The true divide between twentysomethings and Boomers (born 1946-1959) rests not on the relative value each assigns to money, social media, work ethic, or loyalty but on one issue: Sincerity. Boomers can not get over — literally — worrying about whether their younger colleagues really really like and respect them or, are they just playing the game? Even when Boomers are told, and I have, that twentysomethings don’t identify them as super heroes and in fact snigger behind their backs at Boomer homilies on teamwork, Boomers want to maintain the fiction that younger colleagues see them as role models, wise and admirable, people the latter would want to be like.
What drives the Boomer need to test everyone, other than themselves, for sincerity? As one 26-year-old said, “I show up every day, do a credible job, but I am still punished for lack of emotional engagement. It’s nonsense.” That’s because the Boomers need to be loved. They are the most crowded generation and seem not to have had enough admiration as children. Today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings came from smaller families who slathered them with attention. They’re sated. Boomer expectations are shocking and intrusive.
“ Since when is it a felony to look bored in a boring meeting?” “Why, if I finish my work early can’t I leave – especially after the homily on not being paid by the hour but to do the job?” There is much room for misunderstanding in the cross-generational workplace and it starts with defining the terms — which is never done.
Does any Boomer say, “Attitude matters. I want you to look enthusiastic while you’re doing the work. I want you to want to make me happy, not just get the work done. I want you to believe I’m the best boss ever.
Does any 30-year-old say, ” I am just passing through on the way to self employment. I want to learn how to manage as well as how not to. So far I’ve seen more examples of things I’d never do than ones I would. I don’t want/need an emotional relationship with you, the job, or the organization. Just let me crank out the work.”
What’s the solution? Honesty on both sides. Would it kill a Boomer to lay out her real expectations in detail? Of course, you’d sound silly but at least your subordinate would be given a choice. He or she could always say, “I can’t do that.” If younger workers explained that there can’t be any happily-ever-aftering because they are on the way to some more wonderful place, a manager would not be disappointed in six months or so.
It won’t happen. Organizations punish people for emotional honesty. Plan B would be to ask more, and more pointed questions, on both sides.
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