Generational Stereotyping: The Convenient Villain at Work

Why don’t we ever hear of a seminar entitled “Dealing with Hispanics in the Workplace”?

Dave's blog #1 2017Recently, I was listening to a TED talk on the radio, and the topic was Generations at the Workplace. They were talking to a 22 year-old who said this: “Sometimes I think maybe I am too self-absorbed because I am always texting or posting. But, then again…if you were my age, you’d be doing it, too.”

As a confirmed older person, my initial knee jerk reaction was “Ha! Those Millennials. Typical.” But then I decided to do what, I fear, many of us don’t do, and that is to ask myself a tough question. “Wait a minute. If I am honest, and if texting and posting were what I grew up with, what my friends were doing…I have to admit it, would be doing it too.”

My eyes were further opened when I saw a presentation from author Jessica Kriegel, whose book, Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace can benefit from ditching Generational Stereotypes, had just come out.

In small groups, she had us list commonly held characteristics of the four generations typically found in any workplace these days. Once that happened, she asked for responses from each group, and wrote those responses under each category. The remarks were mostly positive until it came to Millennials. Under that category, well, lets’ say the remarks were fairly unkind.

She then did something I’ll never forget…she took a marker and slashed over the word “Millennial” and wrote the word “Hispanic”. “Now,” she said, “we would never have a seminar entitled Dealing with Hispanics. It’s obviously offensive and wrong. Yet, why do we (referring to the list of responses) feel we can stereotype generations?“

Her point was that many of our responses were based on stereotypes that have been given legitimacy by our unwillingness to find out more about the person as an individual versus just seeing them as member of a specific age group.

I believe many of us suffer from what’s called “Generational Myopia.” In essence, we see the world only through our own generational perspective.

Many times, this can lead to snap judgments and unintentionally (or even intentionally) labeling team members from different generations other than our own. And when that happens, trust on teams dies and we stop talking about important issues at work.

“When there are differences, we tend to blame problems on age,” says David Maxfield, co-author of Crucial Conversations. “It’s a convenient villain and lets us off the hook for doing anything because we can’t change someone’s age.”

So, just a few last thoughts as we re-think how to manage in multi-generational workplaces:

  • Check your biases: watch stereotyping; check yourself before you wreck yourself
  • Get to know your people: focus on what THEY want, not necessarily what their generation wants
  • Encourage multi-generational mentoring
  • Respect differences but also focus on common ground and
  • Keep generational lines of communication open. If you are unsure what someone from a different generation needs – ask!
  • Everyone in the organization understands that “working together” is not negotiable

I would love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I’ll get back to pursuing the social media from MY youth. “Breaker breaker, ten four. Are you out there good buddy?”

photo credit: wuestenigel Messaging via photopin (license)
photo credit: Oneras watchman via photopin (license)

About Dave Tippett

Dave is well-known in the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan business community for his enthusiasm, training creativity and commitment to helping people work better, together. He provides customized training content, delivered with an innovative and interactive approach. Aside from training, Dave is also a published playwright and author. He and his wife, Jill, live in Gibsonburg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.