I had a chat with my mom the other night that sparked this post on the generation gap. We’re in a much different place than our parents, and I think sometimes we forget that there’s a difference between today’s economy and priorities, and those 20 years ago.
First, there’s no loyalty anymore. My brother is job hunting, ready to leave his first job out of college, and my mom just couldn’t understand why he’d want to leave so soon. I’ve heard this sentiment from people my mom’s age, as well as the media. My boss was with his previous company for 27 years! I can’t imagine being with any company for that long, and I tend to think I fit in more with the old-school crowd in terms of job loyalty. Basically, our generation needs to keep moving to the next challenge, promotion, or city, and we have little regard for our employer’s “feelings”. The difference, though, is that employers aren’t loyal to us, either! I was telling my mom that companies today have no problem laying off or firing employees, in favor of computers, outsourcing, or just over-loading the employees they have. In “the good ‘ole days”, the employees remained with their employer because it came with steady growth, pay raises, and a pension upon retirement. I’m not going to get any of those things with most companies, so my only options for improvement are changing jobs every few years.
Second, I think my generation is starting to realize that time is more valuable than money. We can travel all over the world cheaply and easily, so why would we want to spend our years behind a desk? Technology allows us to work remotely, and increases our efficiency, so why would we want to put in 8+ hours a day at the office? This cuts both ways, as my parents’ generation had much more work-life balance. Companies would actually let you leave at 5, and you didn’t have a Blackberry beeping all through dinner. People could actually take a vacation, since there were no cell phones or Wifi on the beach to keep you working. It’s just that now, my generation wants the “break” earlier and more often. Flexible work options are becoming a much higher priority for a lot of people my age. For people in the previous generation, this concept that we “deserve” to work different schedules, go on trips, or work remotely, is completely foreign.
And finally, I think my generation is much more aggressive about negotiating. Again, there’s no loyalty between employees and employers, so if we’re all out for ourselves, we should get as much as we can. My brother wanted to negotiate his starting salary, and my mom wondered what prompted him to want to negotiate an already decent offer. His response, “Because I can, so I should.” Straight-forward, no thought, just assuming that everything is open for negotiation. I think a lot of us are tired of the traditional model that we just do as our company tells us, since there’s no end reward tied to following those rules. In generations past, following the rules meant you got your big pay-out at 65. These days, rule-following won’t get you noticed, so you end up with fewer raises and promotions, and less prestigious work assignments and schedules. Essentially, our values have changed, so we’re much more willing to try to buck the system to make it fit into our values.
I’m not sure if these differences are good or bad. I definitely don’t want to just jack into the matrix and hum along until I’m 65, but I do think there’s something to be said for finding contentment and stability. I think that once my generation is “in charge” the whole tone of work is going to shift. There was a great essay by Paul Graham about the dichotomy that our society enforces between work and play, and that essentially, we all view work as this unpleasant necessity that precedes and facilitates play. I think my generation is more adamant about mixing the two, and if work and play are out of sync, we’ll go find a different arrangement. Are you loyal to your employer? Do you think it’s worth it to “all work, no play” until you’re 65? How does your mentality differ from your parents (and, presumably, your boss?)