Every generation thinks that the one that comes after them are somehow going to ruin the planet, the business or the ‘system’ by causing chaos, disrupting the way things ‘have always been done’ and generally making everybody ‘who knows what’s going’ life on a lot of misery. I always remember my Silent/ Boomer cusper mother lamenting to me about how my G.I. grand-father was so disparaging of her listening to Elvis. But I would point out to my mother that she could be disparaging about some of the music my brothers and I listened to growing up (and how she was constantly at us to turn down the volume of our walkmans, remember walkmans?); and I laugh at how I shall no doubt be disparaging of my children’s behaviour too. Yet somehow the world, social behaviour, codes of conduct and the ‘system’ managed to change and survive and flourish and fail and change and survive all over again. My view is that every generation brings with it it’s own and wonderful perspective; and the sooner we can learn to appreciate the gifts from everyone the better.

The key is, however, if we don’t understand other generations, we can’t empathise with their perspective; and if we can’t empathise chances are we won’t embrace it. Of course each generation is at a different stage in their careers (generally). Baby Boomers clearly have more experience because they have been around longer; and are more likely to be in a position of decision-making. But the latter is not necessarily true anymore and not just because people are more likely to be promoted based on competency and suitability today and less likely to be promoted because of the numbers of years under their belt. But also because Generation Why are entrepreneurial, they welcome challenge and ambitious ones have a nose for opportunity, which they won’t wait around for, preferring to create it for themselves, often collaboratively with other like-minded people.

There are over 70 million people who belong to Generation Why in the world; and they are coming of age. The oldest of this generation have now graduated from school and university and are the fastest growing generational segment in the workplace today. That is why I thought, especially as a fresh wave of them enter the workplace at the beginning of a new working year, it would be good to explore their potential. Why? Because they don’t have a great reputation in the work place and I think that’s unfair; because whether you like it or not you are going to be working with them from now on; because they have huge potential; because there is a lot you can get out of them; and because if you don’t you are going to have a high staff turn-over and that is costly; and not just financially costly.

I know there are challenges with working with Generation Why. I know they have their ‘downside’ (so do we all), but I have chosen to focus on all the good things about them, because if perhaps we can be aware of these, we can extract their potential. And what a lot of potential they have.

Beautiful Generation Why?

  • They are the digital natives. They grew up with technology, have introduced it in to the school system, universities and the work place and this is fundamentally changing how, with whom, where and when we do business. It’s subtle (and sometimes not so subtle), but just think how the evolution of technology has radically changed your everyday life over the last 20 years
  • Praise and feedback is massively important to them. They were brought up in an egalitarian and democratic world, where whoever you are, you were allowed an opportunity at least, to fit in. And if you didn’t fit in, you got a prize anyway for showing up. They are used to being communicated with and to communication. Feedback is all about you being transparent, which is you are not, you will be considered dishonest. One of the reasons they are always asking ‘why’ is because they are trying to draw out that transparency they need.
  • Team-orientated behaviour is what they know, they have always had it. Harness is about them. But don’t just put them together and expect them to have all the answers, allow multi-generational teams to come together creatively. Your Gen X’ers will hate it, but your Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s will thrive. Gen Y’s love networking, collaborating and solving problems. Allow them access to the real world, they will grow quicker from real-life experiences.
  • Achievement-seekers: they are naturally open-minded, flexible, adaptable to change, curious about the world, sometimes idealistic wanting to save the world; and they like to be in the world. They do want to achieve, but they will also challenge the way things are done of they do not agree with it.
  • They are discerning about who they work for, who they buy from (they are called ethical consumers), who they will do business with, who they will trust, why they would study, what they can afford, what they want out of life and who they are prepared to surround themselves with in order to get it and, where and when they worship and what they really want out of life. They therefore look like they are challenging everything, they are not necessarily, they are just exploring their options to see which works best for them. (don’t forget they have always grown up with a lot of options.
  • They are idealistic, willing, confident, independent, street-smart, hard-working when they can see the reason for why, inquisitive and passionate about the things that are meaningful to them and emotionally kind. My experience of them is that they care and they are willing to talk about it.

Go and find out more about the Generation Why’s in your organisation. Get their opinion, build a relationship, entice them to be the best that they can be, build real confidence in them (about you, the system) just this will make a huge difference to you being able to work with them.


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