Averting a generation war


The new crop of college hires is starting their jobs at my company. While they have wonderful energy and enthusiasm, they also bring what I think is a very unrealistic expectation about the amount of time they are going to have for their life outside of work.

Call me an old fogy, but when I started working if a manager asked me to finish a proposal at 5:00 pm, I said "yes" even if it meant I didn't get home until midnight. These kids kind of look at you like, "Are you kidding?" I've been reading about the clashes of the generations at work and I'm beginning to think they are right. What do you think?

Donna, Kansas City

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Cali Williams Yost's Answer:

I often hear from my corporate clients about the mismatch between the expectations of young employees and the generation where you put your head down and did what you were told no matter how long you had to work. But I caution you about buying into the "generation wars" rhetoric that are beginning to pervade the media airwaves.

While it may make good copy (since the "mommy wars" thankfully seem to have run their course), it isn't exactly reality. What do I mean?

First, yes, let me agree with you. Young employees do bring a different sensibility to the work place. They are comfortable living a life without boundaries. Having to go to a physical space at the same time everyday to work face-to-face is a tough concept for them. That is not how they've communicated or worked during school or in their personal lives.

Plus, the baby boomers that do most of the complaining are the same parents who are at home telling their children, "Don't make the same mistake I did and give all of yourself to work." And guess what? They're listening!

Instead of joining the "war," which only causes each side to entrench and concentrate on their the rightness of their respective positions, we need to step back and see how much we all have in common. Across all generations, everyone is searching for a better way to combine work and life in today's 24/7, high-tech, global work reality.

Young workers offer a glimpse into new ways work can get done, while more experienced workers offer real-life knowledge about the benefits of face-to-face teamwork and coordination in getting the job done and achieving business objectives.

In my opinion, the solution lies somewhere in the middle - between the Gen-Y, young Gen-X boundary-free expectations and the older Gen-X, Boomer "work first, face-time" mentality. But we will never get there if we are at "war." Reach out, start the dialogue.


About our Expert

Cali Williams Yost
Cali Williams Yost

Cali Williams Yost is president and founder of Work+Life Fit, Inc, a company dedicated to empowering individuals to strategically manage the way work fits into their lives.