Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace
Kelly F. Millenbah and Bjorn H. K. Wolter
I (Millenbah) was ecstatic when my parents announced that they were moving from a PC to a Mac. Finally! My Mac-versed sibling could field all of the calls from my parents about the almost daily computer induced dramas: This program is not working! What’s a URL? What do you mean a computer can get a virus? I would spend countless hours attending to my parents as they attempted to navigate the world of computers, something that seemed so effortless and commonplace to me and yet so completely and utterly challenging and frightening to them. I would lose patience as I walked them through how to copy and paste for what seemed like the 100th time. My parents are highly educated individuals and held high level positions in each of their past careers so it is not that they are incapable of learning or understanding computers. This interaction between my parents and me got me thinking. Am I really any different than they are? My own children look at me with distain with my own apparent lack of computer savvy. “Hey, I am on Facebook!” I boast. Little did I know that to be really computer-literate I needed to be a tweeter and active on Tmblr, all while multi-tasking via instant messaging, text messaging, and playing Halo on my Xbox. So, am I really that different from my parents? How can three generations of family members be so drastically diverse in the way we communicate, live, and survive?
Today’s workplace is complex, filled with individuals of different generations all with their own expectations, motivating forces, experiences, and opinions. The differences among generations can result in a suite of challenges, as well as opportunities, for solving pressing natural resources issues. Before we can be effective in advancing our collective work on the conservation of natural resources, we need to better understand what defines, describes, and motivates workers in the field and how we are influenced by our generation.