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Three Steps to Combat Generational Stereotypes

Ridding the workplace of unhelpful generational stereotypes will create a more cohesive, efficient, and happier environment, but with four generations now in the workforce, opportunity abounds for negativity.

We, as a populace, like to compartmentalize and label things to understand and predict actions and thoughts. We create stereotypes for groups of people.

And with three main generations (Generations X, Y, and Z) in the workforce, each bringing its values and attitudes, it produces many generational interactions and opportunities for negative stereotypes to flair. When we allow negative generational stereotypes to creep into our interactions with bosses, employees, colleagues, clients, etc., it creates unnecessary tension and a toxic environment and devalues people.

“There’s considerable fear, grief, blame and stereotyping. We’re now living in an era of disruption, forcing us out of the Industrial Era model that’s been prevalent for centuries. …We need to stop blaming young people for being difficult to work with and instead recognize that change is happening . . . ,” is what I remarked in an interview.

What steps can we take to combat negative stereotypes?

1. Understand why generational differences exist and recognize that certain events and/or parenting styles shaped each generation. 2. Remember that each generation also has unique skills to be promoted, and can that characteristic that you consider negative be reframed into something positive? 3. Consider if the stereotype is true or just a thought perpetuated without basis.

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Here’s how we can reexamine a common stereotype for each generation.

Baby Boomers don’t like to try new things and are technologically illiterate. Unfortunately, the Senate’s questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to reinforce this stereotype.

To be fair, many of those Senators are Traditionalists born before 1946. It would be good to remember that Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs, ironically both born in 1955, are Boomers. Tech has been around awhile, and consider the millions of developers, engineers, and programmers who worked on products and software for companies like IBM, Atari, Motorola, Norton, or Adobe during the ‘70s through ‘90s.

While Boomers were born into a period of affluence, they were also the largest demographic to be born to date, which meant a lot of competition for jobs, especially during an economic recession. They’ve had to keep their skills sharp and reinvent themselves to land a job a time or two.

Generation X are negative cynics and skeptical of everything. The cynicism can be blamed on a childhood that saw a president resign, gas shortages, divorce rates soar, and 24-hour cable news introducing us to hijackings and hostage situations. However, questioning and being anti-authority can push for new ideas and new ways of doing business if channeled positively.

Generation Y, aka Millennials, are to blame for everything. Toys R Us partially blamed them for the demise of the company. A New York Times article specifically called out Millennials when disclosing adults lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust but didn’t explain why they were called out.

Because they are now the largest demographic born, and as such, it seems lots of blame and fear is thrown their way. They are the first generation of the Post-Industrial era, and significant changes and disruptions shaped their childhood. Of course, it’s not going to be business as usual with this group. Here is where many Gen Ys stereotypes could be reframed as positive, or adjustments can be made to fit their characteristics.

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Generation Z pays them no attention because they are young and stupid. How else can you explain teens eating Tide Pods? There’s a lot to unpack with that sentiment, but we can safely say that older generations did stupid stuff, too. It just wasn’t shared on social media. And what one calls stupid, couldn’t another person call it curiosity? As for not paying attention to them, you’d be wise not to ignore this group. They’ve been raised to be competitive and achieve high academic marks. They know how to mobilize and have tools to share their message with many.

It’s important to address negative generational issues to allow employees and organizations to flourish. The first is to understand why generational differences exist, for which XYZ University offers Generations@Work that provides that background. The second is to promote the positive and reframe the negative. The third is to consider if the stereotype is just a myth.


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