June 7, 2024

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Generations have much to learn from one another

Kimberly PohoveyAs I near 60 years in age, I increasingly find myself both frustrated by and envious of younger generations. This is especially true in the workplace. While I have typically been the youngest on staff at most of my previous employment positions, I find myself now among the oldest.

Growing up with an ingrained sense of responsibility and hard work ethic, I have been easily frustrated when a young person does not appear to go the extra mile or work longer hours. I have also experienced young people who are much more informal than people at workplaces where I was previously employed. For instance, I have had candidates show up for interviews

30 minutes late or dressed in sweatpants and an old T-shirt.

I know that my choice to work long hours is mine alone, but as I experience more younger workers, I have to admit that I envy their heightened need for a work-life balance.

I grew up with such a sense of responsibility that I do not quit for the day when I still have work to accomplish. Younger counterparts know to leave the work behind at the end of the day to spend time with their families and friends, or to prioritize their hobbies or rest time. So, who chooses the better path?

I just missed being a baby boomer by a year, thus, I am the oldest of Generation X (born between 1966-1980). I am a blend of baby boomer values and Generation X implementation. We make up 31% of the current workforce.

Gen Xer’s work life is characterized by independence, leadership skills and adaptability, and we are technologically adept. We tend to be leaders, value autonomy and have a strong work ethic. We hold 50% of leadership roles in the current workforce. Because so many of us are leaders, we need to adapt to the changing workforce and learn how to better relate to the generations that come after us.

I was surprised to learn that now nearly 50% of all workers in the United States today are millennials (otherwise known as Generation Y). Millennials (born between 1981-1995) were raised in a digital era characterized by constant connectivity and rapid change. Theirs was the first generation to more fully embrace the digital era, although this has sometimes led to social media addiction. They are known for their tech-savviness, desire for meaningful work and passion for innovation.

Millennials prioritize work that aligns with their values, seek flexibility, and strive for healthy work-life integration. Eighty percent of millennials say they seriously consider how a position will affect their work-life balance. I have to admit that last sounds much healthier than my generation.

Then comes Generation Z (born between 1996 and mid-2012).

Gen Z cares about the environment and the future. They are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. They are considered digital natives, being exposed to a digital world from birth. They, more than their predecessors, were raised in a rapidly changing and different world.

As a rebound from millennials, Gen Z prefers more in-person encounters. They are less tolerant of authority, they embrace change, value flexibility and are competitive from increasing demands to succeed in education.

It’s clear each generation has something terrific to offer. But how do we meld these different generations currently entwined in the workplace?

I go back to the Gospel. Treat others as you want to be treated. (Lk 6:31) I try less to impose my authority, and instead consider how they want to be treated. I have great respect for younger generations who are concerned about the environment, prioritize their families and adequate rest, who are much more able to adapt to new challenges, and who align their life with their passions and values.

It seems to me that older and younger generations have much to learn from one another, and hopefully, we can all learn to strike a better balance between a hard work ethic and prioritizing our families and emotional health. Hopefully, a future generation will get it all right.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of major and planned gifts for the archdiocese.) †

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