Sunday, 5 June 2011

Between the generations

Not uneventful weekend comes to a close. Suntan is itching the skin, temperatures stay unrelentingly high, the blog reminds about the duty of weekly dose of writing for posterity (number of comments under recent posts and google stats imply the interest in my blogging diminishes, as my lust for thoughts-sharing does). Nevertheless, I promised myself and some other people to soldier on. If the weekend is about recharging batteries, blogging can be a part of it, even if it means staring at computer screen.

Over the week there's little time for posting (I'll try to change it when days get shorter), as most of the time is filled by work; and the post is dedicated to work-life balance. The concept, growing on popularity over the last decade, became an inspiration for Gazeta Wyborcza journalist, then the link to the article was spread on facebook, through which I've found it. I've read it, read it over, taken the trouble to go through the thread of over 300 comments and I'm still left with ambiguous feelings.

The article sets out two different types of approach to work, represented, in the author's view, by two generations which clash at workplace. The author call them respectively: 'Generation X' and 'Generation Y'. Here comes the first trap - these names are misnomers. My English-speaking readers probably are familiar with sociological concepts of Generation X and Generation Y known in the Western Culture. Polish society, until 1989 shaped in the shadow of being a part of Soviet bloc, couldn't evolve as Western societies did, so these names can't apply to Poles. Maybe for that reason the author decided to redefine Generations X and Y. Brief description below:

Generation X:
- loyal,
- available for employers in their free time,
- often think that Y's are simply lazy,
- tend to work overtime and keep late hours in offices, because they want to show their commitment.

Generation Y:
- private life is more important than work,
- work mustn't collide with pastime activities - go to the gym in the morning and can't knock on at 8:00 a.m. - don't take this job,
- work is just means that leads to the end (making the most of life),
- during job interviews openly express their expectations about earnings and perks,
- prefer flexible working hours,
- fail to accept rules set by corporations,
- prefer task-based working time, rather than nine-to-five jobs.

I told about the article some of my colleagues from the office, they read it and the next day we had a short discussion during the lunch. They also ended up in two minds about what the perfect approach to work is. None of us opted directly for X nor Y, we all could discern downsides of each approach.

If you are 'X' you risk a lot. You spend a lot of time at work and little having fun. There's a shortage of time to spend recharging batteries. If work fills your time, you have less time for hobbies, for family, friends, your life begins to be empty. To fill it in, you can either break away from the treadmill or work even more and more (until you drop). Staying longer at work and working overtime (often without being paid for it) is another plague - employees are on every beck and call of an employer, ready to give up their private plans to work more.

If you are 'Y', your expectations and inflated and you should after all learn some humility. Life is not only bread and butter, but you have to earn a livelihood somehow. Coming to a job interview with exorbitant demands gives an instatnt impression that a candidate can only take and refuses to give. An 'Y' employee can be unreliable, flexible working hours may mean they will show up at work late, go home when it's convenient for them. If you drill down into comments to the article, you'll surely read lots of stories of people who encuntered typical 'Y' employees and spoke anything, but highly about them.

All things considered in our assessment of two approaches, we've leant towards 'X'. My colleauges appreciate the importance of private life, but during our talk they looked back on good time in banking (years 2002 - 2008) when salaries were high, bonuses were sky-high, deals were pulled off one after another, companies were queuing up for loans, banks were foisting loans upon companies and... they worked 60 hours per week. They said this was the price to pay for opportunity to develop and earn a lot of money. There must be a trade-off. Either you choose to work eight hours a day and knock off, earn less, don't get promotions and have more free time, or you work more and climb the leader of career. You just can't have the cake and eat it. I was also advised to make best use of those years before I get married, as the best time to learn is when one doesn't have much obligations. So what's the definition of making the most of life: having fun or working twelve hours a day? I work around up to nien and a hlaf, but only if the task require to do so, if not, I knock off at time - no need to show my manager my dedication by staying longer than necessary.

And we've come up with an explanation why with time approach to work has changed. Those people who come under "generation X' grew up some time ago, experienced austerity of late PRL, atmosphere of early capitalism and, the overacrhing point, unlike 'generation Y' weren't spoilt by abundance. Xs' parents didn't give them everything they wanted, but they had to earn it with their own sheer hard work. Ys in their childhood, teenage years and as student would usually receive everything from their parents and this has spoilt them.

Personally I have to admit, unlike my peers, I'd also rather identify with 'X' concept. The 'Y' approach smacks of selfishness and complacency. Young people who enter job markets with inflated expectations are in a way similar to trade unionists - both appear to me as spongers...

Next posting, providing no sunstroke along the way will be rather 'light' (less serious) and spiked with photoes


Brad Zimmerman said...

While workers may be loyal to a company, a company is not and can not be loyal in return. Loyalty, or more properly fealty, is a misplaced desire to gain favour. There is no guarantee of anything in return but the losses - in terms of money/time - are usually very real.

As with all things, people should simple be reasonable. A bit of overtime here and there is ok. Accepting slightly more or less pay depending on exact working conditions ...also ok.

Ultimately, this is a business relationship we're talking about, governed by a contract. Workers almost always give more away than a contract stipulates and I never, ever understand that.

Stefan Kubiak said...

You touched on a few very important issues. Trade-off is definitely something that everyone should think over before making any decision. Because I'm probably type Y (not Generation Y because I don't believe in such a category as 'generation'), I'm self-employed. Being a teacher I work only an agreed number of hours and get money only for the time I work. This make the situation fair and square. I don't know what working overtime is, because if someone offers me more hours to work I simply know that I'll earn predictably more.

Because I've had quite a number of bosses in my life, I dare say hardly any of them appreciates the empoyees' loyalty. Logically thinking they should but they don't. Maybe this is a problem of certain "generation" of employers. What I observe is that they are focused on their own career (if it's a corporation) or just quick profit. (It's called 'microwave mentality'). In order to appreciate your employees' loyalty you have to think in long term and think about the company first. Many people in Poland, including bosses, think about their career ladder and immediate rather than long-run consequences of their decisions.

Of course, we shouldn't generelise. I've just written about the guys I know.

PolishMeKnob said...

I might respectively disagree about the Gen-Xs.