An American research project, called the Casey Carlson & Deloitte & Touche Study, spent some time analyzing the attitudes of three generations – Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y – especially as they related to the work place. They determined that the “clash of generations” that many worry about is more about cultural differences than anything else. Left unaddressed, especially in difficult economic times, they could lead to significant divisions. The study found the three generations had more in common than they had differences, but that their diverse points of view must be addressed in productive settings if they are to be worked out.

The study gives some examples of answers from people from the three generations to a certain set of questions. Perusing them, the distinctions emerge. Can you discern which generation said what?

  • “This generational stuff is just socially acceptable stereotyping…politically correct rationale offered for immature behaviour” 
“When is someone going to ask me what I need?” 
“Doesn’t everyone want the same thing anyway?”
  • “Even if this generational stuff were true, this is still planet earth and we know how our business needs to be run for it to be a success” 
“Can we go back to work now? These kids will either get with the program or they’ll leave just like they always have.”
  • “I don’t get it! My managers are barely ‘technologically literate’ yet they’re never open to suggestions on how to improve a process with technology. What’s up with this attitude?” “Don’t they want to go home at night? They act as if I should want to work 60-70 hours a week, year in and year out. I’m not afraid of hard work, but that’s not the only thing I want to do with my life.”
  • “I’m older, have more experience, and stop asking so many questions.” 
“You don’t answer my questions either because you don’t know to answer why or you wish you’d asked the same question when you were my age but didn’t have the nerve.”

This is the final blog post in the series about intergenerational differences and what political parties must do to bring out good policies that will address and provide the basic infrastructure required for the next generation to build a better world. Clearly, we’re not doing that at present, and the changes being widely introduced by the current federal government will hardly induce the kind of future for Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers that the Boomer generation enjoyed.

Governments today, at all levels in Canada, have to address the conclusion drawn by the Harvard Business School last year: “Managing multigenerational workforces is an art in itself. Young workers want to make a quick impact. The middle generation need to believe in the mission. And the older employees don’t like ambivalence. Your move!” Our move indeed.

Economic conditions are forcing these three generations to come up with some creative solutions to adapt to modern pressures. They are coming together to share the demands of everyday living in neighbourhoods across this country. It’s proving necessary for survival. Yet along the way they’re learning more about one another and that it can be good for both their quality of life and their desire for community.

Examples of this abound everywhere. More senior workers in businesses pass along well-earned experience to younger ones, at the same as they develop appreciation for the new technologies that improve opportunities. Children stand side by side with veterans on Remembrance Day after hearing stories of famous battles and develop a better understanding of just how much it cost to enjoy that moment. High school students are visiting senior’s homes in ways that inspire young and old alike.

There have always been differences between and among generations, but they have usually worked themselves out over the years. This time seems a little different, however, as both the financial and political elite continue to pursue policies that enforce divisions between generations that need not be exacerbated. And no place is this more true than in our local communities, where the need to pull the generations together will be one of the key exercises in keeping cities from falling into decline.

Ultimately the solution to these generational gaps will not just occur with small efforts. We require something big, larger than all of us, that puts the problem right on the table and seeks a united effort to formulate those policies that will be required for our communities to prosper.

It is time for us to come together of our own accord and stop just pursuing our own favourite agendas. This is the big one – the ultimate effort that will bring the talents of the generations together without always having to introduce the differences. It is time to take on these biological urges to lash out at one other, claiming we are being misunderstood. It’s this moment, right now, when we have to challenge the status quo, for it is these presumptions and sentiments that ultimately hurt us, and the generations that will follow.

I have seven children and three grandchildren. My oldest child is in her thirties and my youngest is twelve. I work with all ages in this community and my wife is ever young at heart. All ages volunteer at the food bank and we’ve taken people from twelve years of age to seniors to Sudan. I live a life swimming among generations and the exploits they complete together are amazing. This is the true capacity of our generations. Let’s smash the stereotypes to pieces and begin working on the real differences. But above all, let’s combine for that one arena in which we will all live out our lives – our community.