Bridging The Generational Divide in The Workplace


The Differences

Differences in generations are simply differences in not only knowledge and experience, but and more importantly in psychological drivers and the level of guts (energy)  that one  has. Actually,  knowledge is the least to cause a gap or a divide, because it acquirable at any age with required depth, if the acquirer is eager to. Examples of X people who are still even technology influencers are there. The list is long, so let it not  drift us from the main course of discussion just to prove a well-proven point.

The real differences in drivers  come in two areas:

  • Enablement: I mean here desire to feel enabled which is in many cases sought by the less senior, and is usually apposed, or at least not very welcomed, from the more senior end.
  • Autonomy: Here we also  mean desire to be autonomous, same as passion for enablement.

According to modern theory on motivation, these two drivers are essential for motivating workers in cognitive work.  A good foundation of academic work and field research enforces this sometimes neglected or denied fact for the favor of older illusive motivations. It happens also that both of the two drivers represent  a “demand” for the Z cult, whereas some (and a good some actually) of the X’s and maybe Y’s still think of that as an extra that may lead to a state of chaos because  of lack of experience and/or discipline in the Z’s. The gap is dug deep when X’s and Y’s disregard the effect of these drivers.

Rest assured that  the lack of consensus on these two tenets is the  source of many troubles inside development teams and factories, which hide behind that feeling of belittlement  hence disloyalty  between the younger ones.

Want Some Evidence?

I will stop here to give two cases from the real world that prove the point.

First one is a finding of my own, which I used to come across when I do what I call Experience Mining in my leadership lectures for practicing leaders (X’s and Y’s), to explore what concepts are governing the audience’s minds before taking them to a change, if we need to.  “How do you see the younger  people under your command, what’s your overall judgment about them?” is a question I used to shoot. At least 95% of the answers contain negative judgments like:  Arrogant, Undisciplined, Unmanageable! I used to use the answers to prove one fact to the audience: That happens because our biggest mistake is that we think of them as “Us”. They come from different times, with new ideas, ambitions and drivers. We have to adapt, guys.

The second case is what Robert C. Martin says. Uncle Bob has actually coined what I call as Martin’s Law for Software People. He says that In our industry, we are doubled in number every five years with people of less than five years of experience. Uncle Bob adds that this a reason for the lack of discipline that is accumulating in the crucial process of development. I agree, Uncle Bob, with your deep finding in its first part, but the consequences is where I differ. It’s not Lack of discipline, Bob! I take it as Immaturity that will cure with time. It’s us who must understand what’s new about the new comers, re-engineer that so they become a huge source of energy, not chaos, fed into our process every year.

That’s the way we, X-Y people, contribute to the enigma. The other part of the story is the way the Z’s contribute to it.