Mind the generation gap

By Snehil Priya. March 4th, 2011. Posted in Your career No Comments »

Companies are now investing more in initiatives to attract the best graduates to join them – and not their competitors. In this quest, they are recognising the need to update and modernise their policies to suit the new “Gen X” candidates who are tech-savvy, time poor, uber-confident and bursting with ambition to climb the ladder as fast as they can. There is a stark difference in the mentality of graduates today versus graduates 20-30 years ago. The words ‘meritocracy’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘autonomy’ have replaced words like ‘experience’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘hierarchy’.  Over recent years, consulting companies have accommodated for the Gen X mentality by having open plan offices, flattening lines of reporting, investing in new technologies, allowing for flexible working hours … the list goes on.

With the emergence of young CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (26), Andrew Mason of Groupon (30) and Pete Cashmore of Mashable (25), Gen X graduates are leaving university powered by the thought that there is no limit to what they can achieve – and rightly so. It is this thinking that powers innovation and encourages unconventional thinking. It is this thinking that most companies wish to attract, harness and exploit for their benefit.

However, the characteristics and values that build success today are not necessarily the same characters and values that built success in past generations.  Some “baby boomers” or “veterans”, many of whom are executives and partners, are struggling to accept Gen X mentality and all of the changes that it is bringing to the workplace. Some veterans feel like graduates today have a sense of “entitlement” and make unnecessary demands without ‘earning their stripes’. Most veterans have earned their right to be where they are – which is often at the top. Veterans have spent years growing and nurturing their companies and have proved their worth (of course there are always exceptions!).  While there are a lot of attempts to change the thinking of veterans to accept and connect with Gen X graduates, very little training or awareness is given to graduates to do the same with veterans. Below are some points that new graduates should bear in mind when dealing with veterans.

  1. Honour their position and respect their experience – do not forget why veterans are still in the company. Veterans are not “out of date” or redundant in the work place. There is a lot to be said for experience and for longevity and much can be learnt from their insights. Acknowledge that you have less experience than them and that you are probably less connected – you may have hundreds of friends on Facebook but they probably have more meaningful contacts in their rolodex.
  2. Learn the company’s history and timeline– by knowing more about how the company you work for has evolved and the successes that it has taken to get it to where it is, you will probably have a greater appreciation and respect for the people who made it all happen i.e., the veterans.
  3. Do not complain about performing menial tasks to a veteran – new graduates are often the lowest rank in a consulting company/assignment and are often called upon to do the more mundane jobs. This has little to do with intelligence, but more to do with having less experience and lower billing rates. If you are handed a load of photocopying, don’t moan about it to a veteran – they have been through the ranks and have probably had their fair share of crummy tasks back when they were a newbie. You won’t get any sympathy from them, just disapproval.
  4. Talk to them face-to-face, not just virtually – remember that veterans were effective before the days when e-mails and social media were commonplace. Veterans are more likely to respond to a face-to-face conversation or a telephone call rather than an email. I know many veterans who get annoyed when someone sends them an email when they are sitting only a desk or two away! In their eyes you may come across as impersonal.  Have a chat and they are more likely to remember and bond with you.
  5. Back-up anything you ask for with a business case or sound reasoning – remember that veterans sometimes view Gen X graduates as unjustifiably demanding. When asking for something, for example; a work phone, a lap-top upgrade or flexible working hours, remember to back up your request with some rationale and viable reasoning. Don’t just say “I want it” or “everyone else has it”. If you prove to veterans that you have considered the business implications of your demands i.e., expenses, time away from the office etc and still have a need for something, they will be more likely to respect your request and respect you.

Remember, veterans still have a lot of influence and rank in consulting organisations, so it won’t do you any good to get on their bad side!

This article was written by: Snehil Priya

Priya is an independent business consultant with eight years of experience in management consulting. She specialises in strategy and change management within the context of large IT transformation projects. Prior to going independent, she spent seven years with Accenture in their Management Consulting & Integrated Markets practice working in both the UK and the USA.  Priya also serves as an Advisory Board Member for two select charities.

Snehil Priya's website

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