A few weeks ago, I was mindlessly wandering through some articles posted on social media when my eyes fell on an infographic illustrating the generational differences in the workplace. You can imagine the character sketches of a Baby Boomer, looking very grandfatherly, a Gen X, looking like a leftover party girl of the 80s, and a backpack wearing Millennial complete with ear buds and – I could swear I saw gum in his mouth. Really! Well, maybe not the gum part.
The infographic proceeded to describe the pros and cons of having ‘that generation’ in the workplace. I’m not going to identify the source because there is no value, neither in where it came from or who posted it. The first flaw, besides the labeling, is that the data is taken from a sampling of 1200 individuals. That is not individual corporations, that is 1200 people ranging in age from 36 to grandparent who is slightly younger than dirt. The factors in the demographic could be accurate based on the severely small sampling of workers across different generations. But would they still be true if the survey was based on the Bureau of Labor tally of workers which numbers approximately 144,747,000?
Do you read labels? The models in this infographic are labeled with features and benefits much like a piece of equipment. Let’s see if you can identify the ‘generation’ with its corresponding quality. They are purposely listed in random order, like the general populace.
Productive, Lazy, Hardworking, Self-obsessed, Revenue Generator, Less Cost-effective, Problem Solver, Less Adaptable, Enthusiastic, Tech Savvy, Team Player, Opportunistic, Less Executive Presence
Once upon a time (it was that long ago), I worked as an accounting clerk at an organization where they processed ham and lunch meat and, of course, hot dogs – er… I mean Frankfurters. – One day I was called into a conference room where there were rolls and rolls and rolls of labels with complementary boxes of packaging for sliced lunch meat. For the next three days, my time was spent placing a ‘weight correction’ label on thousands of packages for products that weighed slightly less than the ounces imprinted on the original package. The labels had to be changed because they no longer accurately represented what would be sold in those packages.
I read labels. When I am considering a product I’m going to consume internally, I pay close attention to what the label says. I appreciate a label that clearly states, “Do not ingest” before I’ve already incorrectly assumed it was ok to take internally. It happens. Have you ever read statistics of the Poison Control Center? Laundry detergent, dish soap, and for heaven’s sake, toothpaste all declare, “Keep away from children.” The label on my hair dryer warns me, “Do not use while bathing.” Really? Does anyone take a bath with their hair dryer?
I read labels. Instructions for operating electronics, using a new gadget, opening a new-fangled Blu-ray case – are printed on the package label. When I bought my new Keurig coffee maker, I didn’t first go to the instruction manual, I read the label to see what was inside that big box. Have you ever bought a piece of furniture from IKEA? You need the labels on the box and those tucked inside the box, too.
I read labels. And this is why labeling people is ethically wrong. People are not pieces of furniture, they are not gadgets, they are not consumables. When we label people, the impression lasts, just like the first impression on the labels of the improperly marked lunch meat packaging. It was easy for me to apply a new label over the old markings as though they were never there. It’s not like that when we mislabel people. Impressions can last a lifetime. Do you read labels?
Remember the purpose of labels. They are limiting and they are intended to identify what has been verified. In 1927 the electronics manufacturer, Zenith was at the pinnacle of quality. Their slogan at that time was, “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” Labels announce to the world what’s inside before anyone even opens the box. Is that how we want to present human traits, features, benefits, character, personality, habits… The diversity of people and uniqueness of individuals defies labeling.
Before assessing personality, before assuming behavior, before rating skills, before doubting their authenticity, let’s give every person a chance to manifest who they are from the inside out. Get to know the person while they find their place. You will discover that there are no common people, but you will find people with common interests, skills, habits, hobbies. Let’s not look at the packaging and sort them into the same silo based on some obscure benchmark. Let’s not label human beings at all.
Recently I read a series of articles at Precision Nutrition by author Krista Scott-Dixon and in the summary article, I found this observation which I think dovetails nicely with my point.
“Don’t believe the front of the package. The more a product is trying to convince you it’s healthy or that you should buy it, the more suspicious you should be.”
This is precisely why we cannot and should not allow anyone to put a label on any human being. People deserve to be honored and respected as individuals without the burden of convincing or proving that they are who they say they are and that they are valued.
What are your thoughts? Do you read labels?