I did battle with an enduring stereotype in generational diversity workshops this week.  Hard to say whether I was successful or not, but when I put up this quote, it did produce some reactions:

“Children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Was that a Traditionalist talking about Boomers, I asked?  Boomers talking about Gen Y?  Some heads nodded at the second point amongst my mostly Boomer participants.  Then I dropped the bomb: it was Socrates, around 400 B.C.  Some things never change.

While the message seemed to carry some weight, I still could not break through the stereotype.  In a nutshell, older workers today are convinced that Gen Y has no sense of work ethic.  I can point out that we are their parents and we raised them and presumably instilled their values; I can suggest that “work ethic” is defined differently by Gen Y because of the demise of company loyalty; I can talk about shifting our perspective and trying to learn from the younger generation until I’m blue in the face and it just doesn’t matter.  Young people are lazy.  When we were that age we walked backwards to school in deep snow with no shoes for ten miles and kids nowadays don’t appreciate what they have.  Will we ever get out of this mindset?  What on earth do we hope to accomplish by talking like this?

When the dust settles from these sorts of arguments I always land in the same place: what all generations have in common is that we thirst for respect.  We want to be recognized for our contributions, our experience, our hard work and our new ideas.  We might define respectful behavior differently, but we all agree that it’s important.  There’s a great line from Crucial Conversations that I often quote:

“Respect is like air.  If you take it away, it’s all people can think about.  The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about its original purpose–now it’s about defending dignity.”

What can we do to keep the conversation about Generation Y respectful, and thus productive?

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