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I work with a mix of older and younger people. For the most part it works very well and everyone gets along like your average big, dysfunctional family. There are some glaring differences that are hard to ignore, of course. As much as I would like to believe that it is not true, the older people tend to be harder working and more reliable, a generational difference that is hard to deny. I tend to think that every older generation has thought this about the younger generations since the dawn of time, but the evidence of the validity of the argument is difficult to ignore. The older workers tend to call out a great deal less due to illness even though they suffer more from the dreadful physical ailments that accompany age. They also tend to work with more focus and diligence. There are exceptions to this, of course, but in the main it is true. Of course, my parent's generation – the so-called “great generation”, used to say that we were the laziest and most spoiled generation in the annals of human history, so who knows?
I am very fond of younger people. I like their energy, their lack of cynicism, and their open mindedness about some things. I like working with them and being around them. On the whole, I don't feel as if there is some huge disconnect between myself and the younger people who work for me due to our generational differences. That being said, it made a recent conversation I had with one of our younger people somewhat surprising.
The young lady in question, who is college age, came to me the other day and asked if it would be possible if she could work evenings rather than in the daytime. I asked her if she was having some kind of scheduling difficulties. She responded in the negative but said that it was because although everyone was very nice, she proffered to work in the evenings when there were more people her own age working because she could relate to them better.
I wasn't offended. The day some 20 year old can offend me I will hand in my grown-up card, but I was surprised. It was something I had never encountered previously from the ranks of our younger workers. When I got home I even asked my own 20 year old if he felt the same way.
“First of all, Mom,” he said, “I like older people and am very fond of everyone you work with. Secondly, even if I actually felt that way I would never say it. I'm not stupid or rude.”
Good point. He isn't either of those things. I didn't really think of what the young lady had said as rude, per se. It is my job to handle employee problems and requests and I never take any of them personally so long as they have nothing to do with me, and not even if they do. I don't think it was her intention to be rude – just honest. She just felt unable to relate to us old folks.
I shared our encounter with the other management staff who thought it was a hoot and the incident was the catalyst for a whole series of old jokes and remarks that we continue to share. You can imagine how it went. I had an employee problem recently and one of my fellow managers said that I would have trouble fixing it because I was way too old. Any negative event was blamed on the fact that way too many of us were old and demented. Old remarks and insults were flying around constantly and it became a running joke. Not everyone was in on it, of course. A sweet girl who works for me asked me the other day, with some confusion, why we were calling each other old all the time. I just told her that it was because we are. Old, that is. She didn't appear to be any less confused about it, but what could I do?
The whole business got me to wondering whether or not I found it far easier to relate to people in my own generation than those considerably younger. On some levels, it is probably true. After all, people my own age remember black and white TV, landing on the moon, the Kennedy assassination, and the original run of Star Trek. A young person I work with who is about 30 once said to me that my generation was very angry when we were young. It is true, we were. We were young through 3 horrific assassinations of our leaders and a long, pointless, and terrible war. Yeah, we were pretty angry and those events were catalysts for a rather large rebellion on our part that kind of changed the world. On the other hand, there are lots of reasons for this generation to be angry as well, plenty of them. The difference is that they tend to confine their rebellion to social media and don't seem much inclined to taking to the streets much. I know that social media has been very useful in empowering social activism, but I can't help feeling that rebellions led and joined from couches and comfy chairs probably don't hold a lot of potential for success. At some point it becomes necessary to actually do something.
On the whole, I find that my ability to relate to anyone of any generation is based more on shared ideas, interests, and passions than any age factor, but maybe that's just me. After all, I am, you know, old.
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