Top Chef versus Julia Child. Real Housewives of Orange County versus The Golden Girls. The Jonas Brothers versus… The Beatles??? Okay, scratch that last one. The point is, generations may differ on what’s great in TV shows or music or clothing, but in the workplace, generational differences add up to more than just entertainment preferences — and the consequences of ageism can be dire. Until Gen Y came onto the scene, generations mixing in the workplace wasn’t as big of an issue. Or rather, the issues were simply different. Fifty or sixty years ago, we were still dealing with extreme female inequality in the workplace.
Fast-forward to today’s technology-filled world, and we are seeing the effects of “Sally,” tech-savvy, new-on-the-scene Gen Y worker, sitting down to a project with “Bob,” baby boomer who’s been with the company for 20 years and still writes people actual letters (non-electronic!). We are seeing these workers clash. They complete tasks differently. They demand different things. Their communication methods are vastly dissimilar. And Bob is afraid he’ll be pushed out of his job any day now due to “not fitting in with the company culture.” After all, companies are cutting back — and layoffs abound.
Although the recent economy has brought about tough times for many of us, older workers have been hit particularly hard in their attempts to rebound from the recession. Between 401 (k) troubles and rising health care costs, these workers have had a slew of problems to deal with. On average, workers over the age of 45 are experiencing longer periods of unemployment; many have been out of work for six months or longer. According to the New York Times article above, even when older workers do finally find employment, many suffer a much steeper drop in earnings than their younger counterparts.
In addition, over the last two years, the number of Americans age 55 and older who are still working has climbed by nearly 1.5 million to over 26 million in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even worse, the number of people 55 and older who want a job but can’t find one has more than doubled over the same period to nearly 1.8 million. Joblessness is lower among older workers than the general labor force, but it’s growing much faster.
The question many are asking is: Does this all tie back to a severe case of ageism? Older workers haven’t enjoyed the advantages of growing up in a digital world, and consequently, the skill sets of many baby boomers and beyond vary greatly from those of younger workers. Still, many are tech-savvy, and many are learning how to be. My mom, for example, can walk circles around me in online picture editing and swears she knows what Twitter is all about (yes, I am a bit scared for the day that she begins “tweeting”).
Despite some workers of generations older than Gen-X and Gen-Y, however, there is still a gap. A gap that some believe is causing older workers to be discriminated against in the workplace. As discussed in the “Older Workers Need Not Apply” New York Times article above, there are many conflicting views on what both older and younger generations bring to the workplace — and how they hinder said workplace as well.
Is it a problem of generational miscommunication, or even a lack of communication altogether? Some seem to think so. Without Gen Yers and baby boomers or retirees interacting in the workplace, the article points out, knowledge is not transferred. Since Gen Y members are the primary storehouse of techcentric information, if they’re not working with older co-workers, they’re not sharing that information — and those older workers are left in the cold.
What do you think? Do you notice increased ageism in the workplace? Or do you think the whole thing’s being blown out of proportion?
Speaking of “blown out of proportion,” The Jonas Brothers? Yeah.Related
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