Small Mistakes, Big Consequences: Generations in the Workplace

by Anne Baum

Whether we mean to do so or not, we tend to judge people by our first impressions of them. Perception is reality and can lead us down an unproductive road unless we focus on overcoming that initial perception and push through to understanding the value of each individual. 

Let’s take generational assumptions as an example. For the first time in history, we have five generations working alongside one another in the workforce: The Maturists/Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Gen X, The Millenials/Gen Y, and Gen Z. Though each generation has many names by which they are defined, we tend to assign assumptions and characteristics to each generation. And we don’t tend to assign positive assumptions! Because each of us takes pride in the generation in which we were born, the practice of comparing our generation to another (with the goal of ours being better) is a natural yet unproductive practice. 

How often do you find yourself judging an older or younger generation unfavorably? Probably quite often, and in doing so, each and every one of us is missing an opportunity!!  

A generation is simply a point in time into which an individual was born, basically, the luck of the draw. Depending on when you were born, naturally, your life experience is different from someone born in a different time. For example, if you were born during or right after World War II or experienced the Great Depression, your life experience in your formative years is far different from someone born in a generation that has always known and used technology during a time of prosperity.  One is not better or worse than the other. It is simply different. Each of us has an amazing opportunity to learn from one another if we only take that opportunity and avoid those assumptions.  

When you find yourself judging a person by their age or generation, step back with the goal to understand them as an individual who just happened to be born in a different time than you. Set out to discover what you can learn from them and what they can learn from you – build a relationship! Do your best to push past the labels and assumptions with the goal of understanding a person as an individual. We know not to judge a book by its cover, so don’t judge a person by their age. You will be amazed at what you will learn and what you will accomplish together! 

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