In my blog post back on April 11th, I wrote about the need for companies to develop a work ethic among Generation Y employees as part of my coverage of our webinar with Eric Chester. But as I was writing, I couldn’t help but think of several young adults I know who have a very strong work ethic. Is it fair to toss them in with the rest of Gen Y?
Over the past decade a host of books have been published on the differences between the generations of workers, with labels like Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials and so on. As you read books like The 2020 Workplace, Bridging the Boomer-Xer Gap, Generations at Work and similar titles, the authors use the differences between the generations to talk about their skills and weaknesses as groups, and how to take advantage of the skills and overcome the weaknesses.
These are very helpful books in dealing with the big picture of the mixed bag which is our employee pool. These authors answer the important question of how we make the most of each generation’s abilities and also smooth over the wrinkles that appear as these generations mix in the workplace.
But at the same time we must recognize that not every individual of a certain age-range is going to be the same as their peers, and that there is a great overlap between these generations. Also, other factors come to bear in what makes people different including other demographic factors and upbringing.
Mary Anne Osborne, in a guest blog for Sage HR, warns us of the risks of age profiling. She states “But of key concern here is not letting externally perceived notions of generational tendencies cloud judgment of character.” The danger of making assumptions about a person based solely on their generational group can lead to costly mistakes in hiring and training.
Osborne give the example of Generation Y, which some characterize as needy, disloyal and self-entitled. And yet this generation has brought us Groupon, Facebook, Tumblr and foursquare.
The key lesson here is to make use of what we know about the general characteristics of each generation while always giving each individual the benefit of the doubt. The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies here. Don’t judge a person by their “generational cover” – give them a chance to show their true merits.