millennials the first generation in ages to actually listen to their parents? The massive number of Millennials would have me think that Gen Xers feel overshadowed and Boomers feel rivaled by this assertive generation that has yet to fully experience life…and seem to be okay with it!
As the staff affectionately discussed these issues, they came to the conclusion that for older generations an opportunity exists to teach younger generations…if the older generation is also willing to learn from them. The conclusion for younger generations challenged their demographic to set themselves apart individually by listening to the advise of their older colleagues or settle into the negative stereotype that they have of them.