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Filling In the Generation Gaps


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Image: Prostock-studio -

Ideas tend to percolate and emerge in multiple places at the same time, so it's no surprise that a week after we published "Number of the Month: 59% of Gen Z Tolerates Negative Customer Service – while only 32% of Boomers Will" over on No Jitter, I happened to read McKinsey Consulting published a transcript on generational differences at work, and the New York Times published "Gen X Is in Charge. Don't Make a Big Deal About It." So why not see where the faultlines in a five-generation workplace are -- or whether they actually exist?

Research around remote and hybrid work had already shown some generational fault lines -- broadly speaking, the older you were, the more likely you were to want to resume what had been normal for the majority of your working life and head back to the office. I wouldn't characterize that attitude as a resistance to new things -- maybe it's just a fondness for sticking with what has been proven to work? But it is a helpful barometer for examining how open different cohorts are to new practices.

What stood out in Matthew Vartabedian's piece for No Jitter is how quickly Gen X and Boomer cohorts are willing to leave a brand in the dust if they can't nail the digital customer service experience. This speaks to two things: 

  1. Not normalizing subpar experiences as a standard -- something anyone responsible for choosing, implementing or supporting the technological systems underpinning a workplace should keep in mind.
  2. Understanding the context around how someone defines a favorable digital experience.

In the McKinsey transcript, one of the topics that McKinsey's Lucia Rahilly, Bill Schaninger and Bryan Hancock talk about is generational preferences in communications -- "the notion that Gen X calls on the phone, millennials email, and Gen Z sends instant messages." They go on to expand that idea to the notion of "work language," or the most effective ways in which to convey information between colleagues, and one way to make communication most effective is to "[anchor] conversations on constraints that members of different generations might be navigating, to help them enable performance within those constraints."

In other words, a little bit of sharing what's going on in life helps make connecting and collaborating at work more effective. This behavioral shift from a firm wall between work and life to more of a chain-link fence, where the boundaries are in place but there's visibility and movement, is something that Gen X managers are normalizing as they take the reins in C-suites, the New York Times reported:

[Manufacturing equipment company Darby Equipment leader] Ryan Darby, whose son is a tight end for the football team and an outfielder for the baseball team, tries to attend all the games he can: “What is the purpose of having a successful business if you don’t take time to enjoy your life?” he said.

As we've often said on WorkSpace Connect, the workforce prizes flexibility and work-life balance. Wanting to wring the most out of work and life transcends generations -- and just might be what binds them together.