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Increasing Intergenerational Understanding in Ministry Work

Boy, can we be victims of overgeneralization when it comes to generational labels and ideas at work in non-profit organizations! Yikes! As true as oftentimes they may be, overgeneralizations without real interpersonal understanding harm work cultures. Unfortunately, compassionate mission settings are no exception to this probable perceptual harm to our work cultures.

Though generational differences exist, organizations should not overly generalize these stereotypes or fail to recognize individual employee differences.

boy and adult fishing
Generations sharing a common task

Pew Research on Generation Labeling

In the summer of 2021, a group of about 150 demographers and social scientists sent an open letter to the Pew Research Center, one of the leading US public opinion and demographic research institutions, asking to stop using its generational labels (currently: Silent (Traditionalists), Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Zs. The letter to Pew enumerated many reasons to stop with the labels. It argued that the labels would increase crude and inaccurate stereotyping.

Even if Pew stopped defining and labeling generations, their intent, they rebutted, was to create realistic research about differences. So, even if these labels were not, or never were, empirically defensible or, in perfect analysis, useful, they were “important social and political fictions.”

So, as leaders, we should and can learn from the generational analysis yet confirm its accuracy in each of our cultures from real-world talking, sharing, and listening. We need to listen better intergenerationally as a cultural goal in every work environment.

How We View Each Other

Direct mission communication goals can include moving beyond stereotypes to see each worker as an individual. We cannot assume a generational member needs special treatment; rather, we get to know each person individually, understand the similarities and differences in thinking, and use those to benefit our organization. We can look for commonalities and encourage everyone — including the CEO and upper management — to learn about each other.

"Transparency and personal stories bring deeper levels of human understanding."

We can bring workers together in non-work settings. This can go a long way in helping employees learn more about one another in a more relaxed social setting. In a work event or social setting, the Generation Z employee may discover that the Baby Boomer employee on their team has the same love for flyfishing. Finding commonalities with each other will help create a strong connection among employees and thus improve the workplace culture.

We can also focus on the work itself. We can provide a clearer picture of the importance of that work each and every day. Overall, we can share enough to avoid any tendency to be pre-disposed to conflict, even before we all interact.

In everything and in every direction – mentor, mentor, mentor. And learn together.

Consider forming learning groups where younger workers teach older workers how to use social media to drive greater mission impact, while older generations could provide mentorship and guidance to younger workers about developing personal relationships with customers and co-workers, along with historical organizational knowledge.

"Provide professional development opportunities where everyone can learn how to grow and advance within the organization together."

These programs should appeal to all learning styles, formats, and technologies. Ideally, these programs should be interactive and provide employees with opportunities to build rapport with each other to learn from differing experiences and perspectives.

Generational stereotypes can be inflamed through media every time we engage in our social communications. This is a great time to consider that our formed generational perceptions can undermine our potential for deep intergenerational relationships. We can establish increased openness to listening and sharing beyond any generational barriers in stereotypes.

In its book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, The Glasser Institute proposes that the external control psychology of the Seven Dead Habits should be replaced by their Choice Theory, which includes the Seven Habits of Caring. While this Care Theory is worthy of reflection, a more noteworthy premise was instituted by Jesus Himself. On a mountainside a couple of thousand years ago, He presented a way of living that perfectly aligns with the emotional intelligence we should exude as we interact with each other and within the world around us.

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