The notion of generational diversity is losing ground. It has been an extremely popular topic among talent and leadership practitioners at least during the last 5 years. It seemed we all needed a manual of instructions to navigate the generational differences in the workplace. Now new research throws a different light on what should be the relevant topics to be addressed in the workplace.
End of Gen Y and agony of Gen X
Once considered cool and highly appreciated for being digital natives, the new reality of Generation Y has quickly being transformed into poor working conditions, in some cases even similar to enslavement as unpaid interns. To make things worst, research is showing the many myths we hold about them around the use of social media but also about their work style. In academic circles many now dare to say that Gen Y doesn’t exist. Simply said, there is nothing particular about them, meaning that they are much like their predecessors when they were the same age, just young people.
On the other hand, Generation X, those more or less born between 1965 and 1979, are also living a difficult situation as suggested by this infography. They are in the middle of a generation trap to face the current economical downturn: many of them have care giving responsibilities (children or elderly) but they don’t have either the mobility of the younger employees nor the financial security of the more senior ones.
Generations fading away and ageing speeding up
The broad generational labels, Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y, have had always difficult translation outside of the US. In Generations around the globe Tammy Erickson explains how historical milestones and cultural values of each country shape the different generations. In the workplace, these broad categories simply based on birthdate are not very helpful: age is not the critical variable to manage the workforce, as shown by this study from Illinois University.
The decay of the generacional diversity in the workplace runs in parallel with the consolidation of evidence regarding global ageing. We tend to see this as a Western issue but the truth is that emerging markets are also ageing at a quick rate. Based on OCDE data, the developed countries have doubled their rate of population over 65 years in 50 years, but emerging countries will face the same issue in just 25 years. From a social point of view we’d rather get used to the fact that our societies will need more immigrants in the future and from a business point of view, we’d better learn how to manage older employees in the workplace. In Ageing Employees, CSR Europe offers some examples on how some companies are already addressing this issue.
Generational differences or cultural differences?
The Sloan Center on Aging & Work has been conducting research about the influence of age in the workplace using their Quality of Employment model. This model clusters employee perceptions (importance and current level of satisfaction) around 8 topics: compensation and benefits, training and development opportunities, flexibility, inclusive culture… Their most recent study, Generations of Talent, has used this model to see how cronological age, life stage (with or without dependent care) and career stage influence employee perceptions. I has been in charge of coordinating the participation of my company in 4 different countries, China, Japan, Brazil and Spain. The key outcome has been that there are no significant differences on employee perceptions by age, and only slight differences by career stage and life stage. On the contrary, there are great differences among countries. This suggests we should rather put more effort on intercultural issues, something particularly challenging given the direction most companies are taking to develop global workplace practices and programs in their constant search for efficiencies.
(*) This post has been originally published in Spanish in Diversidad Corporativa in September 2011.