Archive for the ‘Generational Gap’ Category
Businesses may be able to erect a firewall to limit an employee’s access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But they can’t erect a fence high enough or deep enough to prevent dissatisfied and disengaged young workers from leaving their jobs despite a weak job market.
According to a recent Deloitte survey, nearly one-in-three (30%) employees are actively working the job market and nearly half (49%) are at least considering leaving their current jobs. Academic research indicates that 44% of these employees will actually act on these turnover intentions.
Employers, on the other hand, hardly see what may be coming. For example, only 9% of surveyed executives expected voluntary turnover to increase significantly among Generation X employees in the 12 months following the recession. That stands in sharp contrast to Deloitte’s survey results: about one-in-five surveyed Generation X employees (22%) have been actively job hunting over the last year and only 37% plan to remain with their current employers. Members of Generation Y also have their sights set on better opportunities, with less than half of those surveyed (44%) reporting they plan to stick with their jobs.
Among the executives surveyed, 65% expressed concern about losing high potential employees and critical talent to competitors in the year following the recession. Nearly half (46%) recall that voluntary turnover increased following the 2001-2002 recession. Nevertheless, only 35% have an updated retention plan in place to keep hold of talent as the recovery strengthens.
In Deloitte’s white paper, “Has the great recession changed the talent game?”, they include an excellent overview ranking effective retention initiatives by generation, comparing executive perceptions vs employee wants:
Key question for talent leaders: Do you know what your employees really want and are you tailoring your strategies to address the generational and geographic diversities of your workforce?
Read the full paper at Has the great recession changed the talent game?”
When Samuel Morse sent the first electronic message from the U.S. Capitol to his partner in Baltimore nearly 170 years ago, he typed “What hath God wrought?” I believe nearly every parent of a teenager today might be muttering the same words.
We are in the midst of four distinct generations of Americans trying to communicate with one another using different media. Communication gaps between parents and kids or managers and employees are nothing new. It’s been the subject of thousands of books. Experts have made millions and millions of dollars prescribing remedies to bridge the gaps and mend fences. But they’ve seen nothing like the gaps occurring today between the Veterans (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (1965-79), and Millennials (born 1980-1999)… or have they? Has anything really changed over the past 170 years?
Take the phone for example: According to Nielsen Mobile, in the first quarter of 2009, the average U.S. teen made and received an average of 191 phone calls and sent or received 2,899 text messages per month. By the third quarter, the number of texts had jumped to a whopping 3,146 messages per month, which equals more than 10 texts per every waking non-school hour. Just for the sake of comparison, at the beginning of 2007, those numbers were 255 phone calls and 435 text messages.
It’s hard to believe that little handheld device we used to call a phone is quickly joining the transitor radio and 8-track cassette in flea markets and garage sales. Don’t believe me? Just try calling anyone born during the 90s or later. Good luck on getting a real person on the other end to answer it. Voice mail? Good luck on getting a listen before it’s deleted. Email? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s old school, baby.
That makes the term “phone” almost obsolete. Using that mobile device to call someone is just a vestige of old technology. The older Millennials, also referred to as the iGeneration because these young people have been raised on the iPod and the Wii, rarely if ever use their “phone” to call someone. They communicate almost exclusively by instant messaging and Facebook. (I intentionally excluded Twitter because contrary to popular belief, young people “don’t get Twitter.”)
This explosion of text messages, tweets, and updates of non-verbal communication is stunning. It has many peoples’ shorts tied up in a bunch. “How will kids today ever learn how to communicate?,” is often the cry heard from multi-generational training audiences. And the spelling and grammar? “Well…it’s horrific,” parents and teachers proclaim. But historians might see this revolution in communication as just another lesson in history repeating itself.
Isn’t instant messaging today just Morse Code v2.0? What’s changed since Morse tapped in that first message? Upon brief reflection, it seems eerily familiar. One person taps a bunch of keys on an electronic device which transmits a message to another party. Only this time the code, all those texting abbreviations that drive grammar and spelling cops crazy, is translated on the spot by the recipient.
Ironically even Morse’s first message reverberates loudly with today’s texting dissidents — “What hath God wrought?” It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Millennial generation is in the midst of experiencing their first recession. This experience has caused them to witness a new side of corporate America…and they don’t like it one bit. This could spell trouble for corporations down the road. To paraphrase an old English idiom, “hell hath no fury like a generation scorned.”
SBR Consulting, a Charlotte firm specializing in helping companies attract, retain and reward different generations in the workplace, has just published their first of three studies on how the Great Recession is affecting the Millennial generation. The results suggest that due to poor management and poor handling of layoffs, 70% of respondents who were laid off would not go back to work for their company and 55% are either unsure or do not want to work for corporate America again.
It also reveals another significant clash of styles between generations. Veterans, born before 1946, and older Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1954) pledged loyalty to the company in good times and bad. Layoffs were taken in stride because what was good for the company in the short term was good for the employee and community in the long run.
When older generations were laid off or even fired, they did not talk about it at home. They certainly did not broadcast it to the world. The Millennial generation, however, was raised on 24/7 breaking news and instant messaging. They share personal information readily. They are not afraid to talk about being laid off. They are even moral vocal about how their layoff was handled. These conversations and perceptions are then shared with hundreds of friends and thousands of strangers via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
That’s bad news for any business that handled a layoff poorly. Not only is this news spread virally, but now that Google and other search engines are indexing tweets, updates, and blog posts, this bad news creates a permanent digital imprint for anyone to see. A battered reputation poses a significant risk for any business that handled it badly.
The study found that early warnings of layoffs and respect throughout the process meant a great deal for Millennials that were subsequently laid off from their jobs. “It’s not personal, it’s business” does not work for this generation. They take layoffs personally.
Only 34% felt the company cared about them during the layoff process and left with a positive perception of the company. Compare that to the 64% who received no warning of a looming layoff. Only 12% of this group felt the company cared about them during the layoff process and left with a positive perception of the company.
While the Great Recession appears to be over, a return to normalcy seems far off. At least that’s according to a recent article published in The Atlantic.
If you can believe what you read, “there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014 unemployment will have declined only a little” off the near 10%. The effect will be an “era of high joblessness [that] will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults.” That’s not surprising considering that the current unemployment rate for all workers between the ages of 16 and 24 is hovering around 19%! And it’s worse — much worse for young black males between 20 and 24 years-old where the unemployment rate is a whopping 35% (compared to 19% for while males).
With anemic job creation and even slower Baby Boomer attrition, the author of How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America believes this job slump could “change the nature of modern marriage…plunge inner cities into despair and dysfunction…and warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.”
Is he right? (If the torrent of Congressional exits is any indication, it’s a pretty good sign that joblesseness and economic recovery in the near-term won’t be pretty.)
Within the past 24 hours I’ve read an article reporting that that the level of job dissatisfaction for workers under the age of 25 is at the highest level ever recorded. Another one titled “So You Thought Generation X Was Angry” describes how Gen Y is bearing the brunt of the economic collapse. And a third pointed to how Gen Y feeling left out of job market is causing a big problem for them and the business world.
Concurrently, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) was painting a graphic and bleak picture of an imploding workplace and deteriorating infrastructure designed by Baby Boomers to be paid for by Gen X and Gen Y. In his recent speech on fiscal “state of emergency” he said:
One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits — a total of $3.8m on a $120,000 investment.
A retired teacher paid $62,000 towards her pension and nothing, yes nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her entire career. What will we pay her? $1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime.
He then asked, “Is it ‘fair’ for all of us and our children to have to pay for this excess?” That’s a great question and one which will take a courageous man or woman to look into the eyes of a young unemployed adult today and say, “Yes. I deserve every penny.”
So for the time being, it looks like at least one-fifth of young adults will remain unemployed. Unfortunately when they do get a job, it seems likely that each paycheck will come with a hefty deduction to pay for failures and excesses of a generation gone by.
Is it any wonder then why tension is building between the Baby Boomers and their successors, Gen X and Gen Y?
Roll back the clock about 40 years and 74% of young people said there was a generation gap between themselves and their parents. Of course if you are a Baby Boomer, you recall growing up in war and recession.
It’s not surprising then that 79% of Generation Y, according to a recently-released Pew Research Center report, today acknowledge a generation gap, the highest level ever recorded. The parallels between the late 1960s and today are uncanny — two wars and a recession. You’d expect the tension between young adults and parents to be paralyzing. Surprisingly, you would be dead wrong.
The members of this Gen Y generation, ages 10 to 30, are BFFs (best-friends-forever) with their parents. It is reported that college students typically check in with their parents about 10 times a week. If you speak with some parents and young adults, it’s even more often than that. Kids and parents dress alike, friend each other on Facebook, listen to the same music and fight less than previous generations. Gen Y even assert that older people’s moral values are generally superior to their own.
Like every preceding generation, Gen Y is a product of their parents. But unlike their Boomer parents who were raised to believe that second place was first place for losers, Gen Y were raised to believe that everyone who plays is a winner. For the record, born between 1980 and 2000, these “trophy kids,” also known as Millennials, have been coddled by their parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement. Their anxious parents were afraid of their children growing up with an inferiority complex. In games, it was common for everyone to receive a trophy — win or lose — thus the name “trophy kids.”
Kids no longer fear the bad report card either — teachers do. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink to avoid bruising the child’s precious self-esteem.
If the bond between parents and children is so strong, why does nearly 8 out of 10 Gen Y believe there is a gap? It is in their use of technology where Gen Y sees the greatest difference, starting perhaps with the fact that 83% of them sleep with their cell phones. It is also this technology that young people believe can be leveraged to build community. They think technology unites people rather than isolates them. Technology is a means of connection, not competition.
That hunger for community further distinguishes them from the radical individualists of the baby-boom years. In fact, in some respects Gen Y emerges as radically conventional. Asked about their life goals, 52% say being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% think that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society. While more tolerant than older generations, they are still more likely to disapprove of than support the trend of unmarried couples living together. While they’re more politically progressive than their elders, you could argue that their strong support for gay marriage and interracial marriage reflects their desire to extend traditional institutions as widely as possible. If boomers were always looking to shock, millennials are eager to share.
The greatest divide of all has to do with hope and heart. In any age, young folk tend to be more cheerful than old folk, but the hope gap has never been greater than it is now. Despite two wars and a nasty recession that has hit young people hardest, the Pew survey found that 41% of millennials are satisfied with how things are going, compared with 26% of older people. Less than a third of those with jobs earn enough to lead the kind of life they want — but 88% are confident that they will one day.
Let’s hope that optimism doesn’t get extinguished with the passing of time and maturity. Based on the way things are going, future generations will need every bit of hope and heart they can muster.
In one of those “this made by day” moments, a friend of mine forwarded a review of my book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. The review was written by Charles Sizemore at HS Dent and published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast. Not only was I pleased – no, ecstatic – over the author’s insight and comments, it was especially rewarding because it was completely unsolicited and unanticipated.
The book review in its entirety is posted below.
“What is a generation?” asks Ira Wolfe in his new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. “A generation is a group of people who are programmed by events they share in history while growing up… a common set of memories, expectations, and values based on headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style, and education systems.”
I would agree with this definition, and would add that it ties in with the concept of generation gap. Parents (and sometimes even older siblings) often do not “get” their kids. They don’t understand their vocabulary. They don’t understand what motivates them. And they absolutely, for the life of them, cannot understand why a pieced eyebrow is cool. (Who am I to criticize…in my childhood, coolness was defined by acid-washed jeans that were tightly rolled around the ankles and permed hair and makeup on male rock stars. Go figure.)
Mr. Wolfe’s book is an interesting study on the relationships between the generations in the workplace. It’s very similar in substance to the generational work done by William Strauss and Neil Howe (Generations, The 4th Turning, Millennials Rising), but it’s much less academic and, frankly, quite a bit easier to digest. Corporate executives who find themselves managing a multigenerational workforce should find the book quite valuable, as should anyone struggling to understand the generation gap in their own home, for that matter.
Wolfe speaks of the generations as if they were single members of a large family. At this stage in their careers, the Baby Boomer managers are “parents,” while the Echo Boomer employees are “kids.” Generation X, stuck in the middle as always, is analogous to an unloved older stepchild, cut off from the nurturing love fest between the Boomers and Echo Boomers.
Of Generation X, Wolfe writes “Coming of age in the shadow of the Baby Boomers virtually ensured that this generation would be overlooked and ignored; like Great Britain’s Prince Charles, they are the workplace ‘heirs apparent,’ waiting endlessly and impatiently to assume leadership.”
And like the unfortunate Prince Charles, their waiting has no end in sight. Gen X is hitting a “gray ceiling,” as the incumbent Boomers refuse to retire and make room at the top. But while Gen X waits for its chance to take the reins, Gen Y is slowly coming up behind them. Given the symbiotic relationship between the Boomers and their “Mini Me,” the Echo Boomers, Gen X is right to worry about being leapfrogged.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Gen X is a very entrepreneurial generation; with the Baby Boomer generation acting as an 80-million-person roadblock to their career advancement, it is understandable that Gen Xers believe that their best chance to excel is through starting their own businesses. Of course, Gen X also watched their parents and older brothers suffer through the layoffs and restructurings of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Seeing quality professionals lose their jobs through no fault of their own made Generation X grow up a little cynical and mistrusting of large companies.
Wolfe also has a secondary theory for Generation X’s independence and somewhat prickly demeanor. While the Echo Boomers were the “trophy kids” who were coddled from birth by their well-intentioned soccer moms who slathered them in antibacterial hand wash every time they left the house, Gen X was the “latch-key kid” generation. They had to fend for themselves at a young age. They also weren’t required by law to wear a helmet and knee pads every time they rode their bike to school, nor were they required to sit in a car kiddy seat until puberty. In short, they weren’t smothered by their mothers (or by the “nanny state”), and they were allowed to be kids — little Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers who got into a lot of trouble but ended up stronger for it.
Don’t underestimate this personality characteristic; you don’t realize how valuable it is until you see the alternative: the neediness of the Echo Boomers (also called the “Millennials” and “Gen Y”). In smothering their children with things like “My kid is an honors student” bumper stickers, the Baby Boomers have created a codependent monster in the Echo Boomers they raised. Echo Boomers require constant attention and affirmation in the workforce. They’re emotional and oversensitive. And they don’t understand why it’s not ok to wear an eyebrow piercing into a place of business if you want to be taken seriously or that it’s rude to have your face buried in a text message when someone is talking to you. (This is my personal pet peeve. Though she is now a married professional in her mid-20s and generally has good manners, my Echo Boomer kid sister has the annoying habit of doing the “Blackberry prayer” when I’m trying to talk to her. Her husband does it too. It’s maddening.)
Wolfe does an excellent job of describing the frustrations felt by managers today:
At school, teachers accentuate the positive. Kids no longer fear the bad report card — teachers do. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink to avoid bruising the child’s precious self-esteem. Managers in turn must now tread lightly when making even the most benign critique…
How did these kids get this way? For many Millennials, few “accomplishments” didn’t rate some type of acknowledgement. In games, it was common for everyone to receive a trophy — win or lose — thus the name “trophy kids…” The lesson shifted from “second place is the first place for losers” to “everyone who plays is a winner.”
This generational tension is a bit ironic. While many managers and most of the media targets the kids, the blame might fall squarely on the very people doing the loudest complaining — doting parents, teachers and coaches. After all, the grumbling Baby Boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who raised the millennial generation after starting families late in life or vowing not to make the same mistake twice with children from second and third marriages.
Wolfe, a graying Baby Boomer, is certainly no crotchety old man wagging his finger at “kids these days.” Quite to the contrary. (If anything, it is me, your younger Gen X writer who fits that description.) Wolfe sees a lot of untapped potential in this young generation. What I might consider a short attention span, an inability to focus, and insufficient attention to detail, Wolfe calls “hyperalertness,” defined here as an “advanced form of mental flexibility.” I would consider instant messaging three friends while simultaneously uploading photos to Facebook, blogging about rock bands, playing Second Life, and listening to an iPod to be a colossal waste of time of absolutely no economic value. I certainly wouldn’t call it “multitasking.” But I guess that makes me old school.
At any rate, Mr. Wolfe’s objective is not to pass judgment. His objective is to help managers better understand those under their control. And on this front, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization is a useful too. I’d recommend this book to anyone in a position of authority over a multigenerational workforce.
Charles Sizemore, CFA
This book review was originally published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast.
Entitlement has become a dirty word these days, especially when you pit a Baby Boomer with a Gen Y.
When I asked my audience recently what words first comes to mind to describe Gen Y (born between 1980 and 2000), a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1954) shouted out “entitled!” “I’ve worked hard every single day since I graduated high school,” she said angrily. “And these damn kids expect to get everything handed to them today.”
Just then, a phone rang. It was the angry Baby Boomer’s. Without missing a beat, she picked it up and started talking. She didn’t turn it off. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t even tell the caller, “Sorry, I can’t talk now.” She just started carrying on a conversation, before striding out of the room.
Just minutes ago, a client asked me this question: “is there a page on your website that describes each generation?” I said, “sure. Let me send you the link.” And then after dozens of searches using a variety of keywords on my multiple websites, I had one of those blinding flashes of the obvious! After writing and publishing thousands of articles and newsletters, I never took the time to write one providing a simple, succinct description of all four generations. DUH!
So…here’s the fix. What follows are descriptions of the four distinct generations working side-by-side in the workplace along with their most significant values.
Who are the Veterans?
Born Before 1946. Veterans have a very strong work ethic. “Just git’er done” could be their motto. Give an impossible task to a Veteran and somehow, someway it will get done. Most have served in the military or been married to someone who did. As a result, Veterans tend to be very respectful of seniority, title and rank. Because their world outlook was shaped by the Great Depression and World War II, Veterans have a very practical outlook (make do, reuse, recycle) and know how to put money away for a rainy day.
Key Veteran values: Self-sacrifice and dedication.
Who are the Baby Boomers?
Born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers invented the 60-hour workweek. They are competitive to their own detriment at times with a “work-til-you-drop” work ethic. They have a history of turning endings into beginnings. Now entering traditional retirement age, they have no plans for porches, rocking chairs, or seats at bingo tables. Retirement is not the end of a career but the start of a career transition. They are optimistic about their own lives – they believe that if you set goals and work hard, you can achieve whatever you set out to do. Boomers have less respect for rank and hierarchy than their predecessors but still respect the hierarchy of leadership, especially when they can be part of it. They set long-term goals and have the “no pain-no gain” attitude to set them through.
Key Boomer values: Hard work and be a team player.
Who are the Gen X?
Born between 1965 and 1979. Gen Xs are the free agents of the workforce – independent, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial. Because they don’t find any value in wasting time with non-essential stuff, they shattered the management philosophy of “if ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Gen Xs grew up alone because both parents were working. In addition, 40% of their parents were divorced and/or lost their jobs during the ’80s and ’90s. As a result, Gen Xs are very concerned about life balance and fiercely protective of family time. They tend to be skeptical and pragmatic, and value leadership by competence. They have no respect for service, title or rank because their parents had all three and lost their jobs anyway. Their career paths create a mosaic of work, learning, family and even sabbatical. When they receive an email at 11 PM from their Boomer boss, they don’t think “Wow, she works hard” but “Wow, she might be over her head and can’t handle the workload.”
Key Gen X values: Life balance and respect for individuality.
Who are Gen Y (also known as Millennials)?
Born between 1980 and 2000. Gen Ys are very entrepreneurial. Most worked at legitimate jobs before they left high school. Gen Ys are technology-savvy. They’ve never known a world without mobile devices and 24/7 connectivity. They see themselves as citizens of the world and feel very connected through the Internet. Gen Ys fly to Europe to visit friends and family as easily as Veterans and Boomers crossed state lines. Family vacations take place on cruise ships instead of cabins by the lake. They have better relationships with their parents than many Gen Xs and Boomers, and have a strong interest in teamwork (although they define “team” differently than Boomers and Xers). And despite an ongoing debate about the human ability to multi-task, they seem to be creating a new frontier for juggling multiple activities simultaneously.
Gen Y values: Making a difference in the world and respecting diversity.
I’ve also excerpted the chapter from my book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization that describes each generation in more detail. To download a free copy of this excerpt, click here.
Worried about your next generation of leaders?
You’re not alone. According to a new survey about leadership skills from Pearson and Executive Development Associates Inc. (EDA), 57% of business executives said their leadership talent pipeline was the same or weaker today than it was two years ago. Seventy-five percent said increasing bench strength will be their top business priority for the next two to three years. Is this too little too effort?
When asked what skills were needed to assume executive positions within the next three to five years, respondents cited strategic thinking, leading change, the ability to create a vision and engage others around it, the ability to inspire, and the ability to understand how the total enterprise works. But the respondents also agreed these were the very skills lacking in their current talent pool.
The right successor must have just the right blend of personality, time and experience. And with a more complex and faster changing marketplace destined to be our future, the ability to deal with ambiguity and paradox is paramount. This combination requires innate talent plus development. Creating this competency can take years and many people just are not equipped to ascend to the role. And others who have the skills and experience aren’t willing to give up their personal and family lives in exchange for a promotion and title. What motivated the Baby Boomers doesn’t motivate Gen X and Gen Y.
In addition to lack of skills, a leadership shortage is all but a done deal. When the Baby Boomers finally decide to slow down or retire, pure demographics will stall the succession. Gen X, the succeeding generation, is little more than half the size of the Boomers. And many Gen X and Gen Y are putting family before careers.
One more glitch: while three to five years may not be enough time to develop the next generation of leaders, it might also be too long in a competitive market. Many talented Gen X are tired of waiting for the Boomers to get out of the way. As the economy is rebounding, job offers will start coming in. It is already happening. Competitors and emerging companies are scouring the job market for talent and your next leader could be their target.