Bridging Work Attitudes Between the Generations – Another Kind of Culture Gap
When we work with older or younger colleagues, it can be like working in a foreign country. Often, instead of empathizing and trying to understand the other person’s culture, we just respond, “Wow, how crazy are they? That’s no way to get things done!’ Just like with cross-cultural gaps that have to be bridged, we have to learn to work together across generations, especially now that younger people can shoot up to top positions mainly through hi-tech startups, and many older people are postponing retirement.
In order to build good communication among different ages, we need to stop complaining about the young (or the old), and understand how to leverage the differences as potential strengths. Or, in other words, think of yourself as a foreigner in a foreign land and behave accordingly, with an open mind. It might be best to start by understanding more about the unique cultures of different generations, and accepting their main qualities and values as a basis for better interaction:
Remember that Baby Boomers “live to work” and see “work” as a location, while Gen X-ers “work to live” and define “work” as an activity, one that can be done anywhere. That’s already a huge difference. Gen Y-ers, however, are really like foreigners to both the preceding groups of “oldsters”; they were the first generation to grow up digital. They can’t remember a life without constant connectedness. And technology is like oxygen for them: it’s everywhere (and necessary for life). They also know the world is changing fast and accordingly are constant on the move. As for Generation Z (after Millennials), there is obviously not yet enough research on them, and they are mostly still too young to be senior directors. Time will tell…and it will be interesting to see what the impact they make on the world, these babies who were born with cell phones, tablets and the Internet already in their little hands…
As a cross-cultural consultant specializing in the Israeli business culture and the gap between it and other cultures around the globe, I see many resemblances between the hi-tech scene in Israel, which spans from age 20 to over 70(!), and Gen Y’s qualities and values.
Here in Israel, regardless of our age, we all want everything to be done right now—if not sooner, and we use a lot of ambition and confidence to reach our goals.
The bottom line is that judging another group’s mentality doesn’t get the job done either. Israelis are sometimes criticized for their informality and apparent lack of planning, but are wildly successful on the world market. Similarly, old-timers can laugh all they want at the colorful beanbag chairs at Google’s corporate headquarters or mock its name, Googleplex… but I don’t think the 101.8 billion dollar company minds a bit! Fun in the here and now, as well as serious financial success – a winning combination. On the flip side, people just starting out in the business world obviously have a great deal to learn from their experienced older colleagues.
It’s worthwhile to learn how to work optimally with others whether they are from a different generation or a different country. And remember that nobody ever lost their job from listening and learning new things from other people. If you are culturally smart and generationally smart, then you know how and what to adopt for yourself, and respect, from everyone who is different than you. Good luck!