I have one more thing to say about HREvolution and I'm done. I swear...for now. So just bear with me.
My least favorite part of HREvolution was listening to the conversation/session about generational differences. I know I had the choice to leave the room. I must have been feeling masochistic because I stuck around longer than I would have liked. Note: this is not an article on the session but on the topic itself. And truly this HR topic is the single most painful one for me to listen to anymore. I have visited this argument many times and I'm convinced at this point it's just a bunch of clatter.
Say, Say, Say
It's clatter because it's simply a battle over words and identity, and the strange need for us to place labels on ourselves in order to have a sense of belonging. Admittedly, technological changes definitely shape a generation. But older generations embrace technology just as well and sometimes better. For example, in the 1970's when I was a kid, if you wanted a phone in your house, you called the phone company. A service person would come out and make the installation because the phone wire ran outside the house directly into the phone. There was no phone jack to plug into. Phones were also simpler then. You dialed; it rang on the other end; the other person picked it up; you both talked; eventually you hung up the phone and walked away from the phone. Today phones are mini-computers and they never leave your side. And despite my need for simplicity in my life, I like my Droid and all the nifty things it does and will do in the future. I text all the time and so do my 70-something parents. Point being, no one lives with past technologies unless they want to.
The words Generation X, Generation Y, Boomers, Millennials, etc. are just words. They are words formed together with the intention of helping people to understand other people. In the workplace this is designed to explain why people behave differently and that age is the underlying cause. Age is a reason people act differently but using these definitions does not create understanding. It creates stereotypes.
I think young people have always been the same. Up to the age of 18, most kids get what they ask for from their parents: food, shelter, money. But once their on their own, they are no longer the center of attention. These kids have just spent 18 years being told they're special and they can be whatever they want to be. Now they're in the workplace and they can't understand why the work-world is not catering to their every want. It's said that these high expectations are indicative of Gen Y. I say it's indicative of every early 20-something and always will be. As a person ages, priorities change due to, just to name a few, family growth, health concerns, and retirement planning. Despite trying to hold on to the list of characteristics that are part of any label, life is going to change you.
The creation of these words has an interesting history. The words Baby Boomers was used to describe a generation of people that represented a spike in the US population due to post-WWII prosperity. The term Generation X was coined by Douglas Coupland when he penned the book of the same title. The book is a tongue-in-cheek description of the disaffected slacker culture that represented the generation born after the population spike. This group took umbridge because of the notion they were getting the short end of the stick in terms of opportunities. At the very least, they received a cool and distinctive name. Sadly Coupland’s idea was picked up by training professionals who find virtue in sociological borders that explain who we are. The words Generation Y was the first term born out of this. I guess because Y follows X. Clever, huh? Sadder yet Gen Y descriptions were created before Gen Y even got into college.
My perception is that when these labels became more prevalently used, Gen Y was the first to take the label given to them and wear it like a badge. I am not opposed to the concept of using sociological tools to assist in learning about each other. But Gen Y was not born as a Gen Y’er. They were born and they bought a label handed down to them. I don’t understand that notion. Boomers and X’ers will refer to themselves this way to differentiate a time period. But it appears to me Gen Y use it as a way to describe a lifestyle.
But then again who am I to say? I'm just a guy born in the Gen X timeframe who felt unappreciated as a child; wandered through my post-high school life like a slacker; and eventually landed in a respectable HR job. Since that makes me a Gen X'er, and characteristically I cannot receive enough reaffirmation, I turn to the one person of the Generation Z that I trust the most, and asked him what he thought: my six-year-old nephew.
With A Little Luck
The following part of this article is by him. Due to the need to keep him out of the limelight and tabloids, I'm keeping his name confidential. As you see he expresses his displeasure over old people and their need to box him in. So for better or worse....
My uncle Paul went to some conferance in Chicago. Something about humans. Something he calls evolution. Since he got back he talks about it all the time. I don't want to talk to him anymore until he wants to talk to me about Clone Wars or Hot Wheels. Because he told me they talked about people being different and calling themselves X or Y or mill-enemies or something. I told Paul old people are old and I'm smarter. Uncle Paul questions me and I know all the answers. If he was smarter than me, he wouldn't be asking me questions. He told me I'm a genanation Z. I told him I was not. I told him I'm not a Z or anything. I'm a ME. Uncle Paul said I have to be part of a group and that I don't have a choice. Mom says I can be want I want. I don't want to be a Z. I want to win Cat Monopoly.
I revel in the words of my nephew. If we are lucky when Generation Z grows up they'll reject the notion that people are different simply because they were born during a time period. Heed my words Gen Y, when you get old, the new young will reject your thoughts of labels. And you're going to have a whole bunch of ME's to deal with.