Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Psalm 71:17-18 (NIV)
Recently at work, we went through some training on age differences. The speaker, Lenora Bresler, talked about the different generations and their traits and told that we are the product of our formative years, ages 5-12. She noted that much of what was happening in the world during our elementary school years shapes not only our world view, but how we think about ourselves and how we react to others. She stated that sometimes workplace differences are based not on true conflict, but on a lack of understanding in how someone thinks or wishes to be recognized. It was all very interesting as she outlined the attributes of the Veterans (born before 1945), the Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1981) and finally, the group now entering the workforce, Generation Y (born 1982-2000). This last category caught my attention, not only because some of my most recently hired employees are in this age bracket, but because my own children are of Gen Y (also called Millennials or Echo Generation). They are among the 76 million babies born during this eighteen year period who were raised in dual career families that could indulge their children with all the new technology, games, fashion and experiences that money could by. These children have never had to wait for their food (microwaves), television shows or movies (TIVO and DVDs), information (computers/Internet) or latest fashions (Wal-Mart and Target). They were influenced by the media who chooses which sound bites they will hear, and MTV, ESPN and reality shows who tell them that anyone can be famous regardless of talent as long as they act outside the norm. They experienced government scandals which taught them that it is okay for leaders to lie, cheat and blame others, and acts of terrorism such as Oklahoma City, Columbine, and 911 which showed them that life is fleeting and transitory. Another trait of Generation Y is that from their childhood, they participated in peer courts that gave them authority and control over others. So, what has this left us with? As Bresler summed up, the members of this generation: have excellent digital abilities, want to be “in the know,” believe everything can be handled through immediate action, are very tolerant regarding differences in their own age set, need to always feel good about themselves, need constant feedback, are not intimidated by authority, use whatever method seems most effective and fastest, believe everyone has an immediate right to be a decision-maker, need help knowing how to work in teams, want individual monetary rewards, don’t believe in absolute truth, are very “rights” oriented and are unreserved about expressing emotional opinions. All of these qualities have both positive and negative attributes. For example, sometimes, we need a person who can make a quick decision, but at other times, it is best to think it through. As I watch my twenty two year old go out into the world and make a life for himself, it helps me to know that the conflict he and I are experiencing is partly a product of the era in which we were each raised. He has his beliefs and ways of working. I have my own. He is his own person. Wisdom will come with time. Even if he believes he is entitled to it instantly.