How Generation Gaps Work

Difficulty of the Generation Gap

Could you imagine your boss doing this? If not, you may be dealing with generation gaps at your workplace.
Could you imagine your boss doing this? If not, you may be dealing with generation gaps at your workplace.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

Welcome to the 9 a.m. Monday sales meeting at XYZ Corp. The Baby Boomer sales manager arrives early wearing his standard jacket and tie and carrying his semi-ironic "World's Best Boss" coffee mug. He checks his e-mail on his Dell laptop while he waits for the others to arrive. There's a message from the Veteran-era CEO sent at 4:15 a.m. (man, that guy gets up early) asking about sales figures from March. The Boomer manager knows that the CEO expects to have those figures -- or at least a response -- when he walks in the door this morning.

The Generation X saleswoman shows up with her Starbucks in hand, dressed in her usual jeans and a T-shirt (most sales are done over the phone nowadays). She's on her cell, giving instructions to her husband, who's staying home with the baby for a couple of months. When she's off the phone, the Boomer manager starts to chat with her about her weekend, but she quickly pops open her MacBook and says she has to take care of some e-mails. The Boomer silently wonders if any of them are the three unanswered messages he sent to her last week.

Both of their cell phones (his: Blackberry; hers: iPhone) vibrate with an incoming text message. It's the new guy, a Generation Y kid straight out of college, asking if it's all right if he does the meeting via Skype. He ended up spending the weekend at a friend's place in New York and thought he could work remotely today and catch a flight back tonight.

Sound familiar? According to a recent survey, 70 percent of older workers are dismissive of younger worker's abilities, and 50 percent of younger workers feel like the old guys are out of touch [source: Williams]. Generation Y is emerging as everyone's favorite workplace complaint. Over half of employers over 35 say that Generation Y has a harder time taking direction than any other generation of worker [source Acebel Rousseau]. Additional gripes about Generation Y include:

  • Entitlement -- They've been given a trophy for every meaningless task and think they deserve praise at every turn.
  • Too much flexibility -- They want to be able to work from home, take days off, and come in at odd hours, as long as they get the work done.
  • Relationships over loyalty -- They couldn't care less about the company, but will work hard for people who they consider "friends." Managers must walk the fine line between friend and boss.
  • Oversharing -- In the Facebook/Twitter age, the line between personal and professional is nonexistent, and some members of Generation Y have no qualms about posting work-related information on social networking sites. [source: Gurchiek]

But all is not lost. Keep reading for some expert tips on bridging the generational divides in the workplace.