hand 1549132 1280 2

Harnessing energy of a new generation

By Anna Campbell

As a Gen-Xer sandwiched between the baby-boomers and the millennials, I feel a bit like the missed generation.

No-one really talks about us, although apparently we drank far more in our 20s than any other generation and we are ''adrift, apathetic and cynical''.

I might have felt pretty bad about all that until I read a Gen-X rant against the baby-boomers. In this particular tirade, the baby-boomers, my parents' generation, were accused of being greedy and destroying the environment and described as ''the most selfish generation in history''.

Poor us, with the selfish folks above us and the folks below us flitting from job to job and constantly demanding more. I think I am too exhausted to be cynical.

To be honest, I think we make a bit much of all this generational stereotyping. It's fun for a wind-up and to get an understanding of general mindsets, but in my experience there is as much variation within generations as across generations.

That's not to say that there are not generational trends, there have to be. The synthetic, tinny, repetitive music my own children insist on listening to has to adversely affect them in some way.

But blaming workplace miscommunication and failures on generational stereotypes is probably a cop out.

As much as I enjoy rolling my eyes in shared-cynical Gen-X fashion, it is probably a lot more productive to find out what the actual root of a problem might be or to properly communicate and give feedback as to why something did or didn't work.

There is a fascinating generational conflict happening quite publicly in a workplace right now. I have never worked in a hospital, thank goodness, but I suspect it might be easy right now for an older doctor to roll their eyes and say, well I worked 16-hour shifts and I'm fine.

I must say though, that as a potential end-user, i.e. patient, I am absolutely positive I would prefer the doctor treating me to have had a full night's sleep than to be on the end of a 16-hour day.

I suspect, the root of the problem has nothing to do with a doctor being from one generation or another. Rather, it has to do with resources and priorities.

If our hospital system was truly set up for patient-centred care, a vital part of that would be happy, well-rested doctors and nurses.

To top all this generational confusion off, as the baby-boomers are retiring later, we will be one of the first cohorts to have to manage four generations in the workforce.

The next generation, the Gen-Zers, are about to hit us, that's if they can look up from their screens long enough to make it to the office.

It's actually pretty exciting. These young people are true digital natives. They have never known a world without smartphones: being able to connect to anyone, anywhere and anytime, is their norm.

Supposedly, they are an entrepreneurial bunch, too, so it will be up to the rest of us to harness all of that and create the best, productive and invigorating, collaborative work environments.

As is often said, change is the only constant in life. Workplaces which adapt and create great environments for all generations will thrive.

The generational battle, should never be about ''us and them'', it should be about ''we'' and how ''we as a unit'' can be the best we can be.

This may mean a rethink of management styles and communication, it may mean candid conversations, it may mean flexible workplaces and glide-time, it may mean thoughtful mentoring programmes.

Most of all, it will mean all of us needing to have an empathetic ear. How will we ever understand how to collaborate with someone if we don't walk a mile in their shoes?