Boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y: a Failure to Talk

Last Updated Jun 11, 2008 4:49 AM EDT

  • Inter-Generational AngstThe Find: Between the feature package on managing Gen Y and the vehement reaction to Sean Silverthorne's post about Gen X being unhappy at work, generational conflict has been getting a lot of attention on BNET lately, but a new study suggests all this inter-generational angst may simply be a result of a failure to talk to each other.

  • The Source: The 2008 edition of Randstad USA's annual "World of Work" survey.

The Takeaway: Randstad surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. adults, including both workers and HR professionals in the sample. What they found was startling: 51 percent of Boomers and 66 percent of office elder statesmen (what Randstad calls 'matures') reported little to no interaction with Gen Y colleagues. 71 percent of Gen Yers in turn reported limited contact with older workers, while 67 percent of Gen Xers say they rarely or never interact with the most experienced members of their teams.

It might be tempting to blame the situation on the infuriating narcissism and ridiculous expectations of the frequently bad mouthed Gen Y, but the survey suggests differently. Rather than having high expectations of their employers, Gen Y workers set the bar lower than older generations and their expectations are only decreasing. A chart from Randstand sets out how important various soft benefits are to the different generations, as well as the changes in Gen Y's expectations:

Soft Benefits Gen Y and Decline since 2006 Gen X Baby Boomers Matures
Percentage points
Satisfying work 59%, -21 65% 71% 81%
Pleasant work environment 57%, -28 69% 70% 82%
Liking the people they work with 57%, -17 65% 62% 70%
Challenging work 42%, -17 52% 59% 71%
Flexible hours 44%, -11 48% 51% 46%



The findings are worrying. Considering the coming talent crunch as Boomers retire, how will the essential knowledge of your most experience workers get passed along to younger team member if they don't speak to each other? But the results also suggest a solution- simply creating more opportunities for these two groups to rub shoulders and interact. They also suggest that spending some time in the workplace will bring Gen Y's expectations more in line with reality.



The Question: How often do the generations get a chance to interact in your office?


(Image of the generation gap by xflickrx, CC 20)

  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.