Dean Van Leeuwen spoke at the IoIC conference last week about generational differences and how to understand and influence around the topic. Dean describes himself as a ‘futurologist’, and in case you haven’t heard of that profession, here’s its meaning:

Futurists or futurologists are scientists and social scientists whose speciality is futurology. This is the systematic exploration of predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present. (Thank you, Google.)

So, the generation chat! I’m always a little weary of people talking about ‘different generations’. I immediately feel shoe-horned, especially being a Gen Y, which is a generation that people are still trying to figure out. I find generalisations (and they definitely are generalisations) very unnerving and usually end up feeling annoyed that no one gets me, including myself, or worried that I’m not normal. Both unhealthy feelings! And then there’s the question, do generational differences actually make a difference to the workplace? But that’s for another day.

Back to the point, all that aside, I actually really enjoyed Dean’s talk (phewww…) so I’m going to tell you a little bit about it. The first interesting comment I noted was that Dean said our value system is in place by the age of 12. Through our teens we challenge that value system and by our 20s we use that value system as a guiding beacon through life. I really liked this idea, and I think it’s very true.

Dean then went on to compare each generation to a season (as in weather, not salt or pepper). Here’s a little breakdown (and this will seem like a generalisation so I apologise in advance!):

The season of the Silent Generation: the ‘waste not, want not’ attitude.

The season of the Baby Boomer: lovers of missions, brainstorms and away days.

The season of Gen X: priorities in four fs – fun, friendship, family and flexibility.

The season of Gen Y: optimistic ‘if you’re good enough, you’d old enough’ approach.

Dean took us through the four seasons, pointing out world events that have shaped our values and attitudes while growing up in such different times. I laughed and I (almost) cried, it felt like a real journey - he is a brilliant presenter.

So what did we take away from it?
Tips on how to communicate with .. my generation (Y)!

-          Give us a sense of purpose
-          Get the technology right, we’re digital natives - don’t you know!
-          Allow us not just access but real two-way dialogue with leaders
-          Have some fun!

I think all of this is true of me and what’s important to me in the workplace. I’m still to decide whether we should be communicated to according to our generational differences. But I didn’t come away from Dean’s talk annoyed or worried. If anything, the generation disconnect is important to keep in mind when communicating with employees. However, it’s really down to the individual you’re trying to engage. Get to know everyone on your team one by one, because we’re all just so different, even if our generation is the same.