Is The Personal The Professional?

Despite all the usual strife one reads about (and may experience directly) between and among generations, it seems that intergenerational gaps can’t break family bonds; 84 percent of Millennials (ages 19 to 30) and 54 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 50-66) declared[3, 5] they would financially assist one another if needed. (The percentage gap suggests that after years of providing, many Boomers may believe they’ve sufficiently served the cause.)

Many Boomers also believe (as do numerous GenXers who shared that latter half of the 20th century, as did and do the ever-dwindling Lucky Few and Good Warriors from the first half), that the personal is the professional, the interpretation being: though the decorum of the workplace and the casualness of home are easily distinguishable, the authentic self must be present in both settings. However, thanks to enabling technologies, workplace flexibility and social collaboration tools (now being used to create savvy and innovative new business streams), the workplace can seamlessly meld itself to home, making a Millennial more inclined to say, the professional is the personal.

The divergence helps explain the attitudes of both groups. For centuries, whether a blue or white-collar profession, employment has been seen as the rite of passage to adulthood, and the evidence of it — such as clothing and demeanour — a point of pride. Millennials, having been treated and spoken to as equals/adults most of their lives, dismiss the rite, and evidence of it as shallow, anathema to them. They have a point; appearances and behaviours are superficial, but as so often happens, a right can also carry a wrong; for in business and purposefully so, appearance and behaviours provide the first crucial clues about the underlying culture. [4]

This divergence of opinion and practice is pricey. A recent survey of hiring managers[1] revealed they are three times as likely to hire a Boomer (60%), as they are to hire a Millennial (20%) … 75 percent citing “inappropriate interview attire”; 70 percent “for posting potentially compromising content  social media”. If you’re a Boomer, don’t gloat; for in the same survey, 40 percent also said they are reluctant to hire Boomers due to difficulties learning and adapting to new technology.

But what about the hiring managers themselves? Where is the diplomacy, the gatekeeper responsibility to give a poorly dressed applicant guidance/feedback about expected business attire, plus the fact that all references and social media posts are checked-out post-interview, and therefore it might be a good thing to take down anything considered inappropriate or too personal? 

This kind of feedback requires courage and authenticity by a hiring manager, but as ‘being professional’ is often construed as the ability to stay impersonal and inauthentic, perhaps this responsibility does not occur to them, or perhaps it does not occur as being their responsibility – rather the interviewee’s. This, in and of itself, might highlight one of many differing expectations that Boomers and Millenials hold.

But what is personal? What is professional? How do we measure them? No single method exists for the reliable and valid evaluation of what constitutes “professional” behaviour.[2] 

Tune in next month for more.

[1] Adecco Staffing (2012), Survey Reveals Hiring Managers Highly Value Today’s Mature Workforce [accessed Jan.23, 2013]
[2] Arnold, L. (June 2002). Assessing Professional Behavior: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Academic Medicine, Vol.77, No.6., Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Accessed January 18, 2013.
[3] Heimer, M. 2012, Will Boomers and Millennials Get Along, Market Watch, The Wall Street Journal [accessed 22 January 2013]
[4] Shein, E. (2010) Organizational Culture and Leadership – 4th Edition. Wiley Publishing: New York, N.Y.
[5] Winerip, M. 2012, Boomers and Millennials Feel a Need to Care for Each Other, The New York Times, [accessed 23 January 2013]

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