Updated: Feb 1
Most of us have heard about the generation gap, whether it’s in business or around a braai, it sometimes comes up as an excuse, reason, roll-of-the-eyes-in-frustration, explanation for the behaviour of those older or younger than us.
But does the generation gap really exist? And how does it affect the way we understand each other? Most importantly, does understanding the generation gap add anything to the narrative of our everyday lives?
So let’s start with a generic description according to the dictionary, shall we?
A Generation Gap is:
“A difference of attitudes between people of different generations, leading to a lack of understanding.”
Now, in theory, this should be a straightforward thing for all of us to identify and work together on to find solutions for right?
Except we all know it’s not that easy, and the reason it’s not easy is because attitudes are complex things that are composed of thoughts and beliefs, how something makes you feel and how these thoughts and beliefs influence your behaviour. (verywellmind.com)
Attitudes are also explicit and implicit. Explicit being a conscious choice about a thought or belief and implicit being a subconscious one.
On top of all of that every persons experience, social factors and learning also affects how attitudes are developed.
Interestingly a study by the Pew Group has found that the generation gap between young people and people of their grandparents age is wider than it was in the 1960’s when the difference between the older generations views and the younger generations views – particularly around wars such as Vietnam, resulted in significant social change.
Even more fascinating, however, is that while the divergence in attitude and opinion is bigger now than it was in the 60’s (79% variance now vs 74% variance then) the difference in opinion and beliefs is unlikely to result in major social change, but could very well result in major corporate change.
Because young people today have very different views on work ethics, moral values, respect for others and acceptance of different groups compared to their older colleagues.
To add to the complexity of the generation gap discussion, it’s also not enough to classify people as young or old.
These days any one organisation can have up to five different generations all working together. The reason for this includes people not wanting to, or unable to, retire from work at 60 and many more people entering the workforce between the ages of 16 and 18 foregoing traditional education methods for an online and experiential education instead. Add to this how quickly social factors change and how this affects attitudes and you have a rapidly changing workforce with vastly different ideas. (genhq.com)
To understand how these differences play out at work let’s take a look at the different generations currently in the workspace.
iGen / Generation Z (Born 1996 and after)
Millenials /Generation Y (Born 1977 – 1995)
Generation X (Born 1965 – 1976)
Baby Boomers (Born 1946- 1964)
Traditionalists (Bron 1945 and before)
From a corporate perspective while these people’s birth dates may be interesting, what is even more interesting is when they entered the workplace as shown below.
When looking at the generations on a timeline, and thinking through world events, social events and even organisational culture changes, it becomes much more obvious why there is such a difference in thinking between the different generations.
These differences are the source of a great deal of misunderstanding and frustration.
But does it need to be that way? Surely there must be some type of middle ground in which organisational objectives are met, people are happy and the work place as a whole becomes a space in which development is the key ideal instead of control?
Sounds wholly idealistic, doesn’t it!
But we feel there must be some way to move towards that kind of ideal working world, so in our next article, we’ll be exploring some of the stories that have influenced the explicit and implicit attitudes in each generation and take a look at how these attitudes translate in a corporate space, with the hopes of uncovering better ways to communicate and understand different people perspectives on corporate problems.