Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Generational Differences

There are differences in work style, motivation, technological skills, and personal values among the various generations in the workplace. We must be aware that it's essential to adapt our methods in order to best reach this talented upcoming generation of public servants and finance officials and to continue to get the best from more experienced public servants.

The above quote is from an email I just received from the Government Finance Officers Association.  They have prepared a report on the topic of 'Generational Change' which is available on their website for free at

Let me start by saying that I have not read the report.  But, I did have lots of thoughts about generational differences when I read the email.  Some background:

Last week my oldest son came for a visit.  Now that we no longer have the, "Mom, when are you going to retire?" discussion, we are able to move on to the "Mom, when are you going to move out of Michigan?" discussion.  This usually starts a whole round of questioning about my retirement and what my plans are.  And eventually leads into why am I not travelling more, buying a new television (this is popular with all my sons), still have a landline phone, don't have an iPad, etc.  All of these questions certainly show the difference in generational thinking.  I wonder if any of my sons could use a slide rule?

I grew up in the 50's.  While I don't remember the post-Korean War Recession on 1953, I do remember the one in 1957.  My father was a tile setter and 'no construction' meant 'no work.'  In those days, accepting government welfare meant picking up boxes of food containing dried eggs, powdered milk and stew in a can, suitable for feeding the family pet.  Those experiences had a lot to do with shaping my ideas for my future.

I also remember a world of air-raid drills in school and envying my friend whose family had a real air-raid shelter in their front yard.  Remember sitting in the halls with your head between your knees?  We all knew that some crazed political leader could end life as we knew it with a push of a button.  I remember going camping with the Girl Scouts in the Utica area and being told there was a Nike Missile site nearby.  I wasn't sure if I felt safer or not.  And then there was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

When I graduated from high school and then college, I, like many of my friends, thought that I would remain in the same career until retirement.  (Some did, I didn't.)  And finally finding myself in a good-paying job, our President enforced a wage-freeze.

My sons all grew up in the 80's and 90's.  Not exactly the environment their mother grew up in.  They lived in the suburbs and had a pretty comfortable life compared to me.  Their opportunites were endless.  No welfare, no air-raids, and no war until the Gulf Crisis.

The differences in thinking are apparent when we have conversations about my life choices and how I spend my money.  My parents grew up in the Great Depression.  That certainly contributed to my fiscal conservancy along with my own experiences.  So, it is no wonder that today's young workers, those 30-somethings, have very different ideas about their working and leisure lives than we did. 

Their 'work style' includes tele-commuting, something we never heard of in the 60's and 70's.  Their motivation to do a good job includes their own personal satisfaction in doing so, something I strongly encourage.  While they may not be able to use a slide rule, their technological skills far surpassed mine back to when they were in high school.  And their personal values?  They seem just about right to me.  They seem to have a much better hold on balancing work and leisure than I did at their age.  And that ain't all bad.

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