Mark feels like he is under siege because of a reality in his life he cannot not alter: his age.
At 48 and a senior manager at an energy parastatal, Mark is finding it difficult to understand his younger colleagues. What he sometimes considers mundane and irrelevant mean the whole world to them.
“I am often frowned upon for not showing up at the boardroom to smile at cameras as we sing happy birthday tunes to a 24-year-old in the department. It’s their birthday. Surely, why must I go there to sing with them...?”
Mark is experiencing a lot more. Every few minutes, there is an email popping up. Another twenty-something is urging everyone to check out the latest phone app. The correspondence therein is in a language Mark can hardly decipher.
“The app is dope. This time Apple killed it. We be ballin’.”
“It’s all confusing,” Mark says. He then recalls the day when, after interviewing a young job seeker, he gave the young man a chance to ask a question. Mark says he was dismayed when the candidate asked whether the company organised regular outings for the workers to “unwind and get to know each other”.
Well, as Mark endures his discomfort at some of the mannerisms of his much younger colleagues, they too feel the distance. In fact, they have given him names such as “uptight”, “the ancestor”, “fossil” and the like.
He learnt of this when a group email was mistakably sent to his inbox after he had made a decision that the twenty-somethings found unpopular.
On the flipside, Lucy Nyambura, 26, an IT executive at a Five Star hotel, swears she would never invite her boss for any activity in the office that is not work-related. “He is a snob. He always thinks that life is about work,” she says with a dismissive tone.
Lucy is a typical millennial. Mark is the average Generation X. These two generations have met at the workplace. The resultant generational grudge is creating subtle challenges in the manner in which the differing attitudes interact.
Lucy’s boss, for instance, does not find her coming to work in rubber shoes the act of a disciplined employee. And during meetings, Lucy prefers to type her notes on her tablet. This bothers her boss, who imagines she is on to other things.
Eng Job Ndege, the managing director of Protocol Solutions, an ICT firm in East and Central Africa, says that there need not be hostilities between the three generations that occupy the workplace today.
The three generations he is talking about are the baby boomers, who were born after the Second World War to the mid-60s; generation X, born from mid-1960s to early 1980s; and the generation Y, born from early 80s to mid-90s.
While Ndege acknowledges that there exist certain stereotypes that define these generations, some of the bromides do not cast much of a shadow when held against the light of research.
“These generations just want the same things, such as recognition for their jobs, to feel part of a team, and respect. It’s the way of expression that is different,” he says.
His observation are conformed by a study that was conducted by senior research scientist at the Centre for Creative Leadership in San Diego, Jennifer Deal. The work revealed that the common generalisations about these generations are just a myth.
In her book, Retiring the Generation Gap, Ms Dealwrites: “The so called generation gap is in large part the result of communication and misunderstanding, fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout.”
Eng Ndege, who has worked in environments where these age differences are prominent, offers what he considers a simple solution to all the bickering: “Every worker must develop some basic supervisory skills to be able to recognise the patterns of behaviour and communication in their colleagues so as to get along. Human resource management should not be the job of a single department.”
The younger people, he argues, must understand that no technology can replace the real world experience and interpersonal skills that the older people have gained over the years.
The older people must also acknowledge that the world is changing and the use of smart phones by young people during a meeting may just mean multi-tasking and not disrespect.