From Generation to Generation at Work: a book review

For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workplace at the same time: Traditionalists (those born before 1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen Xers (1965-1980) and Millennials (1981-2001).   Each of these generations grew up with  experiences that shaped their ideology,practice and assumptions. Traditionalists (or Builders) came back from World War II and built  many of the major companies and still lead many of these organizations. Boomers entered the work force and climbed the corporate ladder by putting in long hours. Gen Xers were smaller, and so did not move up the food chain as fast as Boomers did (because Boomers keep not dying). Millennials have now entered the workforce, but are not as inclined to follow the rules as much as the older generations (Gen Xers weren’t either but because of their small numbers, did not effect much change).

Haydn Shaw has written Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Ploces They Come Apart to help businesses leverage the strengths of each generation. Each of the generations has something to offer. Traditionalists built many of the organizations, industries, and companies.  They and Boomers still occupy places of significant leadership, but have not always passed on important information. Gen Xers have navigated the business world (as defined by previous generations) and have risen to meet various challenges. Millennials are poised to creatively contribute to the market but find that they are judged by other generations for their work ethic, lack of experience, and disrespect for authority.  Stereotypes about each generation abound, and often the other generations are dismissed for where they are found wanting. Shaw helps us appreciate the gifts of each generation that is rooted in their history.

Shaw examines each of these generations, providing an overview of their characteristics and history before discussing the 12 ‘sticking points’ which create generational tension in the work place. These are:

  • Communication
  • Decisions Making
  • Dress Code
  • Feedback
  • Fun at Work
  • Knowledge Transfer
  • Loyalty
  • Meetings
  • Policies
  • Respect
  • Training
  • Work Ethic

In each of these areas, Shaw helps us acknowledge the tensions, appreciate why the tension is there, identify where organizations can ‘flex‘ to accomodate different approaches, leverage the strengths of each generation and resolve how to handle these areas.

I appreciate many of Shaw’s insights and I think this will be a helpful book for people working together from different generations. Because my own vocational goals are ministry, I immediately translate Shaw’s insights to that context. I think he names some of the tensions of intergenerational ministry but his focus is specifically on the work environment (i.e. company policies, work ethic, etc). Some of this is translatable to a church setting (though not all of it).

One of the insights of this book that I appreciated was Shaw’s explanation about Gen X as a ‘squished generation.’ When Gen Xers entered the workforce, they did not climb the corporate ladder the way their parents did, nor were they able to effect organizational change because they did not have the numbers Boomers have.  As a result, they have learned to navigate working with the older generations, playing by their rules (but breaking rules and asking for forgiveness later). Many of the features of Millennial generation are held in common with Gen Xers but because of their numbers, they will effect greater change in business and industry. However, for the moment Gen Xers are working in dynamic tension between Boomer leaders and Millennial’s entering the business world. They have to navigate both worlds.

Books about generations are by necessity generalizations. Shaw admits that his characterizations describe generations but may not describe individual members of each generations. When generational characteristics are used as a hammer, they do not do justice to the personhood of the people they attempt to describe. Thankfully Shaw has put the hammer away and has written a book which helps us appreciate the different assumptions we carry to the workforce and how their can be a greater level of cooperation across generational lines. I give this book 4 stars.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Talking About Our Generation(s): a book review

The churches I grew up in weren’t particularly intergenerational. As a kid I was sent off to children’s church during the worship service and Sunday school after church. In high school and in college, I went to youth and young adult groups and was involved with para-church ministries like Youth For Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As an adult, in my thirties, I am one of the few of my generation that is still  in church (Generation X is the most absent generation from church).  Why am I here? Am I more holy than my peers? On a good day, perhaps. But the real reason is that unlike many of my friends I was able to forge meaningful relationships with older people at my church.  While my friends and I had each other, I also had older sisters and brothers in the faith and spiritual parents and grand parents which nurtured me and mentored me. When my doubts threatened to swallow me whole, I was held by a web of relationships until my faith was more fully formed.

Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship by Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross

Holly Catterton Allen (professor of Christian ministry at John Brown University) and Christine Lawton Ross (professor of Christian education at Concordia) have teamed up to write Intergenerational Christian Ministry: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship They observe that in many congregations, generations are stratified. Churches that describe themselves as ‘multi-generational’ or ‘trans-generational’ often fail to look for ways to intentionally integrate the generations  (17-8). In contrast, Allen and Ross look for ways to engage multiple generations in Christian spiritual formation. It is is their contention that ‘cross-generational experiences are essential to Christian formation and the development of a mature faith (25).’

Allen and Ross divide their book into four parts. Part one examines  the late twentieth century practice of separating the generations and the benefits of  an intergenerational approach. They discuss how hyper individualism, societal shifts and ‘the homogenus unit principle (HUP) caused many congregations to separate generations from one another to more ‘effectively’ reach them. However, this approach segmented the church and prevented us from experiencing the mutual benefits of Christian unity (generationally).

Part two presents the biblical, theoretical and theological foundations for intergenerationl formation. They show the biblical precedent for cross-generational ministry by demonstrating that  worship and formation were intergenerational concepts in both testaments. The insights of developmental psychology and educational theory further demonstrate the wisdom of their approach. Finally Allen and Ross also demonstrate the theological underpinnings for intergenerational Christian formation by basing their approach by exploring the significance of the Triune community and the implications for ecclesiology.

Part three further demonstrates support for intergenerational formation from the social sciences. Allen and Ross discuss religious socialization, gerontology, generational theory and their qualitative research into the value of cross-generational experiences for Christian formation.

In part four Allen and Ross turn their attention to practical matters. They give practical advice on fostering an intergenerational community, creating intergenerational worship and learning experiences, telling stories, planning Intergenerational missions and serving projects and intergenerational small groups. For their final two chapters, they focus on two contexts where intergenerational ministry is particularly challenging. The first of these is Asian American churches and the peculiar challenges faced by First and Second generation churches. They also discuss the challenges of trying to be intergenerational in a mega-church context. While there are no easy answers Allen and Ross give guidelines for developing greater intergenerational unity in those contexts based on some concrete success stories from churches which are dedicated to this sort of approach.

The appendices  prove to be a practical resource. Appendix A presents forty intergenerational ideas, Appendix B lists various resources for intergenrational ministry and Appendix C lists intergenerational scripture passages.

Because Allen and Ross discuss at lengths the value of intergenerational ministry from a number of angles, this is a particularly good book for those who may be skeptical about intergenerational approaches. They admit throughout this book, that intergenerational ministry is not easy, but requires commitment and intentionality. However in the end, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. Any one involved in church ministry (regardless of their position) will find this to be a beneficial book.  I recommend this book to pastors and lay leaders who are seeking creative ways to bring old and young together in their church.

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Question for discussion:  In what ways have older Christians impacted your faith? Younger?