When it comes to team productivity, the problem we face is rooted in generational myths that narrate perceptions, practices, and team cohesion.
These false narratives are adventures in missing the point. They are prevalent in the workplace, schoolroom, and church house. They soak our social media streams.
- Millennials are self-absorbed, entitled, and disrespectful. This politically correct “baby on board” generation needs continual coddling, incentivizing, monitoring, and cheering.
- Gen Xers are independent, greedy, and nontraditional. This “black sheep” generation is packed with goonies, bad news bears, exorcist kids, and breakfast club delinquents.
- Boomers are arrogant, selfish, and authoritarian. This “leave it to Beaver” generation grew up economically, materially, parental, and culturally blessed.
These narratives create dangerous interactions, bad feelings, and faulty ideas. Much ink has been spilled to explain, defend, understand, and create working strategies for productivity for these generations.
But what if we’ve got it all wrong? It is time to blow up some myths and provide more realistic strategies for how we can be more productive at work in a mixed generational atmosphere.
Myth #1: Boom, Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z are good working labels
Truth: These popular generational nicknames say and mean little.
Generational analysis has operated for decades, but definitive labeling has been around roughly since 1980.
That’s the year Landon Y. Jones released his book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation. In this watershed work, Jones definitively named a generation and their birth years (1946-1964).
Jones’ analysis unlocked a new fascination with generations. Suddenly every sociologist, historian and thought leader commenced to name (and frame) generations.
Kids born after the Boomers were quickly tapped as “Busters” and eventually Gen X (thanks to a 1991 Douglas Coupland novel). Initially, Millennials were labeled “Gen Y” (because they followed Gen X) but the generational theory of Neil Howe and William Strauss birthed a stickier moniker: “Millennials.” Howe and Strauss even named (and framed) American generations back to 1584 AD!
In the 2000s “Gen Z” came knocking (a.k.a. iGen, Centennials, Homelanders). Nobody knows why the unimaginative Gen Z nickname stuck. Just say, write and post anything enough and it’ll root. Some now tag the newest generation (born since 2010) as Alpha or Generation Alpha.
Unfortunately, none of these mean (or say) anything. Even the “Millennial” name is ambiguous. But what if we’ve incorrectly tagged, labeled, framed and defined all these generations? What if we really aren’t Boomers or Xers, Millennials or Gen Z?
How would this effect how we hire and grow within the workplace?
In my new book GenTech: An American Story of Technology, Change, and Who We Really Are, I propose a fresh perspective for generations that argues within a technological frame. Approximately every 20 years a new generation emerges that’s defined by particular communication and/or transportation technology (telephone, radio, television, internet). A technology that reimagines how we interact with the world. It changes how we shop, learn, worship, and communicate. It reinvents cultural institutions from entertainment to education.
When we view certain cohorts through technology, we gain better insight and application for generational interaction (via their “coming of age” technology consumed between the ages of 10 to 25). It is why a Boomer raised on vinyl records, television, and space travel is vastly different than a Millennial who matured on personal computers, cellphones, and the internet. I explore this in-depth in my book GenTech.
|BORN: 1940s -1950s||BORN: 1960s – 1970s||BORN: 1980s – 1990s||BORN: 2000s – 2010s|
|Vinyl Record (late) Television Space (early)||Space (late) Gamer Cable Television (early)||Cable Television (late) Computer/Cell Phone Net (early)||Net (late) iTech Robo (early)|
|Snail Mail||Text||Social Media|
|Rotary Phone||Touch Tone Phone||Cordless/Flip Phone||Smartphone|
|Antenna Television||Cable Television||Satellite Television||Streamed Television|
|Spock kids, Disney “Mouseketeers,” Leave it to Beaver||Latchkey kids, Rosemary’s Baby, Bad News Bears||Baby on Board kids, Three Men and a Baby, Spy Kids||Reality TV kids, The Incredibles, Robo Child|
|Vietnam War||Gulf War||Iraq War||War on Terror|
|Civil rights||Women’s rights||Gay rights||Transgender rights|
|Sputnik, JKF assassination||Nixon resignation, Challenger explosion||Columbine shooting, September 11, 2001||Great Recession, Covid-19|
|Department store||Local mall||Supercenter||Online retail|
|Pizzeria||Pizza Hut||Chuck E. Cheese||Zume|
Myth #2: Generational differences are the problem
Truth: Generations have more in common than we realize.
We’ve been led to believe the generation gap is the problem, but it’s not. Most differences are rooted more to our place in life than cultural preferences. The Beatles and Johnny Cash remain popular among kids while older folk enjoy Facebook, Netflix, and Zoom. Our hairstyle, fashion, and tastes in music, movies, and art reflect a moment in time. It’s why nostalgia sells.
Every generation matures through three predictable phases:
- Inexperience (needs validation)
- Competence (needs empowerment)
- Expertise (needs respect).
This is why new, inexperienced “need to be heard” young employees spark fireworks when they interact with a tenured, skilled older worker or manager (wanting respect). One wants validation and the other desires respect.
How do you change the trajectory of this thought process for better work productivity?
Myth #3: Change isn’t welcomed by older people
Truth: All ages embrace change if it’s empowering and productive.
Change happens at any age. We spend our whole lives changing. Jobs. Careers. Marriages. Kids. Homes. Vehicles. Younger people can adapt and adopt because it’s less painful. They have less history (tradition) to battle. They have less to lose. Youthfulness blinds us to reality. It emboldens tendencies to risk, fight, or flee.
Younger people also have less input. We change… or leave. In fact, the longer a person ages with a company, the more “starting over” becomes less desirable, even in a world where being with a company for five or more years is considered a lengthy stay. It’s why older workers probably manage change better. They fight through feelings, recognize limits, and adapt.
Shared ownership becomes the key to how we can be more productive at work.
This is why leaders and managers must guide institutional innovation and corporate change through shared ownership. When employees and staff, of any age, sense some control and power in the change, they’ll move, reinvent, innovate and transform. They just want to know if this change is productive. Will it benefit, empower, or produce something for me?
Here are a few ways to begin the process
- Group people by consumed tech by asking questions about their coming of age years and learn what else they might bring to the table – categorize what you learn and then use that to develop gamification strategies to motivate your salespeople (for example).
- Become keenly aware of productivity killers, but take it a step further and learn from employees or team members about the kind of tech they like to use, and leverage it to bring people together – to drive them toward a common goal whether 35, 55 or 65 years of age.
- Leverage consumed technology at the office (no matter how big or small) through artificial intelligence – be the leader in using AI. I am not saying just bring in robots. Consider artificial intelligence in how it works within eCommerce to understand consumers. Remember that those consumers are also the people that make up your teams. So how will you look at AI in helping people work together more effectively?
Technology is how we view our world, understand our culture, enjoy our hobbies, and interact with our family and friends. It’s how we learn, shop, entertain, work and worship.
It is why a 60-something may sometimes appreciate snail mail while a thirty-something may prefer texting. It is why a 40-something learns via video on YouTube and a twenty-something embraces a Zoom conference. Our technology guides how we prefer to interact.
Begin to analyze how you want to move forward within your company and leverage the technology your teams consume for high engagement and performance.
In the book, the author reveal how generations since 1900 have fluidly emerged through technology. We aren’t “Boomers.” We are the Television and Space Generations. We aren’t “Gen Xers.” We are Gamer and Cable Television Generations. We aren’t “Millennials.” We are Personal Computer-Cell Phone and Net Generations. And we aren’t “Gen Z.” We are emerging iTech and Robotic Generations.
We are generations of technology and if we look at the people in our workplace from that perspective, think of all the possibilities for growth!