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Generation Y, Millennials, Generation C (for Connected), sometimes even (perhaps incorrectly), the iGeneration. These are the labels that haunt the members of my generation. The large groups of people spanning decades before me are called Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and a wealth of other names, each with their own negative and positive attributes.

"Baby Boomers are anti-technology but they're the last to know what real hard work is like." 

"Generation X is aggressive but knows how to get things done."

"Millennials are hyper-educated but feel that they have earned a certain privilege."

 

These are only some of the examples of detrimental stereotypes that cause disunion within the workplace. Older employees may see younger generations as competition that is forcing technology into the workplace. Younger employees may see the older ones as technophobes who cannot grasp the rapid evolution of technology.

All of this is wrong.

 

There is no grand archetype for each generation and the belief that there is is causing a bit of a generation crisis. Though people may have experienced a similar past, whether in childhood or adulthood, this does not mean that they are all alike. This is especially harmful to these "millennials" that everyone wants to understand, wrangle, or whatever generic blogs and articles discuss doing. The workforce that has recently emerged or soon will emerge from college is made up of people. Individuals with unique skills trying to fit into the mold of a government employee.

 

I write because I just watched the video of Melinda Gates' graduation speech to Duke University. She opened with the increasingly popular habit of defining the class of 2013 as part of Generation C, standing for things such as "connected, communicating, content-centric, community-oriented, and constantly clicking." Members of this generation are known for instagraming pictures of their food, tweeting their every move, and constantly checking facebook. They are known for being disconnected from reality yet being extremely tech savvy because of constant immersion in the technology. 

 

Her words rang true to me, a supposed millennial who jumped right into graduate school after undergrad and has been increasingly pushed to make a career in social media because it's what I'm good at. "I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world. Please don't let anyone may you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update you status on a regular basis," Gates says in her address. She emphasized that though this younger generation has grown up along side the internet (really in tandem), it does not mean that they are devoid of "real" connection. By assuming that the younger workforce is physically disconnected can only harm the workplace, making the newer employees feel alienated as their differences from the current workforce are constantly pointed out.

 

I relate this experience to Gates' example of two separate health clinics in Haiti. One, run by Dr. Paul Farmer, was run as a community. Farmer knew his patients, they were people to him, with families and stories and unique personalities; the other clinic separated the health care professionals from the health care recipients, stripping them of a concrete humanity and individualism. By seeing the health care recipients as "the other," health care professionals caused strife within the clinic and the community. The same can be done by veteran employees and leaders if they keep identifying the green employees as some sort of "other". 

 

The people of my generation are no different from the others.

Each one has experienced hardship whether in the form of war, economic crisis, or the rat race of obtaining a good education or job. We are all able to create meaningful connections through friendship, colleagueship, and mentorship. 

 

Don't you think it's about time to drop the labels and make a connection?

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Tags: Connection, Duke, Gates, Melinda, University, career, generation y, human resources, leadership, millennials

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Comment by Scott Span on May 20, 2013 at 9:59am

Interesting. Though I agree there may be no grand archetype for each generation, there are traits that are inherent to each or that may show up differently for each. As we're on GovLoop - as discussed at the NGGC some years back: http://ow.ly/lcE5J . I agree the trash talking and stereotypes need to be addressed and managed, and this starts with awareness and communication. 

Comment by Earl Rice on May 17, 2013 at 8:03pm

I dug around and found this quote from the movie Gettysburg, and it is very accurate:

"Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time."

I am more interested in "can you do the job" than what generation you are in, color of the hair, skin, gender, religion etc.

Comment by Kevin Lanahan on May 17, 2013 at 12:04pm

This kind of generation stereotyping is useful in creating a marketing profile, but falls apart if you try to use it for management.

If you create a user profile for your new site, you are going to use stereotypes. They are useful to underscore the differences in how generations communicate. But they are only useful to that particular marketing segment.

Those stereotypes may be important to convey (especially to us Boomers/Xers) how the communication channels have changed (and how they are still the same).

As soon as you apply those stereotypes to an individual, you create the problems described in the article.

Comment by David B. Grinberg on May 16, 2013 at 3:33pm

Nice post, Kate.

As Rodney King famously asked America, "Can we all get along?"

Generational stereotypes beget generational stereotypes.

Comment by Megan on May 15, 2013 at 6:45pm
Comment by Mindy Giberstone on May 15, 2013 at 1:07pm

I think its good to look at our differences, but not to make judgements based on generalizations. this isn't new. there was this same younger vs. older worker comments 25 years ago, but without the generational labels. 

Comment by Dannielle Blumenthal on May 14, 2013 at 10:22am

I love this post. Nobody should ever be stereotyped for any reason. We are all humans first.

Comment by Audrey Hudak on May 13, 2013 at 6:36pm

I agree with with your statement that all of these generation labels are wrong and harmful. These stereotypes do not help us relate to each other in a meaningful way.

Even Melinda Gates' assumptions about the class of 2013 annoy me. Why assume that ALL the generation is intimately connected to social media? 

We are all individuals and relate to the world in our own unique way.

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