Toxic Mix or Bit of a Mixed Blessing?

Toxic Mix or Bit of a Mixed Blessing?

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog . . . ” The inter-generational office brew of Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y may not be quite as odious as that of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but even so it makes “for a charm of powerful trouble”

The war had been raging for some time but now hostilities were really heating up.

On one side, resentful of the unearned privileges they saw being accorded to the young, was the management group, representing the business and mainly comprised of Baby Boomers and a handful of oldies from an even earlier generation.

On the other, determined to defend their own very different approaches to work and life in the face of a barrage of hostile attacks from their rancorous seniors, was a group of relatively young IT people, mainly from Generations X and Y.

And stuck in the middle, caught right in the firing line and taking hits from all sides, was the hapless CIO. "The mix of generations was becoming very toxic," the CIO says, "and the interactions between them were absolutely fraught.

Gen X and Y can be a major boom to those companies that make the effort to understand and accommodate their core values of self-reliance, balance, techno-literacy, informality, fun, diversity and pragmatism

"For instance in the case of the Baby Boomers the office has a get-in-early, start-work-early ethic and in the case of the IT group - in fact this was a group that works for me in the UK - there was a very different culture, driven in part by late-night hook-ups to Australia. So you would have a young person, the manager of the IT group, that would come in at 11 o'clock in the morning, bleary eyed, and I started getting these phone calls saying: 'This guy wouldn't work in an iron lung. He's absolutely hopeless, come over here and sack him.' In truth he was putting in 14-hour days, working his bottom off and interestingly, the environment was working very well. But what was happening was the business manager was looking at this and saying: 'The guy that's running IT is not here; every time I have to talk to someone it's one of the juniors I have to talk to, so this young person is a waste of space.'"

Back in Australia, another Gen Xer had the habit of taking off for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to go to the gym. The Baby Boomers all saw him walking out of the office for a leisure pursuit and hated it, unaware of the extra four or five hours of work he was routinely putting in at home.

Hostility was also being directed at the young individual who was building a PC for home on his desk at work. "It's sitting on his desk, he's working hard, and he'll stop in the middle of the day and spend 10 minutes gluing some bits into the thing and then he will go back and keep working away, and I know there are managers in the office looking at that and saying he should be working.

"We require the person to be here so many hours," the CIO says. "He's happy but he spends 10 minutes on building his machine during the day. If it wasn't here he'd want to go home early, come in late, you know, the PC would be at home and he'd be playing with it there. And it's a shiny new toy, he's very excited about it, but some of the older people just won't see it.

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