While older generations may define employee dedication by punctuality and time spent on the job, the younger generation of women and men seem to view dedication in terms of quality and quantity of work completed. It is the generation gap revisited.
Generation gap is a popular term that originated in the 1960s to describe the cultural differences between the baby boomers and their parents. The term is meant to clump the differences in cultural norms when younger people grow up with different opinions, habits and understandings of the world than those who were just a generation older. Currently, with cultural and technological change happening faster than ever, even those within the same generation are raised differently than their older siblings. Generation gap has come to define even the gap between smaller age groups.
The work-a-day world, now employing four generations at the same time, feels the strain, pain and dishevel of these four groups, as defined by Susan Ladika in her book, “Across the Generational Divide,” with their different expectations, work ethics and attitudes. Some of the defining attitudes that prevail among the Millennials, the label used for those born between 1977 and 1998, include a difference of opinion on acceptable work hours, a lack of respect for older generations, ability to use technology to work from home, and an expectation for rapid advancement. The Silent Generation, shaped by the Cold War, and the baby boomers who were brought up on long hours and hard work to get ahead, often feel the frustration with the younger generation who want to work less, get more and still seek rapid advancement without paying their dues. Generation X-ers, those born between 1965 and 1976, round out the group and make up 40 percent of the work force. They are often distrustful of company loyalty after watching parents lose jobs in the first wave of corporate downsizing.
A 2004 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that at least 40 percent of human resource professionals were aware of the intergenerational conflict within their organizations.
No one has iron-clad answers to the challenges inherent in this generational working mix, but Maureen Mason, 57, a vice president of human resources, as quoted in “Across the Generational Divide,” said, “The best work places capitalize on the strengths of all the different generations.”
As companies make the generational transition, there is a real concern about communicating expectations to iPod-toting, video-game-playing employees. These younger workers may be able to complete tasks faster than the baby boomers because of their ease with technology, but they also expect things to stay exciting, and rapid gratification is the name of the game. With nearly 78 million baby boomers retiring over the next decade, the Millennials will become a bigger percentage of the workplace and companies will be unable to ignore their style if they wish to retain a positive employment environment.
Companies, where possible, may have to wean themselves away from structured rules and focus more on getting the work done and achieving results with more flexibility. Some companies have found success in team approaches and programs where employees are paid for performance. Some are still searching for solutions.
Whether you embrace the younger workers for their fresh perspectives or struggle with answers to the questions that revolve around motivating and implementing the Millennial mindset, the generation gap looms tangibly within today’s companies and isn’t going anywhere.
This topic will squirm and kick like a fussy baby until answers are tried and tested and working solutions adapted. The outdoor recreation industry may have an easier time understanding the “work-to-live” mindset than other types of companies, and therefore may have fewer growing pains as the generations mix. But a new style, or maybe definition, of employee/employer productive relationships sits firmly upon the horizon. For anyone looking forward, its inevitable descent is clear.
This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most — anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at email@example.com.
Lori Lee is a freelance writer for the outdoor recreation industry. Her guidebook Wild Weekends in Utah and her online guidebooks: www.snowshoeutah.com and yurtsofutah.com have established her as one of the leading female authorities on travel and recreation in Utah. She has also written for publications such as Her Sports, Sea Kayaker magazine, Camping Life and Backpacker.