When I was a PMF in 1998, I attended a week-long training in Shepardsville, W.V. along with a number of other PMFs. At that same facility, there was a group of mid-career federal employees who were also receiving training. Neither group interacted with each other except for a couple of incidents where the mid-career group
trashed the PMFs’ training room and some PMFs reciprocated by trashing their training room.
I believe that these incidents and the general friction between the groups were brought about by a training consultant who had an argument with a fellow PMF about our “generation’s” attitude. Most of our class was younger (Generation X) but we also had several Boomers with us. But I don’t think that was the real issue. What seemed to be the concern of the mid-career federal employees was that they were being cast aside in favor of
the new generation of government leaders as represented by the PMFs. At least this was continually expressed by the training consultant.
This was unfortunate because imagine how much each group could have learned from each other. And I fear the same situation is being replayed today with the new focus on Generation Y and how to manage a multigenerational workforce. There is an army of consultants and numerous books that perpetuate stereotypes that divide the generations. Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y are summed up in a grocery list of broad characteristics. Boomers respect authority while Generation Y is rebellious. Boomers climb the ladder while Generation Y wants the corner office now. I remember when Generation X used to be the rebels and played by their own rules but the consultants now say Generation X relies on process and likes the status quo.
Frankly, these conclusions have as much validity as if we were encouraged to manage the workforce by astrological signs. When interviewed by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans agree that they perceive a generation gap. But when each generation is questioned about their values, the generation gap seems to disappear. “People from different generations are largely alike in what they think, believe, and want from their work life,” writes Jennifer Deal in Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and
Old Can Find Common Ground.
From her research, Deal found that the generations have similar values such as family, success, and contributing to the world. The generations want respect and they want leaders who are trustworthy and credible.
And the most common finding between the generations is their desire to learn and to be mentored. The generations just express themselves differently and that leads to perception of a gap.
Given these findings, it would seem that we would have better workplaces if we concentrated on the similarities between the generations. We should do everything we can (especially as managers) to make all employees feel that their contributions are valued no matter if they just started that day or have served the agency for years.
GovLoop is a great example of how the different generations can come together to learn from each other. And as the different profiles attest, there are no typical Boomers,Generation X, or Generation Y members. In fact there are so many variations from the specific generational norms that one questions if there are reliable generational norms. Every day the Govloop community demonstrates that open communication and shared sense of
purpose is more than enough to cross the generation gap. Why not do the same in our federal workplaces?