SURVEY SAYS: Generational Differences in the Workplace

September 24, 2012 - Last week, I asked NewsDash readers to share experiences with or comments about generational differences in the workplace.

I knew when I asked that things could get personal, and they did. The majority of readers who clicked on the survey left without entering a response; however, a good number bravely shared their opinions.  

Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “My dad was early. I am on time. My son is running late and his son is logged on but otherwise elsewhere, we think. Good thing we’re not making widgets.”  

Here are the responses:  

Trivia references are met with blank stares. I feel like the people who are retiring had much more drive to do a quality job, not sure if it is an age thing, or if it has been drummed into the older workers because they have been here longer.  

That younger generation is so ungrateful.  

Younger generations are more likely to job-hop frequently. They also are more likely to have masters degrees.  

The biggest difference I see is that the youngest generation is more adept at handheld devices and is constantly using them at work; the older generation is still using a basic cell phone and resisting any attempt at pushing them to new technology. They are also more impatient. Both of these are good changes.  

I have to admit, I find it rude and distracting to try and have a conversation with the younger generation while they are on their iPhones, etc. I can never tell if they are conversing with me, or in spite of me!  

I don’t notice a difference in technology usage or knowledge between the generations from the standpoint of technology used strictly in our work setting but I admit that I’ve had to go to those young “whippersnappers” for help with Facebook and Skype (which aren’t used for work).  

From what I have noticed first hand of the young workers coming into the workplace are that many of them are seeking instant gratification. Those with a BA, and especially those with an MBA, are impatient, expecting a high starting salary and promotion after the first year. They are more mobile and do not usually stay in the same position for very long. However, they do bring high energy and, in some cases, good ideas.  

The Baby Boomer Gen does not seem to accept or tolerate the fact Gen X & Y want to work their own schedules. Traditional and Boomers feel it’s the hours spent at the desk not the work and quality of work that gets done. Traditional and Boomers have a hard time accepting telecommuting . Gen Y like to work as a group and tend to share. Gen Y needs and wants constant recognition, they will move on if they don’t feel they are getting what they want.  

Older generations tend to shy away from email. They also print WAY TOO MUCH instead of just saving things to files on their computers/emails (and obviously those things are backed up elsewhere too). They also tend to reach for the phone instead of the keyboard–calling, instead of emailing. Younger generations, especially Generation Y, tends to be the opposite of all of these things, in my experience.  

I have been at my job for 31 years but it seems when the younger generation comes to work they feel they should be doing my job and making my salary and having the same benefits without having to work for them? Big difference in work ethics. 

responses (cont.)  

I'm [only] 33, but I can see a major difference between my generation (and older) and the younger (21-26). Kids are coddled and entitled these days. Flat out. It's all a product of the "participation trophy" child rearing. Sorry to break it to these kids, but you don't get a medal just for showing up.  

Millennials don't like to pick up the phone or talk in person. I have people working for me that sit right next to me and prefer email over personal communication. They probably would prefer texting to emailing, if they could get away with it. Also, they never use spell check. No matter how formal the document, they act as if they are texting, and that spelling and grammar don't matter. Spelling and grammar matter.  

As a baby boomer, the only thing I notice is a sense of self-absorption in the younger generations. This is what I would expect based on the media, celebrities they emulate and what they are/were exposed to in school. It is no wonder that longstanding relationships and attributes such as sacrifice, commitment and patience are considered old fashioned and ridiculed.  

Younger generation characterized by the Me Me Me that Boomers were supposedly known for, but they don't seem to grow out of it. Plus they will be working til 80 because they truly don't save anything.  

LOL. Lets not go there!  

commitment to the work place is generations apart. commitment to details is generations apart.  

What I see is a major difference in the outlook of what is considered "putting your time in" before expecting the next career move. As an example, I have had managers in the baby boomer generation specifically state that younger workers should focus on doing a good job rather than focusing on accelerating up the ladder - that good work is rewarded in due time. I wonder if the issue is actually the perception in what is deemed as "hard work". Younger generations will gladly move from company to company to reach their aspired role / job. Those from earlier generations still feel that loyalty is the path to success. Not sure that this gap will close anytime soon - but people need to be willing to recognize the shift.  

It seems that the older I get, customer service becomes more prevalent--I know when I'm not getting it, and I know when my company is not giving it.  

My dad was early. I am on time. My son is running late and his son is logged on but otherwise elsewhere, we think. Good thing we're not making widgets.  

More seasoned associates seem to be more thoughtful and process information before reacting. Newer associates in the work place seem to live on sound bites, self promotion and putting down everything that went before, even though much of the office of the future concept is a throw back to an earlier time. With the economic situation, there is a combination of fear and one-upmanship that is not conducive to collaboration, an overused term that has not yet come fully into play as a concept. Ironically, this "new" idea of collaboration seems to be more prevalent among the more seasoned workers. For those of us in the middle, it is definitely a balancing act.  

I've found that a person in their 20's will email you to ask a question even if they sit right next to you, rather than ask verbally. It makes you wonder about their communication skills.  

I'm sure that every new generation entering the workplace has felt unappreciated by their elders, and that every elder generation has felt that it must deal with a set of undertrained, "spoiled" workers that aren't willing to make the sacrifices of time, energy, and, yes, money that they did when THEY were new workers. But I think the generational differences thing is overblown and overhyped by consultants, talking heads and gen x bloggers who are looking to separate us all from our hard-earned money. Get over yourselves! 


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.