Divided by technology and attitudes cast in stone, modern generations glare at each other across the great divide. What will it take to make them see eye to eye? Maybe it will help if, just for a moment or two, they put down their phones and listened.
It was the Baby Boomer Bob Dylan who summed it up best, in an age when everything around him was changing, including age itself. “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” he warned. “Your old road is rapidly ageing.”
He was talking about a concept as old as time itself – the drift in values and attitudes between young and old – but that had just been given a catchy label that would come to define the changing times.
The Generation Gap.Today, the gap remains, even as the generations change. Once, it was enough to divide grown-ups from children, who were then sub-categorised as teenagers, a species accorded a distinct set of characteristics based on their observed broodiness, rebellion, and unfathomable taste in music. Life today is a lot more complicated.
Those teenagers have grown up to be Boomers, and their children and grandchildren are now the Generation Xers, Millennials, and Generations Y and Z who are supposed to be so difficult to understand and so far beyond our command.
But is this really so, or is the generational theory of the American pop sociologists, Strauss and Howe, just a slightly more sophisticated version of horoscope theory?
We invited two experts in across-the-gap thinking, Estee Roodt, an industrial psychologist, and Stuart Stobbs, advertising agency owner, into the BrightRock studio to share their thoughts on the subject with David O’Sullivan. As Estee points out, the great divide between the generations these days, particularly in the workplace, is often by nature a digital divide.
“The Millennials are the generation that has been transformed by technology,” she says. This in turn gives them a special power to transform, by sharing their intuitive understanding of technology with less switched-on generations. “It’s their responsibility to start teaching technology to people who are in managerial positions. It can be very daunting to incorporate new ways.”
At the same time, Boomers and Xers can share their wealth of knowledge and experience with their younger colleagues and employees. But it shouldn’t be a passive relationship, says Stuart, who is in his 40s and works in an advertising studio with many people half his age.
“We have to constantly change,” he says. “We need to keep educating ourselves on what’s new.” But turning an organisation into an active learning environment may not be enough to keep those restless Millennials in their place.
A stereotype of the generation is that they breeze in and out of organisations, unwilling to be pinned down by age-old conventions of loyalty and one-rung-at-a-time career progression.
“Millennials don’t see the fact that they job-hop as being disloyal to the company,” says Estee. “They merely move on to the next experience. You really need to keep them preoccupied in your organisation, or create new opportunities.”
Stuart agrees, albeit with a caveat that cuts to the core of the problem with defining people by the era in which they were born. “Millennials are human too,” he reminds us. So are Boomers, and Xers, and all the other subtypes who get consigned into categories for ease of analysis and marketability.
His solution in the workplace is to encourage interaction by removing, every now and again, the single greatest barrier to getting to know each other better: technology.
Before every meeting, everyone has to put their phone into a box at the door, and leave it there for the duration.
“It’s amazing,” says Stuart. “People look at each other, and talk to each other, and focus.”
Even Bob Dylan would agree. The best way to bridge the gap is to lean right across it, and listen to what the other side is saying. For more insights and advice on working with your fellow generations, watch the full Iris Session on the BrightRock – Love Change Facebook page or below: