They used to call us the Born-Free Generation – Gen Free if you feel cheeky. Those born between 1990 and 1994 witnessed the last gasps of apartheid and the establishment of a democratic future for our young country.

To my knowledge, our parents’ generation did not have a name – perhaps because they were too separated to be given a single name, or possibly because they were too busy fighting wars or oppression to care to name themselves.

These days the lines between generations are defined by terms like “Baby Boomers”, “Generation X”, “Generation Z”, and “Generation Y”.

This blogpost will approach two questions:

  1. Does this division between generations truly matter?
  2. Do the terms above even apply in a South African context?

The Generational Divide and Why it Does Matter

First, let’s take a look at what a generational gap can be defined as: “A generation[al] gap refers to the chasm that separates the beliefs and behaviours belonging to members of two different generations”. Simply put, a generational gap suggests that there are certain differences in values and attitudes determined by the generation you are born into.

So, how important are these differences anyway?

Let’s be clear, this generational gap does matter. Each generation is motivated by different principles, views on history, and ideological standpoints. They are also influenced by vastly different political and historical events that shaped how their ideals and beliefs have come to be.

You see, when we look at any generational gaps in our country, we should acknowledge that our history is a bit different from Western countries like the USA. Terms like “Generation X”, “Generation Y”, and “Generation Z” don’t really fit into our context because the significant historical events that influenced the separation between these generational terms simply don’t translate to South Africa.

Young, Black South Africans grew up continuing the work of dismantling the aftereffects of an oppressive system. Young, white South Africans, on the other hand, grew up in an environment where unlearning and undoing the racism of the past became increasingly imperative.

The transition to democracy is something that these young people have witnessed from its beginning, experiencing their own growing pains while observing those of our young country. So-called Born-Frees therefore also face a different set of challenges than that of previous generations.

The Generational Gap in The Workplace

This gap carries through to a workplace setting where people from different generations will inevitably have to collaborate. It is at work that the significance of these divisions really takes effect.

The point is, this distinction between the generations is a useful and important one on various levels – it affects employment levels, work outlook and attitudes, how people interact with authority, how they work in their teams, and how they approach education. There is also a lot that can be said about different degrees of experience.

When you work in HR, are a manager, or own a business, you need to be especially aware of how any age differences in employees might affect office relations.