Guest Post: Generations in the Workplace

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying a relaxing break so far! A few weeks ago, M1s and M2s made their way down to main campus for the College of Public Health’s Leadership Symposium on Generations in the Workplace. Since our program is primarily made up of Millennials and taught by a mixture of GenXers and Baby Boomers, the topic made for an interesting and collaborative discussion. For a more in-depth look, check out this week’s guest blog post courtesy of first-year student, Kayla Bender, as she shares her thoughts about the experience!

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I walked into the Leadership Symposium – Generations in the Workplace excited to learn something in a different capacity and setting. C’mon folks, am I the only one that gets a little tired of sitting in our same ol’ classroom? The windows in that room let in so much light, it was fantastic. Also, they fed us and gave us coffee.

But, I will admit that I also walked in with certain expectations. Lets just say that those expectations were not necessarily positive. I mean, it’s hard not to remain on the defense with the constant barrage of generationalism. Millennials are lazy! Entitled! Ill-prepared for the real world! …And nonetheless the event was organized and presented by Baby Boomers, the very people who created us. It felt like a bastardized Star Wars analogy.

I had my guard up. I was prepared to defend myself, already searching for the words I would use and the faces I would make to both stand my ground and express my position tactfully and respectfully. I wracked my brain for ammo. Call me a cynic, but I think of myself more as a realist; five years of studying sociology will strip you of your idealism.

I digress. Dr. Magda Peck began to speak and I was immediately engaged. She just had such a presence; her delivery was so captivating! The panelists were introduced, all of them impressive in their accomplishments, many of them engaged in work to truly affect change.  It became clear that these people did not have ulterior motives, but rather were motivated by education and understanding. So, I let my guard down.

And thus began my journey towards beginning to understand, pragmatically, how the generational context of our lives shapes our motives. As Dr. Gil Hoffer provided us with a background of each generation, I mentally superimposed it onto my own family, imagining my parents being prepared by my grandparents to enter an affluent and sound economy.  Traditionalists had no reason not to follow in the footsteps of generations past, teaching their children to follow directions and avoid errors, marking their accomplishments by their adherence to the rules. Structure and order yielded predictable outcomes, especially in this time of economic tranquility.

Predictability taught the Baby Boomers that age + time + experience = status and salary. Press these buttons, and that will happen. Every time. I am beginning to understand why I can’t convince my father to quit his job and open a restaurant, even though he has always kind of wanted to. For many Boomers the YOLO factor just isn’t there.

This YOLO factor © (lol), as silly as it sounds, defines Millennials. We (a term used colloquially, I know not all MOT students fall into this category) seek meaningful work. We’ve learned that the Boomer formula for success won’t work on us. We’ve been handed a broken system and we want to repair it. Even the GenXers have these adjusted expectations, being the first generation to seek a true work/life balance. Yet, no generation has developed a better grasp of reality than another; one generational lens is no more right or wrong than another, they are just different.

I choose to try to understand the world through an intersectional lens. For those unaware, intersectionality is the study of intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Our lives are constantly being defined and redefined by our experiences with these biological, social, and cultural categories (gender, race, class, disability, sexual orientation, etc.) through which we form our identities and others identify us. (If anyone wants to know more about intersectionality just let me know and I’ll give you some interesting reading material). While age has always been on my radar, I had never given much thought to the notion of our generational identities having such a bearing on our lives. I will add this knowledge to my toolbox.

The Leadership Symposium was ultimately about leadership. As we learned, a component of leadership is this continuing ability to understand, respect, and leverage differences. As a leader, it is important to meet people where they are. People want to be valued, so keep an open mind and listen. I know we all have the capacity to lead well.  In my efforts to keep an open mind I’ll try not to be so cynical next time 🙂

So moving forward, remember that You are every age that you’ve ever been, you are in every stage that you’ve ever been in. We are more alike than we are different. Age is just a number. Whenever you forget that age is just a number just think of Pharrell Williams:

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I’m tired of synthesizing. So here it is straight up. One last thing that Dr. Peck said that really resonated with me:

This is no time to be in each other’s way.

If anyone is interested in watching the Ted Talk about The Golden Circle, here’s the link:

https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

I know this month is a time to relax, but I hope you all will spend some time reconnecting with your “why” over winter break.

Written by Kayla Bender

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For more photos, check out Temple’s College of Public Health Facebook page!

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