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LOL and YOLO

Generational differences in the U.S. election highlight challenges in the workplace
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Ian Hendry

I’m sure many of us receive humorous emails/tweets through our social networks. We have friends who regularly send us funny stories and we courteously provide an “LOL” when we read something that makes us laugh.

I’ve actually provided an LOL response to several American friends who have informed us that they have already printed off immigration forms in the event that Donald Trump should win the presidential election.

If you have been following the polls, like me, you might be confused by the fact that, notwithstanding the outlandish statements and gaffes Trump has made, the gap between him and Hilary Clinton is still relatively small.

My network, likely much like yours, is enjoying SNL’s coverage. SNL is, of course, Saturday Night Live and Alec Baldwin has been hilarious mimicking Trump in recent sketches. You might also be familiar with the acronym YOLO. In stark contrast to LOL, YOLO stands for “you only live once” and it is being ascribed to Trump’s strategy of giving no thought to the consequences of one’s actions.

 In a recent post, Liz Plank translates it as “random erratic midnight tweets and a crisis response strategy that can be boiled down to ‘LOL, just kidding.’” For example, invite a foreign enemy to hack into government departments. It’s just a joke right, LOL, but the inference is that the national security systems are suspect and that’s the fault of Barack Obama/Clinton’s current regime.

What is fascinating is that this type of activity seems to be resonating with older voters and, a couple of months ago, one poll of white voters over the age of 65 gave Trump a 16-point lead. This seems to fly in the face of financial conservatism, which would be the hallmark of this generation.

Contrast that with the under-29 crowd who gave Clinton a 17-point lead. In fact, their distaste for Trump placed him lower than other marginal candidates. It highlights, for me, the generational differences we see today and the topic of our next SCNetwork event on November 15th.

Trump romanticizes the idea that America can be great again, and boomers can relate to a time when America was admired. Millennials have no such illusion and have grown up during economically tough times with high unemployment. They are looking for a leader who can inspire optimism, which can partly explain the surprising following Bernie Sanders garnered.

If research dictates the result of this election, it is said that people are more likely to vote against someone rather than for someone. Will the election come down to simply who is disliked the most? Recent history suggests this is borne out by the Brexit vote where 72 per cent of millennials wanted to stay in the European Union, and it was those over age 45 who wanted to exit. The explanation offered is that the older age group was simply sick and tired of the political system, and had a lack of respect for the way in which they had been governed.  

Managing a multigenerational workplace is complex. What is the common ground within which boomers, gen X’ers and millennials can operate? There is a great deal written about the attributes of these different age groups and, for simplification, we have tended to categorize them through generalizations.

For example, boomers have more loyalty to their employers, X’ers have more loyalty to their managers, and millennials are loyal to each other. All of us can identify people we know who would contradict such a generalization. As practitioners, we understand that everyone is unique and is a byproduct of his or her upbringing. So the challenge facing organizations is to find a common set of values that employees can embrace, and by which they can live, and leaders who can demonstrate the ability to understand, respect and adapt to generational differences.

Recent studies have indicated that millennials are half as trusting as boomers and these “digital natives,” as Goldman Sachs first called them, are going to be key contributors as the technological revolution, already underway, disrupts organizations like never before.

As parents, that reality is already well-understood. How often do we beg our children to fix a computer/iPhone problem we have? If that’s true in our homes, it is likely to be just as true in our organizations, and the more we can value and leverage our differences, the better the results will be.

This upcoming session on November 15th will give us practical insights on “how” all generations can work better together. As we look stateside, let’s remain hopeful that the differences exemplified in a very negative, destructive presidential campaign can be healed.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Suanne Nielsen

Suanne Nielsen is president of the Strategic Capability Network and senior vice-president and chief talent officer at Foresters in Toronto.
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