Maybe you’ve heard this statement before “We’ve always done it this way” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If you’re a young agriculturalist like me, then you’ve probably heard this from your father, his father, or maybe even from his father before him. Deeply rooted traditions aren’t bred overnight, nor is a budding relationship or a crop. It is a centralized idea that stems from the core of this county: a wild, rural desire to cultivate a better life for a person and their kin.
To understand generational differences, it is important to note that the idea of a generation comes from a “defining event” and is a specified period of time that allow its occupants to inherit similar characteristics based on the environment of that time period. There are currently six well-noted generations: The Greatest generation, The Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennial, and Gen Z. The Greatest Generation can be associated with the Roaring Twenties while the Silent generation witnessed the beginnings of racial disparities. This bleeds into a post war “baby boom” and a desire for Gen X to have a structured work-life balance. It trickled down the funnel into a generation of tech-savvy Millennials and a technology dependent Generation Z. Where do you find yourself? I’m sure you can walk down to your local Starbucks and find out easily.
That being said, each generation has a set of characteristics that are shared and can easily be agreed upon in the company of a similar generation. The next time you find yourself in a situation of a generational gap or difference, ask yourself “How much patience will I need for this and how can I try to be understanding to the other?” Nothing resonates with this question more when considering generational differences such as working on a broken piece of equipment or working cattle with your father, father-in-law, or any of your relatives. Dad says, “we need to fix this implement with parts from Myers Ward” and you may be thinking “why don’t we just go buy a new one from John Deere?”. Although you both want to fix the implement, your thought process will be different due to that generational gap thing. My generation (Millennial) wants to buy a new part while my father’s generation (Baby Boomer) wants to fix and solve the repair with his own two hands and without the help or money spent to another company. Nothing is wrong with either approach, it is a matter of working together and taking the conscious effort to fix the problem with both methodologies.
In agriculture, many farms and companies are family owned or passed down, each with their own traditions and family secrets to business. Sometimes generational differences can hinder the betterment of a company’s financial position or cause customers confusion when the company vision is not shared by the younger and older family members. To bridge these gaps, it is important to note some of the gaps come from factors that we cannot control, like societal changes due to legislature, protests, or from personal experiences. Generational gaps I see frequently consist of arguments concerning new technology, new slang, delayed vs. instant gratification, and work ethic. All of these factors can make it difficult to partner with a generation other than your own but in agriculture, we have a unique opportunity to touch each and every generation because of the incredible fruits of our labor that fuel each generation and their children. That’s something I take pride in, don’t you?
That being said, agriculture sets the tone for a lot of things in this country. Shouldn’t we be leading the charge for changes we want to see? If that is the case, then our industry must find a way to deal with generational gaps and educate others. We pave the way for all sorts of new things, why not generational workplace conduct? Let’s analyze a couple of the common generational gaps.
Technology. We love it but hate it! Millennials and Gen Z grew up with technology (the glorious iPhone) surrounding them and can use it for its intended purposes with ease. Just take the iPhone for example. When the smart phones took over the market, younger generations flocked to the nearest Apple stores while Gen X and Baby Boomers weren’t in a rush to adapt- and still aren’t. This can go for anything from getting a smart phone, computer, or a new tractor with GPS. Most of us can settle for Microsoft Word and Gmail, while some agriculturalists prefer to have the latest apps and market research instantly.
Work ethic. is it generational or individual? Work ethic is something that can be easily seen but hard to tell internally when evaluating someone you work with or around. Work looks a little different today because of the pandemic, yet we still see just how hard everyone is working from home during the era of Zoom and telework. Agriculturalists have not stopped working, showing that true work ethic comes from within, maybe passed on from another generation. Work for generations of Gen X and above comes from seasoned experience and callouses and problem solving. Work for Gen Y and Z consists of enthusiasm and an innovative spirit. Enthusiasm and drive don’t substitute for experience, but it does help partner with other generations to bring out the best in the future of agriculture.
Generational differences doesn’t have to have a negative connotation! It just means everyone needs to respect another way of thought too. Generational gaps are nothing more than a bridge that needs to be crossed and an ode to agree to disagree. Thank you to those that have paved the way and to those that are still paving it.
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