Generation gap YF&R overcomes differences
Casper – As the average age of farmers and ranchers across the nation increases, a new generation is emerging in the agriculture industry and, according to American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Leadership Development Kyle Perry, there are many advantages to working together.
“We always have to interact with people of different generations in some way, at some time,” said Perry at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference on Dec. 2-3. “It provides a lot of challenges and struggles, but it also provides a lot of opportunities.”
“This is the first time in the history of the world that we have four generations currently active and involved in the workplace,” continued Perry, who noted that each generation has unique values, motivation and perspectives influenced by their life experiences.
The four generations currently in the workplace, as described by Perry, are the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.
Conference attendees volunteered that working with people of the Traditional or Baby Boomer generations is sometimes frustrating because they are often more resistant to technology and change.
“I hear the same frustrations continually,” said Perry. “The older generations say the same things about Generation X and Y, only flipped.”
At the same time, the Young Farmers and Ranchers recognized that Traditional and Baby Boomer generations have strong work ethic and are supportive of young members of the industry. The group noted that these generations have made numerous sacrificed and have strong values.
Perry added that while we can recognize our frustrations, it is more productive to talk about the advantages of having multiple working generations, and to do so, it is important to understand the differences in each generation.
“First, we need to increase our generational awareness to improve how we interact across generations,” explained Perry.
“Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000, is typically described as eager, coddled and overscheduled since birth,” said Perry, marking the ability to instantaneously connect with the world as important.
Perry continued that Generation X is largely described as skeptical, due to the experiences in seeing impeachment, church scandal and the highest divorce rate ever seen in the U.S. He added that Generation X considers productivity to be important, in contrast to time spent at a task.
The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are described as optimistic, in contrast to Generation X.
“Sense of self is connected to job and achievements,” Perry explained, “all in pursuit of the American Dream.”
The eldest generation in the workplace was born between 1906 and 1946 and is considered Traditionals, who are driven by the ideals of sacrifice and tradition. This generation saw both Pearl Harbor and World War II and grew up with a sense of duty and loyalty.
While dates clearly define each generation, Perry also noted that the lines can be blurred and individuals typically do not fall squarely in one box, based on their individual experiences. He also added that there are discrepancies when we apply these generational ideas to agriculture, because the studies done were largely conducted in a corporate setting.
“Not only do you see differences, we can see similarities within every other generations,” commented Perry. “For example, the Traditionals and Generation X are very philanthropic and care about the greater good while Baby Boomers and Generation Y tend to be a little more self-promoting.”
Perry also asked the Young Farmers and Ranchers to come up with ideas for how generations fit within the agriculture industry and how the differences can be overcome.
Suggestions to target programs that have clear benefits for today’s volunteers but provide the opportunity to advance in organizations for the traditional generation were provided. The group also thought it is important to encourage change and adopt innovative ideas in a manner that is not forceful to accommodate members of all generations.
“Everyone in the organization has a similar mission. It’s the way that we go about doing things that may be different,” explained Perry. “We care about agriculture and the future of the industry, so we fortunately have a common set of values that allow us to come to the table.”
By taking the information about different generations and utilizing it to more productively discuss the issues agriculture faces, Perry said that organizations could more easily accomplish common goals.
“Get rid of the ideas of what is challenging and think about what strengths each generation provides,” encouraged Perry. “When working with other generations, look at the advantages you really appreciate and tell them about it. Also, think about what you bring to the table that could be useful.”
Conversations between the generations that encourage recognition of generational differences, as well as the factors that have influenced those differences, can be very helpful in accomplishing goals.
“We have to be not afraid to take this information to the table,” commented Wyoming Farm Bureau Media and Member Relations Director Karin Clark. “I think that there are so many counties out there that aren’t afraid to change, they just don’t know how to change.”
Clark also added that it is important to recognize the generational differences, and forcing change may be detrimental. With the support of the Young Farmer and Rancher program, the potential for a young voice and influence has been recognized in multiple situations.
“I think in Wyoming, groups are really ready for changes,” said Clark. “We can gain from our veteran leaders, and they can also gain from us as well if we work together, remembering these generational differences and how to communicate.”
Ultimately, Perry said, “Acknowledge the challenges that rise from the differences but capitalize on what can come from the strengths.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.