Issue #60
#60 - Generational awareness is the new cultural awareness
March 31, 2023

What's up, everybody?

A question: how many of us would barge into a room full of colleagues we knew were from Japan, Kenya, Germany, and Egypt -- and assume that all of them shared the same cultural values as one another? That they shared the same values we did, for that matter? That the way to communicate with one of them was the way to communicate with all of them? And that our values -- and "our way" -- was the way? Take it or leave it!

Not very many. 🙃 Thankfully, most of us are aware of the cultural differences that abound at work, and do our best to adapt to them.

And yet, by contrast: how many of us waltz into rooms comprised of a Boomer, a Gen X, a millenial and a Gen Z -- and assume that all of us have the same work values? That we all share the same expectations and want the same things out of our jobs, and our careers?

Guilty here. 🙋🏻‍♂️ This is not an awareness I've brought to enough of my work conversations. That's not to say I'm oblivious to differences in age. But do I often stop and ask myself (a Gen X'er) whether the Gen Z'er I'm in a one-to-one with wants the same things out of work that I do? Whether they approach learning and advancement the way I do? Do I keep myself open to the idea that there might be differences in perspective? Am I curious as to how they might impact the way we work together?

This week our 3 Stories are, as always, vehicles for exploration; today, of the differences in values and perspectives that abound at work, as a function of a workforce now comprised of four distinct generations. What are those differences, how pronounced are they – and are we not responsible for bringing increased awareness of them to the teams and organizations we lead?

Story #1 - Highlights from an article written twenty years ago, but foundational when it comes to explaining how differently we learn and work, as a function of the age in which we were born. (The impact may even manifest as physical differences in our 🧠's!)

Story #2 -
A quote from a Stanford professor who has studied and written a book about Gen Z, on how she's come to approach her cross-generational conversations (spoiler: it's a dose of fantastic advice 🙌🏻).

Story #3
- A simple graph illustrates the extent to which our age drives our beliefs about how much we should work, and how much we ought to be paid for that work. We use it to ask: why do these beliefs differ so much across generations? 📊

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great week!

Aki + Usman

P.S. Podcast! Our discussion of last week's issue #59 -- "How will we choose to lead -- if the talent shortage is permanent?" -- is just 16 minutes long, and is right here.


#GenerationalAwareness #Vocab #DigitalNatives

There's a reason this article by Marc Prensky, an American writer, is so oft-cited: it is a fascinating, deeply insightful read. Penned 21 years ago about students born in the digital age and inundated from the get-go by digital data, it explores how differently they learn compared to generations in the past.

And after casually dropping that experiences held by different generations lead to different brain structures 🤯, Prensky goes on to label these students "Digital Natives":

What should we call these “new” students? The most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

Some of the traits that mark Digital Natives, when it comes to learning and information:

Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work.

What about those -- including your faithful curators! -- born before Digital Natives? Prensky has a name for us, too:

So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are Digital Immigrants.

Prensky's advice for "what should happen" -- on the direction of adaptation required, given the generational divide -- rings as true today as it did twenty years ago. And it's as relevant to the workplace as it is to education. The onus, it would appear, is on the olds. 🙃

So what should happen? Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new? Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards. In the first place, it may be impossible – their brains may already be different. It also flies in the face of everything we know about cultural migration. Kids born into any new culture learn the new language easily, and forcefully resist using the old. Smart adult immigrants accept that they don't know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the “old country.”


#GenerationalAwareness #Listening #Inclusion

Roberta Katz is an anthropologist at Stanford who led a multi-year study of Gen Z, and has written a book about the generation.

We love her quote, not because we agree or think she is "right", per se, when she says that Gen Z often has a new and better approach to things (although, we happen to think they often are). But because it reminds us of the need to listen; that there is so much to be had by exploring how people raised in different times and contexts might hold different ideas, values and perspectives. And that whether or not their ideas are "better" or "worse", there is so much value to be had from suspending judgment, and seeking to understand.


#GenerationalAwareness #WorkValues #Adaptation

Look at how starkly the figures rise and fall, based on age, in this study from UK analytics firm YouGov. And mind you, these are not responses to questions on the fringes of work, but to queries that are core to it: how hard should we work, and how much do we deserve to be paid for that work?

Now that we're past the initial uproar over "quiet quitting", and now that stats like these -- as well as scores of anecdotes -- allow us to appreciate how real the phenomenon is (particularly among younger generations) the question we need to ask is: why? Why are people less and less willing to "put in more"?

Our TalentStories take:

It's because we're asking young people to do as much work, and to make the same outsized effort, that generations in the past did -- without holding up our end of the bargain.

We're asking them to go above and beyond, without providing them, reliably or equitably enough, the upside of advancement, promotion and/or pay. We're asking them to blindly follow old career playbooks, even though study after study shows that younger generations are poorer than generations past, earn less than they do, and are less likely to be able to afford their own home.

And, btw, it's one thing to demand outsized effort without providing financial upside in return. But we can't even provide a non-toxic workplace that doesn't burn people out, or contribute to a mental health crisis.

In short, we are asking young people to put it all into a workplace that is broken and incapable of reciprocating; unable to provide for them in the ways it did, or did more often, for generations in the past.

And people are fed up. And opting out.

What to do then, as leaders and organizations? How do we respond?

It seems we either strive to better uphold our end of the bargain -- that we work to make work better; more inclusive, more equitable, and more human. Including better for young people. And that we allow young people to forge new models for work, and figure out how to adjust to those in order to build the teams and businesses we want to build.

Either way, the path ahead for us as leaders demands that we adapt. And as always, the first step starts with awareness.

Thanks again for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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