Before You Proceed . . .
This book presents ten principles. But in the course of our research,
we also discovered an underlying theme that informs each and
every principle well present. This theme doesnt spring from any
individual piece of data we collected; rather, it becomes clear when
you look at the pattern of results as a whole. It is the most parsi-
monious explanation for the generational conict we hear people
talk about and see at work. We alluded to it earlier; here well de-
scribe it so that you can identify it more clearly when reading
through the principles:
Most intergenerational conict shares
a common point of origin: the issue of
cloutwho has it, who wants it.
As we were doing our research, it became clear that fundamen-
tally, generational conict and comments about unacceptable be-
havior on the part of another generation often stem from a particular
groups notion that it gets to make the rules and that the other group
has to follow these rules. If the rules are being challenged, so too is
the superior position and stature of the people who believe they get
to make the rules that others then have to follow.
Our research revealed that in the U.S. workplace, older peo-
ple generally think they should get to make the rules, and they
think that the younger people should follow their rules. No sur-
prises there. For example, people often complain about how some
younger person wears casual clothes to work. The criticism is that
the clothes are inappropriate or unprofessional. In whose opin-
ion? Obviously in the opinion of the people who are doing the crit-
icizing. Have you ever noticed people seldom talk about how odd
the workplace behavior of the older generation is in comparison
with the younger generation? What would happen if masses of
people in their 50s wore jeans and T-shirts to work? Would it sud-
denly become acceptable, or would the people in their 20s start
complaining about the unprofessional attire? It is possible, but
it isnt likely. Though younger people have opinions about other
generations and make negative comments about older people, the
behavior the older generation accepts is considered the standard.
So younger peoples comments (in the example above) about the
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older peoples unprofessional attire would be seen as illegitimate
griping and a grab for control rather than as legitimate complaints
about inappropriate workplace behavior.
In another example, when does conict between parent and
child stop being attributed to typical disagreements that any peo-
ple have when living in close quarters, and start being attributed
to a generation gap? The gap appears when the children (typically
teenagers) begin to see themselves as having opinions that are dif-
ferent from those of their parents but no less valid just because
they are younger. In essence, the generation gap appears when the
younger people stop accepting everything the older group tells
them and starts believing that their own opinions, perspectives,
and attitudes have validity equal to those of their elders. The result
of this belief is that the generation gap exists only when the
younger generation ceases to follow the rules set down by the older
generation. As long as the younger generation complies, no gap
exists.
But (theoretically) everyone in the workplace is an adult who
is being paid to do a job and is therefore equal except for posi-
tional authority assigned by the organization (that is, his or her
level in the organization). But, as in Orwells Animal Farm, some
people believe they are more equal than others, and they use what
attributes they have (for example, age, political acumen, organi-
zational tenure) to increase their clout within the organization. As
organizations increasingly promote younger people over older peo-
ple (thus increasing the positional power of the younger people),
older people naturally work to maintain the balance of powerin
their favorby using their greater age and experience. One way
they do this is to comment negatively about the bad behavior of
younger people (thus making specic individuals look bad by as-
sociation). Another way they do this is to use the behavior of their
own generation as the model for appropriate behavior (thus mak-
ing themselves look good by association).
People of the older generation also maintain their clout by em-
phasizing the value of their experience. Experience is perceived
both by people and by organizations as valuable because it is be-
lieved to be synonymous with knowledge. But it isnt. Now, dont mis-
understand uswe think experience is critically important. We also
think that on average, people with more experience (older people)
12 RETIRING THE GENERATION GAP
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