Helping Your Life Work
November 1, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 11

What You Are Is Where You Were When

“What You Are Is Where You Were When” was the clever title of an organizational training film that was produced by sociologist Morris Massey about 30 years ago. In it, Dr. Massey theorized that people’s values could be traced back to the significant events of the decade of development from age 10 to 20. Unless some other significant event occurred later on (9/11 is a good example), these values would remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Thus the person who survived the Depression might continue to wrap sugar packets from the restaurant into their pockets to be used at a later date, despite having plenty of sugar at home. Or the person who grew up in the 50’s might continue to cling to the formalities and traditions of an authoritarian, hierarchical structure both at home and in the workplace, despite changes to societal and cultural norms since then.

Career coach Marcia Perkins-Reed presented another theory about differing values between generations. In her book, “When 9 to 5 Isn’t Enough: A Guide to Finding Fulfillment at Work,” she identifies some of the distinguishing characteristics between what she terms “the old world” versus “the new age.” In contrast to the “puritan” work ethic of the past, she suggests that the younger worker is motivated by a self-fulfillment ethic. Rather than waiting for the gold watch after 25 years service, the younger worker wants more immediate rewards. Instead of the hierarchical structure of years ago, the younger worker wants more involvement and participation. Rather than maintaining the status quo, the younger worker wants opportunities for growth and development and to use his creativity to change the status quo.  

I have been reminded of Massey’s theory and Perkins-Reed’s characteristics a lot lately. In the last couple of months, I have noticed more than the usual number of articles about the generational divide that exists in the workplace. Younger workers feel disdain for the cutthroat culture in professional corporations where bringing in new business, accumulating billable hours and becoming a partner has been the standard for decades. They resent the imbalance between their work and personal lives.  Older workers complain about younger workers’ lack of loyalty to the organization and general impatience with the older worker’s slower pace and lack of techno savvy. Both sides complain about a mutual lack of respect.

There have been similar issues brought up in the past, but this time, there seems to be a difference. With the unemployment rate being at its lowest since 1974, (5.9% in Canada and 5% in the U.S), and the imminent need to replace retiring baby boomers, retention of younger employees has become critical. In an effort to increase retention, companies are adapting to the demands of the younger generation more than ever before.

While it is true that many companies began bringing in accommodations to the workplace more than a decade ago, more and more corporations are offering flexible work arrangements to promote greater work/life balance and offering better pay and benefits packages. In addition, there is a movement towards a more team-based approach versus a competitive culture and recognizing pro bono work as being as valuable as billable hours.

Dr. Massey has recently updated his original film, which has never been out of print or demand since the 70’s.  In it, he suggests that generations would get along better if they could develop mutual respect, empathy and trust. He encourages people to ask and listen and try to understand where the other is coming from, with the recognition that other people’s values are just as valid as their own.

I write all this in response to the frequent complaint that I hear from many of my clients, who have decided to leave a job in which they have been unhappy. They often report that family members will tell them they’re not supposed to like work, that work is to be tolerated, not enjoyed. They are told to suck it up and stick with it no matter what and are made to feel selfish for having the audacity to expect anything more. I encourage you to share this article with those who have discouraged you and to develop a dialogue in which you can both share your views and beliefs and hopefully better understand each other.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352

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