Stop telling generational jokes (video transcript)

This post is the video transcript accompaniment to this post

Have you heard this one?

“How many baby boomers does it take to change a light bulb?”
“None. Baby boomers resist change, even if it would make the world a brighter place.”

I am so tired of generational jokes. At least I really need them not to be part of our conversation in the office, because they’re just not true.

A large scale meta-analysis looked at Generation X and millennials and baby boomers and found that there are no significant differences on things like loyalty or engagement. And another big study of thousands of people showed that they aren’t different from one another systematically on various important personality factors. Those generational differences, we want to see them, but for the most part they just aren’t there.

You might be thinking, “okay, but it looks like it to me. What’s going on?”

Well, a lot of what we’re interpreting as generational differences are just differences with people at different ages and stages. I’m 50. My kids are mostly grown, and my mortgage is almost paid off. I’m going to make very different decisions and take different risks than somebody who’s got three small toddlers running around or somebody who’s 23 and just getting going. The world is their oyster, but I’ve made a few decisions. I’ve closed a few doors and windows. It’s no surprise that people at different ages and stages are going to show up differently at work. It doesn’t mean that the generations are different. It doesn’t mean they’re always going to behave that way.

And an even bigger factor than either of generational differences or age and stage is just individual differences.

We are humans. We are very unique. We are our own special fingerprint of personality and experience and relationships and styles. So when you cast these stereotypes, when you tell these generational jokes, a really interesting study published in Harvard Business Review recently said one of the risks is not only that you impose stereotypes on other people, which is harmful, but you also start to buy in to the stereotypes about your own generation, and that can really constrain your behavior. It’s not true, so why are you believing that story?

Instead, it’s really important if you have friction with somebody in the office, if somebody’s not performing, if they’re paying attention to different things than what you wish they were, engage with them as an individual. That’s what it is. It’s just an individual relationship or an individual performance issue. And if you start to blow it out and make it seem like it’s something about billions of people on the planet, well, that’s on you, not on them.

So please can we stop telling generational jokes?

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