More people are working longer. We’re not talking about hours or days per week,though this may well be true. We’re talkingabout years. People are living longer and are more health-aware than previous generations, which is good news.
People are healthy enough to work longer – but the downside is that they have to work longer. Pension funds are generally shrinking or becoming less stable, and retirement ages are consequently getting higher.
Meanwhile, younger people keep joining the workforce. This means we have a multi-generational workplace whose composition is unlike any we have seen before. Did you know that a child born in the west today has a more than 50% chance of living to be at least 105? Or that a 20-year-old has a 50% chance of living beyond 100?
What are the implications for organizations? With such a huge mix of experience, attitudes and energy to draw upon at any given time, organizations should be able to use these resources to secure great results. But to make this happen, businesses need to do two things:
- Ensure that different generations with different values and approaches can work together productively.
- Help individuals develop and grow throughout their now-extended working life.
The rise of the millennials
Much gets said about generational differences, and a lot of it focuses on three generations:
– Baby Boomers (people born between early/ mid 1940s and early/mid 1960s)
– Generation X (people born between mid 1960s and early 1980s)
– Generation Y (millennials, born between early 1980s and mid 1990s)
The big news is that Generation X is no longer the largest component of the US labor force – millennials are, and this is a momentous shift.
Generation Y (people born between 1982 and 2000) surpassed Generation X in the workforce in 2015, representing around one-in-three of the US workforce (just ahead of Gen X) with Boomers accounting for 29%. In many other developed economies, the proportion of millennials is now at least 25%. And Generation Z (post-millennials, born after 2000) is now beginning to join the workforce too.
The management myth
Millennials have been portrayed as a diffilt group for organizations to motivate and manage, but is it true?
In her Five Millennial Myths1 article, Jennifer Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that “…. stereotypes of millennials in the workplace are inconsistent at best and destructive at worst.” Similarly, IBM’s multigenerational study of employees in 12 countries concluded that millennials are a lot like their older colleagues. These research initiatives evaluated a range of assumptions and stereotypes about millennials.
– They don’t want to be told what to do;
– Lack organizational loyalty;
– Are not interested in work;
– Want constant acclaim;
– Are more motivated by perks and high pay;
– Have different career goals and expectations.
All these assumptions were found to be inaccurate. Any diffrences were minor, and some were even favorable toward millennials. In the CCL research, the claim that ‘Millennials want more work-life balance’ was supported, but even this was only marginally different from Generation X-ers and was probably related to stage-of-life rather than generational shift. And in the IBM study, the one meaningful diffrence regarding millennials was not attitudinal or behavioral but that they are the first wave of digital natives to enter the workforce. Academic research finds much the same thing. By compiling the results of 20 diffrent studies, David Costanza and his colleagues found that meaningful diffrences among generations probably do not exist on the work-related variables we examined”.
If the research suggests few generational differences, why do so many people worry about them?
Maybe it’s because our experiences when growing up influence the values and ‘personality’ of our generation. This is a seductive idea. We’ve all experienced a connection with similar-aged people when we talk about childhood TV programs or toys, but we have also been inflenced by what happened last year, last week, or yesterday. The values held both by society and by individuals change over time. People from any generation may have more in common with others in their organization than they might realize, especially where there is a strong company culture.
The age of ages
So, what if we talked about people’s ages instead of the generational groups they belong to? Is this more useful?
Older people are, on average, more conscientious, modest, conventional, careful in interaction, sympathetic and helpful than younger people, regardless of the generation. Younger people are more sociable, outgoing and keen on variety, again regardless of generation.
And when older people look at today’s youth, it’s those younger selves that they see. The values and mores of society will change across the years, but the underlying structure of human personality seems to be remarkably constant. Knowing that the differences are less about generations and more about age makes it much easier to see how people can work together productively.
We are no longer talking about monolithic generations, fixed in their behavior. We are looking at individuals, each at a diffrent stage in their lives, making it easier for both them and us to flex behavior and work together. Some honest reflction on what we were like when we were younger, or where we might be heading when we get older, might help us to understand other ‘generations’ better.
A new life cycle
Since the industrial revolution, we have followed a three-stage life cycle:
Education – Work – Retirement
The longer working life means this neat sequence no longer applies. People who work 50 to 60 years will find multiple stages in personal, career and work experience – and not necessarily in the same order. The model developed by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott in The 100-Year Life suggests new and different stages. They include:
Education – Exploration – Individual producer/entrepreneurship – Regular work/employment – Retirement
For individuals, it will be important to recognize when these transitions are coming and navigate them successfully. Understanding personality development through life is key to navigating the stages of the new working life, and it’s no coincidence that many executives seek coaching when they are re-evaluating what stage they are at in life.
Organizations seeking to retain and leverage talent across generations need to make these transitions as constructive as possible. They need to recognize that individuals can contribute at any age or life stage. And focusing on the individual – rather than the mass – is going to make the difference.
Orginal article People First for Organizational Fitness, by The Myers-Briggs Company