Tackling the Traffic Jam on the Work Highway: Wise Work Practices Can Ease Intergenerational Clash

By Haserot, Phyllis Weiss | Aging Today, March/April 2011 | Go to article overview

Tackling the Traffic Jam on the Work Highway: Wise Work Practices Can Ease Intergenerational Clash


Haserot, Phyllis Weiss, Aging Today


It's not just Britain's Prince Charles who suffers from a worklife "waiting in the wings" syndrome: many working women, waiting interminably to take over the reins, fear that their chance may have passed. Some may be thinking, "Why won't those baby boomers realize it's time to go?"

My experience working with four generations of both genders in today's work settings shows this is not solely a women's issue, but one that affects men equally. There are aspects that have a uniquely female angle, however.

Specifically, some older women feel that younger women don't recognize and appreciate how hard mey had to fight for changes in the workplace that provided the worklife flexibdity younger women take for granted. (Not to suggest workplace policies have reached anything near nirvana - just that some major changes have come about.)

This lack of appreciation, however, is not the crux of the matter. Baby boomer women are sticking around for two credible reasons: they like the fulfillment, challenge and social opportunities mat work brings; and they may need the money. In some cases there is a third reason: an uncertainty that successors are well-prepared to shoulder their greater responsibilities.

ECONOMIC REALITY MEETS CAREER DESIRES

The recession has given many organizations a breather from brain-drain threats because employees are afraid to leave and fewer are needed. At the same time, many baby boomers would like to keep working, even if they can afford to retire. Surveys by Merrill Lynch and other financial firms in 2004 and 2005, when the economy was robust and retirement funds healthy, revealed that about 80% of baby boomers wanted to keep working in some capacity after age 65.

While personal priorities will dominate decisions, there's a bigger-picture need for restructuring. Even in a flourishing economy things won't go back to what they were 20 years ago in terms of structural hierarchy, patience for "paying dues" before expecting promotion and management styles - all because different generations have different expectations.

And, significantly, the different generations don't understand each other's perspectives and influences very well. Generation X and Generation Y don't seem to recognize the impact of the women'- movement and the civil rights movement on the degree of diversity in today's workplace. And they have never experienced the loyalty that, in earlier years, Traditionalists got from employers.

The Generation Yers also don't have a clear sense of why Generation Xers see themselves as "survivors" and so value autonomy. And die Traditionalists and baby boomers can't perceive what it's like to be born into a world with "e-everything." Knowing these things rationally doesn't create the same mindset as experiencing the formational influences that created each generation's worldview. When that understanding is achieved and accepted, we can move to greater cross-generational respect and collaboration.

REMOVING POTENTIAL CONFLICT

I do not favor involuntarily removing productive people. …

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