The MySpace vs Baby Boom Generations

This topic is being discussed all over the place. And it was addressed again when I participated in at the American Staffing Association’s annual seminar. This year it was in San Diego–and before you don’t feel sorry for me, I saw most of San Diego from the inside of the convention center.

Anyway, this generational conflict is a really hot topic right now because worlds are colliding. The world of new graduates and the world of boomers and all of the worlds in between. This is the largest stretch of generations we have had in the work place. Mostly because the “boomers” won’t leave or, in some cases can’t leave. So everyone is left to deal with getting along with their bosses, co-workers and underlings and apparently no one understands what anyone else is talking about.

Let’s start with the “Baby Boomers.” The new generations coming in are going to have to understand that this group is probably the hardest working generation. They were raised by parents who went through the Great Depression, and were taught to work hard, pay your dues and stay loyal to your company. They believe in working hard, working late, and that might mean not being compensated but just doing it because you have pride in your job. This generation does not question authority and even respects it. They have always worn suits to work and still prefer to at least wear a tie. If they don’t, they at least remember that you needed an “interview suit” when you interviewed. And that ladies always wore pantyhose.

Skip ahead a few generations and you have Generation Y, a more “me” generation. This generation has no qualms jumping from job to job. They witnessed their parents losing their jobs and the company having no loyalty to them. This generation is from the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. No honor students, everyone is honored!  They are criticized for bring over-parented. But they are also the most highly-educated and technologically savvy generation. They crave mentoring and want to interact directly with their bosses, be an important part of the team, and be a part of the decision-making process.

So what happens when these two get together?

We have recent grads walking into their supervisor’s office without appointments. People coming to work with two completely different dress codes. We have one group working late hours while the other wants to leave at 5PM because they have a life beyond the office. One group is working for the company and the other is working for themselves.

So what do you do? Well, we have to all get along. And we have to each understand where the other side is coming from. For example, if you’re part of that younger generation, don’t just walk into your boss’ office. While Gen Y loves open communication, the Boomers believe in a “chain-of-command.” Even if it sounds crazy to you, try it anyway. Your supervisor will love you for it. And if you work with a Gen Y person that is always on your heels and doesn’t own a pair of jeans without holes? Give them ownership of something. They will surprise you with how they are really their own enterprise and get things done. (Delegation is a great thing and can very addictive as well.) Work in a challenge to their daily routine. And if you want them to dress better, show them how well all the people above them are dressing. Be a mentor, share that rule about dressing for the position you want, not the one where you are. Mention how Justin Timberlake used to dress and how he dresses now, and how he looks more successful. Even if you don’t get him, they do.

There are a few other things to keep in mind about Gen Y. They have no issue dating in the work place. About 44% have claimed to have had an office romance. 70% support the idea. Some states prohibit regulating an employee’s conduct outside of the workplace unless they can prove a conflict resulting inside the work place. Do know that this applies to two employees dating only. A manager dating a subordinate is a different issue altogether, that can lead to good old-fashioned sexual harassment issues. What you can do to avoid a lot of mess is to have stringent policies against harassment, provide training, and consider “love” contracts. A lawyer can help you out with all of these issues.

Gen Y also uses technology like it is an additional appendage. Constantly texting, talking on the phone, and clicking back and forth on their computer to check things like ebay, chat rooms, message boards, fantasy football teams, news, contacting friends, etc. And this is all done in fractions of a second during the day. So it is a good idea to have policies in place about using company equipment for personal use. Especially using email for personal use. (Note to Gen Y: you can be fired for things like this, know your company’s policy and don’t violate it. Even if you send something to a friend and it gets forwarded to someone else. If that person is offended, you could be gone. And be careful what you put on your MySpace page, employers do check you out there.)

Bottom line is we can all get along if you try to understand where the other person is coming from. Granted some of the Boomer stuff seems kind of “old school”, but there is a bit of coolness to the way things were done. Watch Mad Men on AMC and you will know what I am talking about. With that said, there is a lot of stuff in there that is definitely not cool too. And Boomers are going to have to understand that the Gen Y people are moving in, and eventually they’ll be running the company. So some rules might have to be flexible as you allow them to grow and really make a difference in your workplace.