Social Contribution: Gen X vs Gen Y

September 25th, 2014 – How do Social Responsibility, Multi-tasking and Diversity fuel Contribution for Gen X and Y?

In our blog series covering the different elements that constitute the DNA of Gen Y engagement, this month we’re looking at Contribution.
Our bloggers from Gen X and Y share their perspectives – which are not that different after all.

From a Generation X perspective…

Social Responsibility – it’s part of our generational DNA
Our small yet mighty Gen X cohort has made noteworthy contributions to society since we were in high school. In search of an identity and voice, we latched onto social causes we felt most passionate about, and often the cause was a symbol of rebellion or global political change (remember camping out for apartheid?). In our early adulthood, we built the political, social and intellectual foundation that Gen Y and Boomers grow from today. We wanted to be agents of change, and still do to this day.

As parents and citizens of a community, we feel a responsibility to give back. When we have time, Gen Xers volunteer outside of work, and that fits into Gen X’s preference to separate, not blend, work and personal life. For Gen X parents, the cause is primarily something close to home like school or through church: leading scout troops, advising on parent committees at children’s schools, running or attending fundraisers, or donating to shelters.

We definitely care about macro social causes, but Gen X needs more time to contributeand with so little free time, we prefer volunteering on the clock. We are thrilled to participate in social causes that are driven by our employers. Charities need management and leadership skills. For example, one consumer product company wrote a marketing plan for a homeless shelter. A pharmaceutical division took a day off to volunteer at a food shelter. Firms need to make contributions or they look myopic. Gen Y and Gen Z consumers want to know what a corporation stands for, what are they contributing to society? Corporations – incorporate a social cause into your strategic plan and let Gen Xers join in.

Multi-Tasking – a nice asset

Multi-Tasking is an area where Gen X is vastly different than Gen Y and Gen Z.  Early in our careers, multi-tasking was an error, not an asset. We were assigned to a project or program such as SAP or “Let’s Go Y2K” and expected to stay focused, avoid distractions. For me, my office was a safe haven, tucked away from my personal life. I found comfort in getting to work, closing the door to my private office, and dedicating all of my efforts to one project, one task. I multi-tasked everywhere in life. Phew, here I am.

Today, we work with multi-tasking Gen Ys and are expected to juggle projects also. We learned how to multi-task work with our lives by juggling the many facets of our lives simultaneously:  children, aging parents, volunteering, job, home maintenance etc…  So we’ve adapted to the new style of work by jumping in and multi-tasking. We realize if we stay in our private offices on one project, we won’t get the exposure, skills and opportunities that Gen Y gets by multi-tasking. And while it’s not easy for those of us trained to concentrate, working on a variety projects is a feasible way to stay on the C-suite’s radar.

No matter how many projects a Gen X is working on, organizations can trust Gen Xers to get the job done. We view multi-tasking as a useful skill and a good match with new technology, Gen X wants to produce high quality work because we are professional, detailed and timely. If we can multi-task our busy lives, we can surely multi-task at work.

Diversity – embracing it

Our identities are strongly tied to our careers. To be successful in our multinational workplace, Gen X embraces diversity. We grew up with a global perspective: We watched the first ever 24/7 media, and were exposed to many different cultures. As children, we were often ignored or rejected so we know how badly discrimination feels. We became accepting of differences within ourselves and among our peers that made us inclusive and open-minded towards multi-generational and multi-cultural environments. Advancements in technology in the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to experience the world linked globally.

How does this translate to the workplace? To Gen X, to discriminate is like committing a moral crime. We embrace diversity and appreciate the strengths that individuals from each culture contribute. For example, we learn the heritage of our multinational employees so we can work with them more effectively. I traveled to Japan for business and their hospitality was so gracious. To return the generosity, I took a crash course in Japanese culture.

With Gen Y even more diverse, organizations need to maintain a relatively high level of diversity to appeal and retain global Millennials. While Gen X embraces, Gen Y “celebrates” diversity. The Gen X conscience will continuously integrate diversity into the corporate culture. Organizations need to recruit globally to find and retain the best talent and to be progressive socially in our global world. Lacking diversity is a sign of a lagging organization.

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