Updated: Feb 1
In our previous article, we explored the essence of what a generation gap is and uncovered some fascinating information on how complex the workplace has now become. With 5 different generations working in one corporate world, it’s no wonder that there are a great deal of miss-understanding.
We also had a look at how experiences, social factors and learning can influence individuals explicit and implicit beliefs
But is there a way to find a common ground between groups of people from such vastly different histories? And are we really that different after all?
In this article, we’re exploring the stories that have influenced how people in the different generations think. What we’re hoping to do is to give everyone a little more context as to why different generations react the way they do at work.
Just as a refresher, and in case you hadn’t read the first article, here is a quick diagram of when the different generations entered the workplace.
This is important because, as you can see below, each generation has lived through different phases in our global history which affects their view of the world and particularly their view on thing like work ethic, the organisational vs employee relationship.
While we hate to generalise, for the purposes of looking for common ground in the generation space we’ve put together some overarching ideas about each generation. There will, of course, ALWAYS be the exception to the rule though.
So let’s take a more in-depth look at the social factors that will have formed some of the implicit attitudes of the Traditionalists in the workplace. Known as the “Silent Generation” because they were raised at a time when “children were seen and not heard” this generation now makes up some of the most senior tiers in organisations as Directors and Advisors.
As the oldest generation in the workplace, they bring a level of wisdom and hard-won knowledge that is critical to the longevity and sustainability of organisations. They are also beginning to retire, and this drain of corporate wisdom will have an interesting effect on companies.
Traditionalists are hard working and believe that work is a privilege and not a right. Their upbringing, by factory working parents and the lean times of the World War II and the Great Depression, have shaped their view of the world as a place that demands hard work for reward.
Interestingly they are also the wealthiest generation in the workplace.
Traditionalists are very loyal employees, and most will have stayed at the same organisation for their whole working life. They expect loyalty from the company in return and are good team players who will work well with others without causing ruffled feathers. They don’t, generally, move for career advancement and distrust “flash-in-the-pan” success.
Having been raised in a paternalistic society, they respect authority, conformity and traditional morals.
They are the most technologically disadvantaged and struggle to work with the quickly changing devices used in the workplace.
Work ethic and reliability are important to them
Entering the workplace in South Africa from the 1960’s onwards was either incredibly easy or incredibly tricky dependent on race. In addition, the enforcement of global sanctions against South Africa because of the Apartheid regime saw many organisations struggle to find resources to continue operating.
Traditionalists have seen the most significant changes in South Africa not only on the political front but also as the country went through sanctions and came out of sanctions and organisations had to compete on the global stage again after over thirty years of isolation.
Apart from the general Traditionalist characteristics discussed above, South African Traditionalists have a level of grit and determination to make a plan and find a way, that few other cultures have developed.
Having grown up in a time after the war when a significant number of children were born, Baby Boomers have been competing for everything their whole life.
As they entered the schooling and tertiary education space, the competition for education means they place high value on education. Combined with a global economic boom, Baby Boomers are driven by economic incentive and status which has been won through long hours at work.
As the generation that introduced the term, “workaholic” Baby Boomers see on-site face time as critical to success and expect all those around them to behave in the same way.
Baby Boomers are smart, independent, goal oriented and transformed the workplace from a source of income to a source of self-actualisation and expression.
Baby Boomers are more tech-savvy than Traditionalists but still not as adept as the younger generations as the technology boom only kicked in once they had been at work for some time. As a result Baby Boomers still demand procedural soundness behind technologically driven outputs and have a miss trust of technology.
In South Africa Baby Boomers entered their working careers at a time when both Apartheid and sanctions made the South African market a very difficult place to work in. Massive inflation, a shortage of skilled labour, and a marketplace to small and too poor to support business resulted in many families struggling to survive.
As a result, South African Baby Boomers have a slightly different profile to the global profile in terms of the reasons why workaholism is a collective behaviour in that generation. Bred more from a place of survival rather than career progression, the effect on Baby Boomer families was similar to the rest of the world.
As Baby Boomer women entered the workplace, the population boom dropped resulting in Generation X being smaller than both the preceding and succeeding generations. But they are not to be discounted. Because of a two-parent working families, the money available to educate Generation X was higher than previous and succeeding generations making them one of the most intelligent generations in the workplace.
Gen X children have been defined by their Baby Boomer parents behaviour and experience in the following ways.
With both parents working Gen X children had to be extremely independent, resourceful and self-sufficient from a young age. As a result, they value freedom and responsibility at work and don’t perform well in a micromanagement situation which includes a general disdain for authority and strict working hours.
Having watched many of their parents workaholic habits result in divorce, Gen X values work-life balance and flexibility and are less likely to be loyal to companies that don’t provide that.
Gen X is tech-savvy, although not entirely technologically native which means they still value face to face conversation and relationships.
Gen X in South Africa entered the workplace at a time of immense change both on the political front and in terms of sanctions being lifted and South African organisations having to learn to play in the global marketplace again.
Gen X in South Africa are also a resourceful self sufficient group – in part due to the same family dynamics as globally, but also because they have had to adapt to market place change and increased global competition far faster than their Traditionalist and Baby Boomer co-workers.
While it’s obvious that there are big differences between Gen X and the Traditionalists some of the same factors such as a preference for face to face communication and being technology immigrants (meaning there is memory of a time before cell phones and the internet) still creates common ground between the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation X.
The shift in generational ideas when it comes to the workplace takes a massive jump with the Millenials and IGen which we will explore in our next article Forget the gap Mind The Crater.