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Four generations at work, and online

New culture clashes are arising as four generations try to coexist in the workplace. Similar issues arise when kids, parents, and grandpa are all online.

New York Times workplace trendspotter Lisa Belkin writes today about the culture clashes arising now that four generations are in the workplace at one time. The World War II generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y have very different values and expectations that are not always compatible co-existing in the workplace. Think belly rings clashing with Brooks Brothers, or flex-time worship versus yuppie ladder climbing.

Belkin writes about programs designed to translate workplace standards and communication styles across these boundaries: "Summer is the season of culture shock in the working world, when the old guard comes face to face with a next wave of newcomers, and the result is something like lost tribes encountering explorers for the first time."

This trend story feels a little pat and overgeneralized, but Belkin's article made me smile because I had just been thinking about what it means to have four generations online. In this case, the tables are turned with the younger generations as the experts who have grown up with online technology as their native culture, and senior family members more or less along for the ride. In our family, the grandparents are online, which is a good thing, but I have run into my own case of culture shock when my father reads my blogs.

I don't include highly personal information in my blogs, but it freaks me out whenever my dad mentions something from one of my posts. He'll ask me about an upcoming trip that I blogged about but haven't talked to him about, and suddenly our chain of communication feels short-circuited, as though he has ESP or has read my diary.

I know he just wants to stay in contact and it's really sweet that he wants to interact. But at the same time, to be honest, I am starting to understand why teenagers are so mortified by their parents looking at their online profiles or blogs. It's disconcerting and vaguely embarrassing, like when a parent tries to sing along with songs on the radio. And as a writer, feeling like your dad is standing over your shoulder reading as you compose your thoughts is enough to bring out the inhibitory self-censor in anyone.

In the end I guess it's all part of the karmic cycle of parents and kids. Boomer bosses have to deal with Gen Y employees, frustrated by the very dynamics that they encouraged in Boomer parent/Gen Y kid relationships. So I guess after years of telling my parents to get with the program by getting online, I am just going to have to accept that when I am blogging, they might be reading.

And Dad, if you are reading this, please just promise you won't print it out and fax it to Grandma.