Sunday, June 15

Book of the month

A new book! The past two weeks I have been completely immersed in When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work. Oh my goodness, what a loooong title. The cover illustrates it more clearly. (As an added bonus it goes with my color theme!)

Non-fiction books should not be textbooks. By that, I mean they should not be the long, dry chapters through which you struggle to remain awake, the books you have to decipher into non-jargonal english and then figure out the answers to, What does it all mean in the big picture? And what does that look like when it happens in real life??

Well, we're in luck this time! When Generations Collide is filled with examples and anecdotes, emphasizing the main ideas, as well as clearly laying out what you have at stake. It also objectively explains four different generations, throughout the book referring to them respectfully. After all, they say, at the heart of everything are people.

The book explains various facets of the four very different generations interacting in workplaces across the continent.

First, there are Traditionalists, early nineteenth century up to WWII. Loyal, hard-working, willing to put an honest day's work for carefully-spent dimes. Their workplace style was to plan from the start, work your way up the ladder, committing their entire career lives to one company (sometimes up to 50 years!). They have immense faith in institutions and follow a militaristic top-down approach.

Then came the Boomers, from about 1946-1964. 'The booming post-war economy gave the US in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s a sense that anything was possible.' Information in this era was shared so much more freely and rapidly, due in part to the invention of the television, that Boomers necessarily questioned the Traditionalist top-down, need-to-know approach. They are optimistic and want to fix problem areas: women's rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, and even those of Mother Earth. Because of a limited number of resources and jobs, optimistic Boomers are also very competitive.

Add yet another generation to the workplace and things start to really heat up: introduce Generation X. Again, advances in technology and the industries of information saw many individuals and institutions called into question, from pop stars and sports heroes to presidents and organized religion, it was hard to find a role model with true virtue. Add that to a tripled divorce rate in this time and Generation X has learned to be skeptical. Suddenly there were a number of techno gadgets, from video games, microwaves, cable tv, cell phones, and the personal computer, but also, violence sprang up, from AIDS, child molesters and drunk drivers, lurking around the corners of your town. The world wasn't as safe or stable anymore, and it paid to be skeptical.

Lastly, the Millenials (1981-1999). Though apparently at the time of the writing the bulk of them were "still wrapped up in Boy Scouts and Brownies", the writers seem to have made some good estimations at this generation.

Information is flying in and out of millenials' bedrooms on cell phones or laptops at an unprecedented rate. New social networking tools allow this generation to collaborate on a world-wide scale and put their optimistic confidence to use. They have also been directly affected by 'violent outbreaks such as Columbine, readily available illegal drugs, and proliferation of gangs.' Millenials can mostly be described as realistic. They expect to be a part of the decision-making process from the first day of work, contributing meaningfully, and maintaining the balance of their busy lives will take work off of that pedestal for this generation.
They also predict that Millenials will erase the word 'retirement' from the books.

Altogether a very interesting and informative book. I found that learning some of these things not only gave me a fresh insight into my workplace, but the world around me in other places as well. The only thing I thought was missing was more information about the Millenials. (My generation. Less is known about us because we haven't been around as long!)

Maybe this is why I never got the appeal for 'ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country'....

Actually, looking back on what I flagged as I read, a lot of my favourite things have been ways to increase morale productivity, work-life-balance, and worker sanity, regardless of generation. It's a solid piece as far as workplace 'psychology', if you will (which I find particularly relevant because I was part of the 'Rewards and Recognition Committee' at my work. We administered a survey and made recommendations to improve the work lifestyle. I think this is very important.)

Through their numerous examples we can see the types of solutions that many workplaces need in order to survive. It also takes a very positive approach aimed to make the reader more comfortable with the differences between generations: rather than view these differences as a hindrance, see ways to harness the strengths of each generation.

You can view the website of the authors here.

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