A project I have been working on has led to some interesting reading about demographics.
I read an article over the weekend that pointed out that, for the first time in U.S. history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace. In “The Multigenerational Workforce: Managing and Motivating Multiple Generations in the Legal Workplace,” Sally Kane draws out the distinctions among the so-called Traditionalists, born before 1945, the Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y, in terms of how they tend to function in the workplace.
The article suggests that, largely because generations view the role of technologies differently, the groups may also relate to their colleagues differently in meetings and in one-on-one interaction.
Obviously, Traditionalists have witnessed the most change over their career spans. Presuming they entered the workforce in the late 1960s, they worked through cultural and technological revolutions the GenXers and Millennials may have only read about or seen on screen. In the last 40 years, they have adapted to new workplace devices and vocabularies and, I dare say, have done so pretty well.
Technically a Baby Boomer, I began my career in 1983 at a high-tech trade association. I was working in a leading edge industry that presumably used cutting edge technologies and forward thinking business concepts. I worked hard to learn the lingo and became just proficient enough to stay employed in the industry for the next 20 years.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but I realize now how many of the words we spoke and tools we used must be inconceivable to today’s young professional. Likewise, the collection of gadgets so indispensible to today’s office worker were as unforeseen to the workers of yesteryear as the practice of team-building.
If indeed such a wide gap exists, as the article suggests, in the interpersonal relations among the generations, perhaps I can be helpful in forging some understanding by explaining some commonplace terms from the early 1980s office.
Facsimile machine. It wasn’t called a fax or used as a verb for years to come. It was used only when time was of the essence; in my office, that was about twice a year. We sent and received facsimiles by inserting a telephone receiver into a foam-padded cradle attached to a large roller in which we manually fed single pages. The machine emitted a horrendous odor when receiving.
Message pad. These were pink and were headed with the words, While You Were Out. The answering machine came into existence a bit later.
Word processor. As in, “please let me know when you are finished with the word processor, so I can use it next.”
Ashtray. If you don’t know what this is, visit the Smithsonian; they probably have one on display.
Slides. Little tiny cardboard frames encasing celluloid images shown on a carousel projector.
Transparencies. Plastic sheets containing words written or images drawn with colored markers, shown on an overhead projector.
In Box. It was a real box into which your mail was placed, before it was known as “snail mail.”
Out Box. A lot could be known about you, depending on whether yours was above or below your In Box.
Christmas bonus. Christmas was what they used to call Holiday, but bonus? That one’s a little fuzzy.
Did I forget anything?