I’ve been facilitating generational diversity seminars for years, and the discussion that happens has become so predictable it’s almost dull. Either the room is dominated by Baby Boomers complaining about the laziness and entitlement mentality of Gen Y, or the room is full of Gen Y complaining about Baby Boomers who are “retired in place” and don’t want to try anything new.
Until recently, that is. During a generational diversity session for new construction supervisors my expectations got taken for a ride. It started with the usual complaining about laziness and entitlement, but when I took a poll I discovered I was the oldest person in the room (and I’m Gen X). They were Gen Y, and they were complaining about their own generation.
My usual response to complaining Boomers is to remind them that they are Gen Y’s parents, and to talk about leveraging the strengths of the generation and not relying on age-old stereotypes. That strategy was clearly not going to work in this case. At first I wondered what the Boomers in these construction companies had done to poison the minds of these young folks against themselves. But then I began to see that it was really just about an industry culture. In construction, everything is about hard work. People who don’t work hard are the greatest evil supervisors consider themselves to face. So if I force people to see their challenges through the lenses and filters of a generational diversity framework, they will make whatever connections they can make.
Next time I teach a class like that I think I’ll stay away from the topic altogether…