- The Silents, born between ‘33 and ‘45, survived the Depression and World War II. Loyal and dutiful, the Silents make up about 15 percent of the work force.
- Boomers, ’46-’64, 34 percent, the boundary-breaking makers of modern American — as they’d be the first to tell you.
- Gen X, ’65-’76, 18 percent, shaped — or perhaps misshaped — by Watergate and the dawn of our Computer-in-Chief culture.
- Millennials, ’77-’98, 33 percent, born with joy sticks instead of opposable thumbs and coddled by overzealous parents.
These warring camps lob volleys over technology, lifestyle preferences and career opportunities.
But technology is really the key flash point. Millennials march about with their heads down, hurrying to send another text. Boomers, meantime, shake their heads in disbelief. If values divided the generations during the ‘60s, technology is just as vexing today.
Silents and Boomers are rooted in face-to-face ways of getting things done, with a phone conversation taking a distant second. They go nuclear upon hearing a junior colleague report, “Yes, I talked to the client; I just emailed him.”
Millennials and X-ers, meanwhile, grew up so steeped in technology, it’s their primary tool for solving most problems. They wonder why the grey beards can’t make peace with a future that arrived a long time ago. Hey, half a billion Facebook-users have!
Technological tensions range from the minor — is ‘U’ for ‘you’ OK in a text? — to D-Day confrontations on work-life balance. Born multi-taskers, Millennials tend to manage several screens at work, from spreadsheets to Twitter. And if the Tweeting is sometimes more personal than professional, well, the occasional break is refreshing. After all, they fully expect to keep their work screens open and active after hours.
To older generations, much of this looks like disorder in the ranks — even mutiny. The office is the front lines, and they never stopped to play Tic Tac Toe in the trenches when they were young. If you’re not constantly surveilling your clients, foes and workload, you’re losing.
To many a Boomer boss, Millennials are unfocused slackers. And to many 20-somethings, their seniors are didactic workaholics — with all the seemingly mandatory divorces and estranged kids.
See how easy the conflict escalates? The tensions often come to a head during job reviews, with salaries and promotions at stake. The only common ground many find is an equal degree of alienation.
A truce depends on everyone’s willingness to punch past stereotypes. Research suggests that Boomers, X-ers and Millennials all logged about the same amount of work time in their 20s. “I don’t think this is a generation of slackers,” a Rutgers economist recently told The New York Times. “Today’s young people are very focused on trying to work hard and to get ahead.”
And while they may make use of different skills and tools, Boomers and Millennials share an impulse to do good. Boomers gave us the Age of Aquarius. Millennials are giving us a massive amount of community volunteerism and social entrepreneurship.
Detente depends on making the most of such commonalities and mutual interests. A little more work-life balance, for example, wouldn’t hurt anyone. And everyone wants to grow up to be a rainmaker. In both cases, learning how may depend on that alien army down the hall.
Billy Warden (Gen X) and Greg Behr (Gen Y) combined their generational mojos to create a Raleigh-based marketing firm, GBW Strategies. But they’ll never agree on who made up the best British Invasion: the Clash or Radiohead.