Can we bridge the generation gap?

Can we bridge the generation gap?

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The older generation sees the younger generation and complains, "You can’t find young people who are reliable and willing to work hard." The younger generation sees the older generation and complains, "Old people should retire. It’s a new day and a new way." Why is there tension between the generations?

Under pressure from the economic downturn, facing an uncertain economic future, many of the older generation are hanging on to their jobs. They find themselves working next to people much younger—perhaps even three or four decades younger. The multigenerational workforce is experiencing tension as Generation X and the "Millennials" come into conflict with the "Baby Boom" generation.

It is commonly observed that each generation has a different overall approach to life—different values and perspectives about career, and even a different expression of the work ethic. Each has different ideas, attitudes and behaviors about work and life. Each handles difficulties and challenges from its own unique perspective, and communicates in its own style and method.

Each new generation has been shaped by the different economic conditions it has faced, the different approaches to parenting and education it has adopted, and the difference in social mores, political philosophies and religious preferences.

The Traditionalist, (or Silent, Senior or Veteran) generation in the United States is often defined as being born between 1920 and 1945. Fewer than 25 percent of its approximately 75 million are in the workforce. Baby Boomers, the largest generation, are then defined as the approximately 80 million born between 1946 and 1964. Generation X is defined as those born between 1965 and 1980, and Generation Y (sometimes called "Millennials" or "Echo Boomers") as those born between 1981 and 1994.

Traditionalists are generally respectful of authority—they are conformers and are disciplined. Boomers typically question authority, and Generation X is noted for self-reliance. To Generation Y, work is a means to an end, while to Traditionalists work is an obligation. Boomers tend to be team players, while Traditionalists are typically individualists. Although these are stereotypical generalizations, we can easily see how these generational differences can lead to conflicts.

When He created human beings, the all-wise God knew there would be differences in generations, so He has given us instructions about our relationships with each other. For instance, "You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:32). The NIV translates this verse, "Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord." Similarly, the Apostle Peter wrote: "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another" (1 Peter 5:5). Following these instructions alone would resolve many workplace conflicts.

What about those times when a younger person must supervise a member of an older generation? Notice what Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy. "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity" (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul also wrote, "Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul’s instructions can be applied generally in the workplace. The young can be a good example to their elders, conducting themselves in ways that earn respect.

Likewise, the older generations should set a right example. Paul instructed "that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, no slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things" (Titus 2:2-3).

The Bible is filled with practical principles of Christian living that can help not just in the workplace but in all aspects of our lives. For insights into some of these powerful principles, read our booklets Successful Parenting: God’s Way, God’s Plan for Happy Marriage and What Is a True Christian?