Is it Life-stages or Generational Differences?

Image: Is it Life-stages or Generational Differences?

Do Different Generations Turn Into Each Other?

Recently I was at a session where the age-old question arose. Isn’t what n-gen’s describes as generational values, behaviours and expectations just a function of age? In other words, “when I was 20 I thought and felt the same way as 20-year-olds do today – I was optimistic, innovative and had a lot of expectations of my employer”. This is what we call the ‘life-stages argument’.

However, the different generations don’t turn into each other. Boomers are not becoming Traditionalists, Gen Xers are not becoming Gen Ys, and with the 12 years of research and working with over 200 clients, we can confidently say that Gen Ys are not becoming Gen Xers.

It’s all Definitional

Part of the reason we are not turning into each other is the fact that we have had very different formative events during our coming of age time. Those differing events have led to us to having different levels and types of expectations and varying viewpoints of how we define success in employment, our personal life and finances. School systems have changed in both the content and the way in which they teach, employers have changed in what they provide employees, the economy has changed making achieving financial goals easier or harder. Those changes become the new norm for a generation coming of age, which means they enter into adulthood and the work place with the same values as previous generations, but defined and expressed differently. As we have always maintained, it’s all definitional.

Can’t Ignore Life-Stages or Generations

Some folks are difficult to convince, despite the fact that there is an entire industry, both in marketing and human resources that has been built studying the causes and effects. Despite the numerous quantitative and qualitative studies that have been conducted by national and multinational companies and consultancies, some people ardently maintain that it’s all just about life-stages. Even if that were true, leaders and organizations are still faced with the exact same challenges.

In the past, organizations didn’t pay attention to the expectations, values or respond to the behaviours of 20-somethings or 30-somethings. Instead, leaders created work cultures and systems that forced the younger employees to take their time and ‘mature’. The younger age groups had the choice to get on board, pay their dues, or to get out.

The Impact on Your Business

Holding the perspective that younger employees remain consistently the same decade after decade has significant operational and human resources risks. Why would our HR and leadership practices remain static, when all other surrounding conditions are dynamic?  The employment deal has changed with a lot more contract vs full-time work. There is a broader labour market. Technology has radically changed the way we work. Employers can no longer guarantee 30 years of employment. If employers don’t acknowledge and manage the younger generation’s expectations, the risk is that they will be disengaged, they will be less productive, they will leave and they will spread the news across the Internet.

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