The first time I heard the term “Generation X” I was in college; a professor made a off-hand remark about “the lazy Generation X.” I was taken aback — I wasn’t lazy. I was on the volleyball team the year before and was sports editor of the college newspaper, a job for which I was paid a monthly stipend that averaged out to less than a dollar an hour. That summer I’d worked three jobs: at an unpaid public relations internship, as a server at a restaurant, and at a beer tent at the Wisconsin State Fair for two weeks (worst job). That same summer, the song “Loser” by Beck was overplayed on the radio, a sort of Gen X anthem. It’s amazing what 25 years will do: the prevailing image now of my generation is that we’re entrepreneurial, revenue-generating team players, according to a survey conducted by Ernst & Young.
Let us not forget that Baby Boomers were once considered peace-loving, mood-altered hippies. Now coming up on retirement, they’re perceived as hardworking, but not very adaptable, collaborative, or tech savvy by the same survey.
Chances are you don’t really fit into any of these boxes and neither do your coworkers.
So, keeping that in mind, let’s fast forward to today. Bashing millennials is a popular pastime, as disgruntled, working America seems to have a problem with them at every turn. The proverbial youngest sibling, Generation Y can’t do much of anything right except take great selfies. If you haven’t noticed, this is quite a pattern.
Certainly shared experiences, technology, and cultural influences loosely bind those of us who are similar ages. But when we use generational labels to narrowly frame our coworkers, we fail to see the abundant qualities each one brings to our workplaces. Like each of us, our younger coworkers are individuals, motivated by different goals and experiences, with diverse talents, interests, and backgrounds. Several I’ve worked with closely who are more than two decades younger are among the most creative, thoughtful, motivated, and hard-working people I’ve ever known.
My two school-age children are in whatever generation comes next. They are respectful and enthusiastic, but in the blink of an eye, an enterprising demographer selling a book could turn their older future coworkers against them. The cycle starts all over again. It’s convenient to fit people into boxes, but when we fail to see beyond generational labels, we all miss the opportunity to see what, collectively, we can ultimately achieve together.