The Multi-Generational Workplace: Get Off My Lawn!
For about a decade, I’ve been describing the colour of my hair as ‘salt and pepper’. It’s probably time I accepted that it’s now about ninety eight percent salt. (That might explain my blood pressure). Recently, I was in a conversation with a twenty-something who colloquially referred to Wednesday as ‘Weddy’ because apparently now days of the week require cool nicknames. (That might further explain my blood pressure). At my age, days of the week barely even require names at all. To me, there’s ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’ and ‘maybe if I’m lucky’. Just jokes folks. I’m not really a grumpy curmudgeon, as much as I’d like to be. Intergenerational communication would be so much simpler and easier if it was acceptable for me to shout, “Get off my lawn” at people in meetings in character as the last twelve movie roles played by Clint Eastwood.
I’ve never liked the term ‘workforce’. It implies either a militarily structured group with the archaic command-and-control model, or that people need to be forced to work. Entry to the workforce has traditionally come via afterschool part-time jobs like delivering newspapers. It won’t be long until actual paper newspapers are a thing of the past like VCRs, perms and the correct use of apostrophes. It’s not quite the same zooming along on your bike hurling iPads at lawns and mailboxes, especially if that iPad hits windows. (I was going to attempt some humour around iPads and Windows software, but it got all too confusing and hard work – a bit like Windows).
Leaving aside actual specific and technical work skills, these little pre-entry-level jobs introduced young people to concepts and attitudes that school may have struggled to do. (Like what prepositions not to end a sentence with). Comedian Mitch Hedberg commented that, as a child, his job required him to have the discipline and work ethic to deliver newspapers to three hundred homes or one dumpster. Among these concepts would be self-discipline, punctuality, perseverance, goal-setting and getting along with people.
Calling paper-delivery a job is perhaps a convenient and romantic rose-coloured recollection. It might be more accurate and helpful to frame such roles as the shallow end of the self-employed sub-contractor pool. Given that such ‘jobs’ were often volume-based and geographically defined, they might be considered precursors to franchises. Maybe apart from income and job skills, they stimulated and reinforced behaviours that might benefit a future entrepreneur or self-employed contractor in a future virtual team? Are young people really garnering the same from becoming an instagram influencer?
Being on-call and part of a casual pool was not what was envisioned when the powers-that-were set things up around the time of the industrial revolution. Back then, workers were mere cogs in the machine. Sometimes that was metaphorical with human labour being routinised and commoditised. Sometimes, with the deplorable lack of care afforded to human health and safety, people may have literally ended up with cogs in machines. With urbanisation and industrialisation, business lobbyists and Governments composed another production line – that of children in schools being processed into workers to join factories. The schools were, in effect, education factories and the students were the products. They’d get just enough education to enable them to be able to be productive but not so much that they’d get revolutionary. There were no stages between student and worker, and there were minimal options other than working or not working. The paperboy and matchsticks girl were legit options back then right up until they became caricatures in Dickensian musicals as foils to someone usually named ‘guvnor’.
A recent Government-funded report found an ‘attitude gap’ between employers and young potential employees. They noted the gap is self- perpetuating. Bad experiences equal more disengagement for both employers and young people. The ‘gap’ is more than just attitude, but a complex clash of norms and expectations, as well as ethnic and generational differences that occur throughout the employment journey. I want to focus in on one key insight from the report and link it back to my lament of the loss of paper delivery job types. Employment expectations and ambitions of young people are built through the experiences they have early on, so having positive connections with employers is important for building ambition and networks for young people. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know).
As with most of these attitude gaps in society, be they employer vs employee, young vs old, your culture vs that other culture, a pretty effective means of addressing it is exposure. What can be done to get employers and potential employers in front of the youth who want a job and don’t want to be stranded as part of the gig economy delivering newspapers, selling matchsticks or instagramming harmful diet products? There’s work to be done and questions to be asked. Why, for example, when I’m writing about the challenges of the old accepting the new does spellcheck refuse to accept the word ‘instagramming’? It turns out, spellcheck will accept it but only with a capital I. No! Get off my lawn Instagram!!
More at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com