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Mind the generation gap
Published on Friday, 02 Sep 2011
In an extreme example of the generation gap, a controversial 2007 video clip on YouTube shows a young man refusing to move his bag from a seat to let an old man sit beside him on a bus in Hong Kong. The incident led to a public debate over the seemingly selfish behaviour of Hong Kong’s young people.

Is the generational gap putting a damper on Generation Y? A recent survey on Hong Kong's Gen Y, born in the '80s and '90s, has revealed that although the older generation is quick to dispense advice to these youngsters, it is slow to encourage them.

The survey of some 500 Generation Y members and more than 400 people aged 31 years and above was conducted between 26 June and 3 July this year by Love Psychological Education, a scheme funded by the Li Ka Shing Foundation's "Love Ideas, Love HK!" internet-based project. It found that 75 per cent of Gen Y members readily admit their faults. They know they give up easily, are weak in the face of setbacks, dislike criticism, and have problems with self-management. About 90 per cent realise they are highly creative and tech savvy.

The survey also found that although older generations are aware of how smart the youngsters are, they have a message for them: be humble, listen to your elders, and be grounded.

Importantly, the survey discovered a communication chasm between the generations. Although older people appreciate the Gen Y's strengths, have high expectations of them, and readily give them advice, they hold back on words of encouragement and that all-important pat on the back, which the younger generation needs.

Cherry Tsang, project manager at human resources firm Adecco Personnel, says the findings reflect workplace realities where a new generation of workers and their more senior supervisors are experiencing a generational disconnect. Experience in training shows a communication gap between Gen Y members and their managers, she adds.

"There are pronounced differences between the generations today," she says. "The younger generation is comprised of individualised workers who emphasise work-life balance and job satisfaction. In comparison, their seniors value hard work. For members of the older generation, a job has traditionally been important because of the financial support it gave the family, and they worked very hard. The younger generation does not have the same financial burdens, and their education has encouraged them to seek work that reflects personal values.

"So, they tend to question their work. They want to know why they have to do what they are asked to do, and how their jobs contribute to the organisation's bottom line. Their managers may consider them impractical."

Tsang says Gen Y workers are not lazy. "They value hard work. But there tends to be a general pattern of them regarding work as something more than just a means of making money. They want to contribute and they want recognition for their efforts. They want the manager to know what they are doing. In fact, they'd love to ask their manager, 'Are you watching? Am I on the right track?'"  

Unfortunately, members of Hong Kong's Gen Y are also reticent, Tsang adds. The city's young workers are more passive than their Western counterparts and tend to stay silent about their preferences and needs. So, they give up easily amid setbacks. In contrast, their Western contemporaries tend to talk things through with their supervisors, which leads to a better working relationship. The silence of Gen Y members can be frustrating for managers and employers, Tsang says.

Commenting on the self-admissions of Gen Y members, 22-year-old Samantha Sam, a graduate of the David Li Kwok Po Secondary School and now a media communications university student, says it is unfair to pigeonhole an entire generation.

"With such a lot of resources available to help us solve problems, it's impossible not to have a solution," she says. "With experience, you become better at handling setbacks." 

 


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