How can we build greater synergies between generations in the community and at the workplace
The onus is on us to create and engage in more meaningful cross-generational interactions so as to connect the different generations and bring out the best in each other.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “boomer”? How about “Gen Z”?
More often than not, we associate negative behaviours and mindsets with such generational labels and these labels are unfortunately exacerbating the rift between the generations and creating differences when there are often none.
So, how then can we connect the different generations and bring out the best in each other, while recognising that the outlook of each generation is distinctly shaped by their own experiences?
To better understand sentiments on the perceived differences between the younger and older generations, the National Youth Council (NYC) partnered with TODAY Online and engaged TODAY journalist Ms Nabilah Awang, sociologist Dr Shannon Ang, and Mr Richard Eu and Ms Rebecca Eu of the Eu Yan Sang family to partake in an Instagram Live discussion on the generational gap on Jun 1.
The guests were asked: “Is the generational gap real?”
These are some takeaways from the hour long livestream:
1. Generational labels are reductionist
Are terms such as Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers “pointless labels”? Can we really define one’s personality and views just by age?
According to Dr Shannon Ang, such labels are “reductionist as there are better reasons for these (generational) differences”.
He cited the difference in social positions such as education as a reason – the younger generation are more English-based as they currently receive an English education whereas for the older generation, they converse mostly in Mother Tongue Languages and dialects as that’s how they were taught back then. This language difference causes a divide and often leads to misunderstandings between the generations.
Ms Nabliah Awang also said that “the age range is too wide for one generation for everyone’s values and perspectives to be generalised.”
Unfortunately, generational labels do more harm than good as they encourage us to focus on generational characteristics – like how millennials are entitled and Gen Zs are softies – rather than the diversity of society. In fact, some might even find it hard to identify with said generational characteristics.
Another point that was brought up was how our perspectives and values are greatly influenced by the issues we faced during the period in which we were born.
Mr Richard Eu, chairman of healthcare firm Eu Yan Sang, went on to add how the older generations experienced the separation and independence of the nation, a lived experience vastly different from what the younger generation are going through now.
2. Every generation has their own set of problems and priorities
Many a time, the older folks deem the younger generation as privileged and entitled because they pursue passion over paycheck.
However, what’s often forgotten is that younger generations have other things to worry about as well.
“I acknowledge my privilege but that does not mean I don’t work hard. I just found my purpose,” said Ms Rebecca Eu, founder of Mei’s Own, a social enterprise that works with women and children based in the Philippines.
Mr Richard Eu added that he’s noticed a higher turnover rate amongst his younger employees who want to experience working different jobs as they view it as opportunities to grow.
He recounted: “Within the first three years, many leave.”
Ms Nabilah Awang also noted that older generations need to realise that we’re no longer living in the era of industrialisation, that we’ve long passed the stage of survival.
She touched on her experience as a new mother and how she understands that her son’s circumstances are different from hers so she needs to keep an open mind and be more flexible as a parent.
She urged that we should stop clinging onto the mindset that “we’re better than the next generation because we’ve been through a lot”, and that the older generation should stop infantilising the younger generation.
3. Keep an open mind and be respectful when engaging in intergenerational conversations
Due to a difference in values, it’s common for individuals from varying generations to not see eye to eye when voicing opinions on topics like family traditions and self-identity.
When such debates arise, we are quick to brush each other off with flippant and dismissive remarks like “OK boomer” and “snowflake”. We assume that it’s because of our age and the entrenched norms of our generations that we have these perceptions. However, this lack of understanding and empathy is what’s hindering us from engaging in healthier intergenerational conversations.
Ms Nabilah Awang mentioned how when sharing opinions it “should not be my way or the highway”, especially within family units where arguments can get heated and emotional.
“Otherwise you should just talk to the mirror,” joked Ms Rebecca Eu, who also shared how their family deals with such problems.
She emphasised the importance of respecting each other’s values as well as exercising detachment, adding that the point of these conversations is not to change one’s mind.
Mr Richard Eu chimed in to say that he maintains a friend-like relationship with his children beyond his role as a parent and that when having these conversations, he ensures that his opinions aren’t coming from a parent-child point of view.
“Don’t impose what you want for yourself onto your children. They’re not your clones,” said Mr Richard Eu.
Dr Shannon Ang added: “Parents have to learn and children have to be more forgiving and understand that the older generation do not have access to the same resources they do.”
After all, communication is a two-way process.
Beyond home, the workplace also sees the same challenge.
While some companies do have an open culture to encourage discourse among employees of varying ages, the reality is that in most companies, older people tend to hold the more senior positions. With that element of power in play, younger employees may find it difficult to speak up lest they be seen as retaliating. They automatically self-censor in fear.
While it’s understandable that the younger generation is afraid of speaking up, there are certain non-negotiables that should be called out regardless of circumstance, one such example being racism.
4. We all have the same goal, just a different approach
Surprisingly, the generations have more in common than we think.
With reference to the NYC Youth Sentiment Poll on Intergenerational Relations which surveyed 700 Singaporeans earlier this month, findings showed that both the young and the old view climate change as a pressing issue that requires more attention in the next year.
In an interview with TODAY, 50-year-old Mr Joven Chiew, founder of Facebook group Singapore Hikers, shared that the difference between the generations is how they perceive nature and what it means to be a nature lover.
“When the older generation say they’re nature lovers, what they mean is they love being part of nature, they love doing things like picking up fruits in the jungle, climbing trees, swimming in the stream – all the things they did back in the kampung days,” said Mr Joven Chiew.
“But the younger generation is less interested in such activities. They are more interested in looking out for wildlife, studying plants, and looking at how conservation can impact biodiversity.”
Essentially, we all want the same thing, just that the way we approach the problem is different. Both generations clearly wish for things to be better. The younger generation might seem individualistic with their approach but their actions are contributing towards the greater good and the older generations should realise and acknowledge their efforts.