Monday, May 11, 2009

Al Walsh on Ethics....and the Generational Perspective

Work Ethics – A Question of Perspective

Someone on a networking site recently posed questions relating to bickering among different generations regarding work ethics.

To me, the issue is largely a matter of experiential differences.

The World War II generation, due to the exigencies of war, largely adopted a self-sacrificing posture oriented toward serving larger issues. Serious matters were at hand, much was at stake, the contributions of all citizens were required, and the outcome was anything but certain. This philosophy was largely passed on to their children (including myself), and was reinforced by the Cold War (my father was a “steely-eyed missile man” who could have been many things but chose to answer his country’s call). This generation also came from a predominantly rural pre-war world that reflected deep conservative values. It was only with the advent of world war and post-war reconstruction that a mass exodus from rural to city life took place; slowly changing the complexion of the country.

The younger peace-era generations did not feel that compelling group-pressure, and have adopted a more laissez-fair posture in keeping with the fine old American tradition of self-interest; somewhat as their ancestors did before the war. This has spawned a growing focus on quality of life, as opposed to one of mere sacrifice. The war generation felt a certain freedom when they returned from the war, but the old values hung strong and were reflected in the business world for many years.

The peace-era generation is largely an urban/suburban group with a diverse mix of social, political, and religious values; a much less homogenous group than their war-era ancestors. They reflect the freedoms of thought and action that generations of Americans have worked so hard to nurture and protect.

Post-war reconstruction spawned a never-before-or-since-repeated era of booming economic opportunity as America utilized its massive resources and capabilities to help rebuild a war-torn world. People succeeded at business who might find it very difficult-going in today’s sketchy economy.

The peace-era generations have faced stiff, growing competition from those same rebuilt nations; plus others which have risen of their own accord. These generations face economic challenges akin to the political and military pressures of their ancestors. The outcome is now, as it was then, very much in doubt. The difference lies in the nature of the challenge, and the manner of dealing with it. No “great government effort” is going to win the economic “war”. Many from the younger generations have risen to the challenge with innovative new approaches.

Prior to the Depression and World War II, the US Government was much smaller and more narrowly-focused in its affairs. Since that time, the power and influence of government in the lives of citizens has grown exponentially; a situation that the war-era generation largely promoted. Today’s young business person faces political challenges that their ancestors could only imagine. Of course, part of that growth in government influence is a reflection of citizens’ desire for greater government interaction in social affairs; as reflected time and time again at the voting booth. The driver for this trend is multi-generational. Nation-building has also spawned a vast financial and monetary system which impacts the lives of citizens in myriad new ways. Just look at current events.

The immediate post-war generation that rose to predominance in the business world, bringing their fairly conservative values with them, now conflicts with and grudgingly makes compromises to younger workers in order to fill their company ranks.

We long-of-tooth are slowly fading away from the corridors of business power, and the younger generations are getting the chance to make their own unique mark. The transition is bringing a certain level of pain & confusion, as it always does. Such is the way of life.

We Americans have always been a diverse group that values individual freedom of thought & action. When outside threats arise, we rise as one to deal with them and then go back to our self-interest. The reaction to 911 taught me that our nation still stands ready to act as one when necessary; otherwise, it's business as usual.

I don’t see a difference in work ethics.
I just see massive changes in our world.

So, if you’re of a younger generation - know that your ancestors did what they had to in keeping with their times, and did it well. They made lots of mistakes, but they also kept the world from going down the toilet; and they did it largely out of love for you.

If you’re one us older folks, keep in mind that the younger people live in a very different world. If you think their work ethics are lacking, they’ll be the ones to suffer if you’re right. Frankly, I wouldn’t worry about it. From what I’ve seen, they look like a pretty resilient crowd.

Al Walsh, CEO
Walsh Enterprises, Business Advisors
Huntington Beach, Ca

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