Working in a multigenerational team may become quite challenging due to the differences in viewpoints, philosophies, and values of the participants known as the generation gap (GG) (Yi, Ribbens, Fu, & Cheng, 2015). In some cases, even the act of making a work-related decision may become nearly impossible in the context of a workplace environment with a wide GG (Calk & Patrick, 2017). However, the notion of a GG is not entirely negative since differences in worldviews, knowledge, and skills of team members may incite a positive dialogue and create a culture of knowledge sharing in an organization (Yi et al., 2015). Applying four educational lenses (history, humanities, natural, and applied sciences) to the analysis and promoting collaboration, and increasing the levels of cultural competence within a community, one will handle the issues related to the GG successfully.
The phenomenon of the GG has affected the global society vastly, introducing people to the idea of diversity as an important source of positive experiences and continuous learning. A brief overview of the subject matter from the perspective of History, Humanities, Natural, and Applied Sciences, and Social Sciences allows inferring that the GG has a mostly negative impact on a vast range of institutions, including business organizations, academic settings, and other types of workplace.
The current workplace settings can be described as impressively diverse given the age range of staff members. Specifically, four key generations can be distinguished when analyzing the philosophies, values, and age of the modern workforce. These include Baby Boomers, Generation Y (“latchkey generation”), Generation X (“Millennials”), and Generation Z (“iGen”). Although the proportion of representatives of each group is uneven in modern institutions, each contributes to shaping the organizational environment in a unique way, adding their perspective and value systems (Yi et al., 2015). As a result, the process of making decisions, discussing work-related issues, and even establishing relationships within the corporate environment may become quite a challenge given the differences in the philosophies of the participants (Quinones & Tian, 2016). Analyzing the issue of the GG through the four lenses in question, one will realize that the promotion of cultural competence and cultural sensitivity is the key to effective team management.
To close the GG in different institutions, one will need to consider the historical perspective first. Baby Boomers were shaped by the attitudes of the post-WWII era, hence the responsible attitude and the focus on unity as the foundation for success (Costanza & Finkelstein, 2015). Generation X, in turn, was shaped significantly by the political and economic instability of the era, including the infamous Watergate scandal and the Jonestown mass suicide (Swanzen, 2018). However, the events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall have introduced a cautious spark of hope, creating a culture based on cynicism and skepticism, yet instigating independence in them. Thus, there is a substantial difference between the optimism and openness of Baby Boomers and the cynical attitude of Generation X.
The feminist movement of Generation Y is, in turn, similar to the one of Generation X, continuing the theme of independence and social justice. Coupled with the rapid development of technology, the observed historical changes made it possible to foster diversity and encourage knowledge sharing among people (Hills, Boshoff, Gilbert-Hunt, Ryan, & Smith, 2015). The profound effects of technological development can also be observed in Generation Z, which is only emerging as a potential workforce.
The identified perspective points directly to the importance of promoting diversity in various institutions. Moreover, the historical lens indicates that the notion of diversity should not be reduced to the idea of having members of different generations represented in a single team, yet expanded to the idea of continuous communication and collaboration between them. By sharing their experiences, the members of each generation will understand the needs of one another and seek compromise for fruitful collaboration.
The problem of the GG is rooted in the differences of the values derived from various perspectives on the issue of religion and consideration of language as a communication tool. For instance, the skeptical attitude toward religion, which can be observed in Generations X-Z, lies in direct opposition to a rather religious mindset of Baby Boomers (White, Storms, Malt, & Verheyen, 2018). The described differences in culture and perceptions of objective reality may generate significant distortions in the functioning of a team in different workplace settings.
Similarly, the language issue needs to be borne in mind as an important factor that contributes to the increase in the rift between generations and, thus, the rise in the GG between them. For instance, each generation has a unique slang, not to mention neologisms that appear regularly, thus making it quite difficult for people belonging to Baby Boomers to communicate with the representatives of generations X-Z. Since slang is age-exclusive in its nature, the use thereof in the workplace is likely to cause misunderstandings, misconceptions, and even conflicts that may lead to further disruptions and a drop in the quality of a team’s performance (Norouzinia, Aghabarari, Shiri, Karimi, & Samami, 2016). Thus, age-specific language as a system of signs and symbols that is linked to a particular generation may become a significant impediment in the promotion of collaboration within a diverse team.
At the same time, the analysis of language as the factor that contributes to the change in the scope of the GG should be seen as the pathway to improving relationships within a multigenerational environment. For instance, with the promotion o cultural awareness, one can foster the use of the language tools that can be described as neutral, along with the enhancement of cultural awareness and tolerance in a multigenerational team. As a result, participants will develop tolerance toward the language aspects that they may have found offensive at first, simultaneously building the skills of using neutral language tools in their conversation (Calk & Patrick, 2017). Thus, premises for a successful resolution of possible miscommunications will be created.
Moreover, building awareness about language issues through mutual discussions and regular communication in the workplace should be seen as a viable strategy for managing the problem of the GG. Although one should not expect that participants would change their attitudes and values immediately, openness in the institutional context will provide the platform for building trust among multigenerational team members. Thus, the perspective of Humanities brings the problem of the GG to the notion of diversity as the key vehicle for stifling the conflict and resolving it (Venter, 2017). The process of learning about the values and philosophies of one another will encourage team members to appreciate the ideas of other generations and expand their value systems by accepting new ideas and getting rid of the ones that have not aged well.
Natural and Applied Sciences
To understand the problem of the GG and the way in which it manifests itself in various workplace settings, one should also consider the use of the Natural and Applied Sciences perspective. Approaching the phenomenon of the GG in the workplace from the standpoint of Natural and Applied Sciences, one will have to concede that technological innovation and especially the introduction of ICT has changed the landscape of communication in both business and casual settings forever. Herein lies another source of the GG and the factor that drives Baby Boomers from Generation X, Millennials, and iGen. The lack of appreciation for and understanding of innovative communication technologies among Baby Boomers and, to an extent, among generation X, may hinder the collaboration between them and Generations Y and Z (Tulgan, 2017). In addition, the propensity among the latter two to prefer modern media as the key vehicle for communication may lead to misunderstandings between them and Baby Boomers, who are more used to direct, face-to-face communication (Yi et al., 2015).
In the described scenario, Generation X could be seen as a potential mediator between Baby Boomers and generations Y-Z in the workplace, having been introduced to modern technologies at a comparatively mature age (Tulgan, 2017). However, given the skepticism and unwillingness of involvement shown among Generation X members, the proposed solution does not seem viable, hence the potential for a rather unfortunate situation in a range of institutions, including business settings, academic environments, and other institutions.
Connecting the perspective described above to the notion of diversity in the workplace, one will have to admit that the increase in the levels of diversity in the workplace and the focus on creating multigenerational teams will require a profound understanding of the role of media in their lives. In order to foster reciprocity and mutual understanding among representatives of different generations in different institutional settings, one should promote the acquisition of IT and ICT skills among Baby Boomers and generation X, simultaneously inviting Generations Y and Z to participate in real-life conversations with older generations. An HR manager should also be ready to meet resistance toward change within each of the groups, providing incentives for all participants involved to encourage a continuous dialogue.
Applying the perspective of the Social Sciences as an important analytical lens will inevitably lead to several intersections with the Historical one and the factors discussed in it. For instance, the phenomenon of the Feminist movement, including its second (Generation X) and third (Generations Y-Z) waves, also needs to be scrutinized as an important issue associated with Humanities (Zhang, 2015). Moreover, to dissect the nature of the GG in the workplaces of different institutions, ranging from business to academic settings, one should focus on the theories that shed light on the nature of conflict as a social concept.
The Theory of Social Conflict will allow understanding how class differences and disparities in the distribution of social capital have affected different generations, with some, such as Generations X and Y, having developed a profound sense of financial insecurity due to the economic crises observed at the time. The use of the Feminist theory, in turn, will help to understand the incongruences in the positions of the target groups regarding the problem of gender equality (Monti, Visentini, & Rome, 2017). Overall, frameworks of various conflict theories will help to approach the issue of the GG.
Applying the notion of diversity to the perspective of the social sciences, one will notice that the presence of a threat to one’s position in the existing social hierarchy and the opportunity to receive workplace benefits generates key conflicts in the multigenerational environment. Therefore, to counterbalance the described issue, an HR manager should consider redesigning the existing system of incentives and benefits for staff members. Simultaneously, one should strive to deconstruct and demolish the described social hierarchy established within a multidisciplinary team to introduce staff members to a different set of values. As a manager, one should dissuade employees from ascribing a particular social value to others based on their perceived notion of a social hierarchy. Instead, the idea of collaboration and basic principles of equity along with the idea that all staff members are valued within a company should be promoted to employees in a multigenerational team.
In the modern workplace environment in nearly all institutions, the phenomenon of the GG persists and has a mostly negative impact on interpersonal and professional interactions between staff members. By approaching the subject matter with the help of various negotiation techniques geared toward open dialogue and critical analysis, one will be able to manage the issue. The perspectives of the four lenses have shown that the phenomenon of the GG is deeply rooted in social, cultural, and economic factors and related prejudices. Therefore, establishing the principles of openness, mutual respect, and active discussion of differences in cultures will lead to the effective management of the GG issue in most workplaces.
Impact on Personal and Professional Life
The notion of GG has affected both the professional and personal life of numerous people. Because of communication challenges and differences in values, people belonging to different generations find it increasingly difficult to collaborate in the business setting of various institutions. Similarly, communication with family members has been impeded by the incongruences in the philosophies and values of people of different generations. In the target professional setting, which is the realm of photography, the GG has contributed to problems in agreeing about the choice of artistic means of expressing a specific idea in a photo. As a result, the ideas that hold quite a high potential remain ignored due to the inability of the representatives of other generations to grasp them. The observed trend affects the quality of the end product, hampering the development of new artistic tools for conveying a message.
Impact of Diversity on Social Practices
Apart from the described issues, the problem of the GG has spread to social practices. With the rise in the levels of the GG and the conflicts occurring between Baby Boomers, generation X, Millennials, and iGen, the GG has had a massive effect on social practices. To manage the tensions between team members, managers have to explore opportunities for developing cultural competence in staff members, which leads to a rise in their proficiency and communication skill levels. Thus, the quality of diverse relationships and the levels of diversity, in general, increase in the workplace setting, causing social practices to become more culturally sensitive. The resulting improvement in relationships in the workplaces of different institutions proves that the idea of using the GG to encourage knowledge sharing and cross-cultural communication holds a huge potential.
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