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Social Media Bridging the Age Gap: The Demise of Generational Differences

October 6, 2009

Newsflash:  There are generational differences in the workplace.  Have you heard about it? (I’m dripping with sarcasm here people)

There are articles, presentations, videos, reports, posts, podcasts,  and more.  You name it and it has been talked about, ad nauseam. Like many issues that come up in the HR world, we spend time talking endlessly about the problem but not enough time on the solution.  Generational differences in the workplace is no different.

There are labels and definitions for each generation.  Are you a Boomer?  Gen X?  Gen Y? We’re told how each generation feels and thinks and why they can’t relate to all the other generations.  But you know what?  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. 

IT DOES NOT MATTER

There have always been differences from generation to generation.  If we could spend as much time perfecting how individulas can work effectively together as we do on talking about how generations don’t, we’d have the most productive workforce ever.

So, how do we do that?  One thing that occurred to me recently was that when I meet people via social media outlets, I never even think about their age.  I have older friends, younger friends, and age is not an issue.  They are mostly HR professionals and I have had some great collaborating experiences with them and age has never come up.  If anything, any differences in our ages made our output better because we were incorporating many different viewpoints.

What do you think?  Does it matter to you?  Let’s get some comments going so we can start collaborating on how to get the message and a solution out to the masses.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2009 5:20 am

    Great post Trish. I definitely believe social media is breaking down the walls so many “experts” have built to divide the generations. I have heard so many presentations on “this is how you deal with generation X/Y/baby boomers” and not enough of how the generations can work together regardless of age. I am currently 27 years old. In the 5+ years I have been in the industry I have always been the “young gun.” At first people thought they may be able to push me around or that I was the inexperienced help who was to do things at their beckon call. Well, that doesn’t work for me. 🙂 Based on how I was raised, I have been able to transcend generations so to speak to get the job done. Now that social media is involved I don’t usually have to go through that awkward first stage of “wait, you’re how old?” People tend to focus on the quality of work rather than worrying about how green a newbie might be. FYI, newbie is such an annoying term. I bet some of us “newbies” have a lot more to offer than you think! Social media has made it easier to collaborate for various efforts regardless of the ages of the participants. Individuals are able to bring their own skills to the table and feed off of one another – creating amazing teams and output.

  2. October 6, 2009 7:08 am

    Trish,

    Your point is spot-on: we need to focus on the “how to’s” of workplace effectiveness, not for making the case of the differences. The case has been made and we need to move on.

    As a counterpoint to Stephen, I’ll offer this: I, too was a “young gun”, albeit many years ago. This was long before the Generations discussion, but the same “age” issues were present: “youthful idealism” and “been there/done that” jade responses. You’ll find that time marches on and before you know it, voila! you’re now the “veteran”. It’s just part of the process. For me, now that I’m of a certain age I need to work just a bit harder to stay current– to keep my pop culture references current and to stay on top of technology. It’s all part of staying relevant, no matter what your age.

  3. October 6, 2009 7:32 am

    Excellent points. I’m with you – it does not matter. Energy is better spent on learning to working together with the team you have right in front of you, whatever the demographic makeup may be.

    I’ll add that by defining those differences and focusing on them we put people in boxes when reality is that any one individual rarely falls neatly into any “box”. We seem to invest a lot in diversity training yet here we go creating another stereotype. It may be helpful for sociology studies, but can undermine person to person relationships.

    A while back I had an interesting exchange with a blogger in their 20’s. The commenters on their blog made assertions like they were absolute truth’s about “people from my generation”, each reinforcing the others. One was that we just care about the money and they care about meaning and purpose. That got my attention! I had some fun challenging them and they were good sports about it. But until that moment I had not given much thought to how those beliefs about the generations might affect me personally. Unfortunately, now that these generational profiles are out there and so widely publicized we have to deal with them.

  4. October 6, 2009 8:01 am

    Good post. Watching the comments. 😀

  5. Debbie Brown permalink
    October 6, 2009 8:11 am

    Great post Trish!
    I agree with all comments. Recently, I was struck by the issue facing all employers.
    That is that there is a looming talent shortage of workers with experience looking forward. Boomers have left and will continue to leave the workforce and the GenX group is a fraction of the size of the GenY group.
    When you do the math, it means the workforce of the future will look different and have different engagement needs and choices than the workforce of the past. HR is likely not the issue in recognizing this.. ?

  6. humanresourcespufnstuf permalink
    October 6, 2009 8:11 am

    Trish, as you know I think Generational Differences in the Workplace is a lot of hog wash. Yes, people of different generations have different experiences, but I don’t see any evidence that those experience serve to include or exclude one generation or another from sucess. What many so called “Generational Experts” seem to ignore is that all generations go through changes in their own perceptions and actions based where they are in their own lives. Additionaly people tend to gravitate towards identifying with smaller groups more strongly than they do with larger groups. People introduce themselves to others by mentioning their name, their job, their company, their passions, not their generation.
    Age is a stupid benchmark to use to catagorize people. I’m darn near 40, but I have friends from their 20’s to their 80’s. It’s about common interests, not common arbitrary generation.
    Yikes, sorry for the rant!

  7. October 6, 2009 8:49 am

    I can so related to Steven, I’m 29 and have been in the industry for 6years and I’ve had to listen to that “your how old?” crap too. My take on this is the same as my take on people that freak out about their birthdays, its a number or a label. I’ve worked with baby boomers that are stuck in 1965 and Y’ers that are addicted to technology and do twelve things at onces. What I’ve found thats help me work with these individuals is getting to know them and what works best for them. The baby boomer liked things spelled out and given straight directives. The Y’er could take four or five assignments and juggle them all. The both achieved the goals on time and successfully. Both brought equally good opinions, knowledge and experiences to the table.
    I’m going to quote Puf because, well, he’s awesome and I cant say it any better. “Age is a stupid benchmark to use to catagorize people.” Get to know them and how they work, learn, and operate and use that info to interact with them and others. In my experience, things get done easily that way.

  8. October 6, 2009 1:07 pm

    The tie that binds us is that it “will take all of us to get out of this fine mess we’re in.”

    If the U.S. is to continue to compete, differences must be put aside as problems to be solved and embraced as solutions that strengthen.

    Thanks for your article.

  9. October 6, 2009 3:05 pm

    Trish,

    Your absolutely right. We have to embrace technology to both develop the individual and team skills while leveraging the different viewpoints and experiences from everyone in order to constantly improve. We need to focus on how we can exploit technology to better collect and apply this knowledge base to HR operations and more importantly, add value.

  10. October 6, 2009 7:50 pm

    Guilty as charged! I’m one of those people talking about the differences between the generations. I even wrote a book about them. Despite some skepticism in your post and comments, there are REAL differences. Our viewspoints, attitudes, and beliefs are shaped by historical, political, and socio-economic events. I agree these can change over a lifetime but you still can’t erase these events that occur during the pre-adult years. As an older boomer, I can’t ever feel what it was like to grow up during the Depression or fight in WWII. I can vividly relate to the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK and watching American Bandstand in B/W but few if any Gen X and no Gen Y can relate. For us boomers, these events were part of our lives; for others, they are merely history. Our beliefs and attitudes are created logarithmically – they are a compilations of events piled on other events. The fact that all generations start out with different baselines inherently creates differences.
    HOWEVER, unlike many people, I DON’T believe they are irreconcilable. In fact, like several others, I believe that we do share common communication styles and values across generations. We use tools like DISC and Business Values & Motivators to initiate conversations and show that all generations have similarities in how they communicate and view the world….and conflicts often have more to do with differences in behavioral styles then age.

    And regarding social media….I refer to this as “googlization” in my book. By using social media in the workplace, you can engage young workers to mentor older workers how to use these technologies to improve productivity and not focus on distractions. Older workers can help shape the execution and ensure its use aligns with the corporate strategy while getting younger workers to expose all its potential.

  11. October 7, 2009 12:48 pm

    Great post, Trish, and sorry for commenting late. Generational differences may, as Ira points out, exist in certain ways and exert some influence on behavior. This isn’t any different than the way other environmental conditions can influence behavior, be it economic, family, culture, etc. As such, being aware of the possibility of these influences can help in *understanding* why someone might behave or react a certain way. The real danger is that it’s easy to slip from that into lazy, stereotyping thinking and prejudge the person based on their age. You point that “it doesn’t matter” is ultimately right and paramount – it’s the individual’s actions, thinking, etc. that really matters.

  12. Halves permalink
    October 9, 2009 12:38 pm

    Trish,

    Great article. While I think there is value in understanding generational issues, I believe that it is always a mistake to box people into categories.

    I have read, attended conferences, etc on generational differences, but surprisingly not once has any body commented on generational and immigration issues. As the theory goes generations are shaped by events i.e boomers shaped by the 60ies, but what about those people, and I am talking about a substantial number in Canada and the USA, who were born some where else. A professional from China born in 60ies who emigrated to the USA in the 80ies would have a completely different generational experience then somebody of the same age in the USA. The examples are endless of people who might share the same age range, but have completely different experiences growing up. Generational differences do not take that into consideration and in a global economy this attempt to neatly categorize people does not work. One of the most important lessons I learned years ago is that in HR there is no black & white just lots of grey.

    Just my point of view.

  13. October 12, 2009 6:59 am

    Thanks to EVERYONE for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. It has inspired me to write a follow up post that will address many of the points you made in your comments.

    These are the posts I love most- the ones that get people talking, sharing their perspective, and exploring the ‘other side’ of the issue. Thanks to you all!

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