University of Calgary

Gen X vs. Gen Y

Submitted by alumni on Sun, 04/03/2016 - 13:11.

Gen X vs. Gen Y

Is there room enough for two generations in our future workplace? Differing values, communication styles, benefits and challenges are all on the table. Take a peek.

Battle of the Ages
Like most generations, Generations X and Y have been defined by the dates they were born, and by certain seminal cultural influences — namely wars and technology. But does any of this really matter? If you’re uncertain, consider this: The spending power of millennials is estimated to be US$170 billion per year, according to comScore. These sheer numbers make Gen Yers the fastest-growing demographic in the marketplace. What does this mean for our future workplaces? Meet two people in the know . . .

Generation X Said
Born in the 1960s and '70s

Tracy Harrington, BComm,’92, MEd’15, a work and learning expert, Newfield certified coach, CHRP candidate.

What unique values does Gen X bring to the workplace?

My generation wants to have both a strong work life and a strong home life, and we value time away from work. We also like to use technology as a tool to make processes more efficient and will question the way things are done. Change has been a constant in our lives and, as a result, we are adaptable and may question why other people resist change.

Do generations communicate differently?

Due to technology, it is now much easier to communicate globally and yet it’s harder to get to know those around us. Being present is such an important part of listening and this is missing from so many of today’s conversations, when electronic devices are constantly creating interruptions.

What benefits do different generations bring to the workplace?

Traditionalists bring knowledge and experience, [while] Boomers are known to work long hours [and] be democratic and friendly. Gen Xers [offer] productivity, efficiency and flexibility. Gen Y [is] collab­orative, educated and brings great diversity to the workplace.

“Generation diversity is similar to cultural and gender issues.”

When do generational differences disappear in the workplace?

When people gain an understanding of each other’s perspectives. Inter-generational training that highlights the strengths that each group can bring to the workplace and progressive two-way mentorship programs are two ways that can help bridge the gaps.

Why is this such a big deal?

The number of millennials entering the workforce is so large that, rather than being assimilated into the corporate culture, they are quickly changing it. Additionally, a looming skills shortage has given Gen Y the ability to make unprecedented demands from companies and this has created re­sentment among older workers who have worked hard for their rewards. The danger with this is that, without learning from the experience of older workers, avoidable mistakes can be made.

What would your ideal workplace look like?

It would be a combination of private and public space with the flexibility to work at home sometimes, or out in the field. I see a need for some personal space for belongings, private space for meetings and communal space for collaboration. Ideally, it would be designed with ergonomics in mind and include features such as standing workspaces, an area for exercise and a cafeteria for coffee meetings.

With access to so much technology, some say there is too much group think going on, and not enough original thought. Comments?

Critical-thinking skills and reflection have been replaced with a need for speed in our deadline-driven society. Creativity can come from the discomfort of sitting in the unknown without distractions and I fear that Gen Y has had very little experience with downtime. It is much easier to go online and find an answer than to work through a problem on your own.