Age in the Workplace

Future’s Ramblings –  Issue 4 –  September 27, 2004

With my upcoming birthday, I dedicated this Future’s Ramblings to age and the workplace. Beginning with

three trends to be aware of:

1. There is a coming job boom, or more accurately a shortage of talent. Demographers and analysts predict that by 2008 we will see a shortage of workers across all sectors of employment in Australia. Sadly, importing more Americans like myself will not help, the US has no spares. The labor shortfall in the US is estimated at 6.6% in the year 2010, growing to 13% by 2020. That would be over 10 million jobs going unfilled! Under normal economic expansion of 2.5% per year the working population won’t grow fast enough to meet employment demands.

2. We have a healthy aging population. The average life expectancy is 80.7 years, mostly due to modern medicine and healthier lifestyles. We live almost 10% longer than in previous generations. Can our economy, with the shortages predicted, sustain a continuing drain of up to 10% of the population leaving the workforce?

3. There are major changes coming in employment contracts that offer non-traditional kinds of work and working arrangements that are tailored to what many older workers are looking for. At this time in the US there is a re-definintion of the legal status of employees and their relationship to employing organizations. There are changes underway to give “self employed persons” equal status with “employees” in the eyes of the tax office and social security. This will dramatically change the look of the office as we know it.

Del Webbs annual baby boomer report found that only 13 % of 44 – 55 year olds they questioned do not plan to continue working once they leave their current career. Consequently, waiting around for people like me to go off into our “twilight years” of retirement will be a much longer wait than it has in the past. GREAT NEWS  I may continue to work till I am 80! As a result, what we are seeing in today’s workplace will continue and there will be several generations working together, this can create challenges beyond what music should be played at the company Christmas party. Understanding how people of different generations view the world, how they make decisions and their expectations of work will help us to blend people of varying ages in a way that is beneficial to the companies we work for.

Sociologist break generational groups down into what they call cohorts. These cohorts are members of a generation who are linked through shared life experiences in their formative years. As each new cohort matures, it is influenced by what sociologist call generational markers. These markers are events, which have an impact on all members of the generation in one way or another. Cohorts are not just shaped by one common life experience they are also influenced by a host of events that over time shape their collective values and attitudes.

Following is the most common breakdown of the generations with some of their key characteristics. The Geyer HR department was sensitive enough not to share your ages with me; however, they confirm we have all four generations listed below at Geyer.

Matures – born prior to 1946. The event that marks this generation is World war II. These people grew up in extended families, all the relatives lived on the same block or in the same apartment building. Their connection to family was strong, and they heard a constant message about values from this tight connection to their family, and the media. Bing Crosby, Marvel Comics, “Father knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” define this generation. These are people who believe in hard work, sacrifice for the common good and respect for authority. These themes have shaped the way matures look at work and their expectations for how others should work.

Baby Boom – born 1946 to 1964. A key event that marks the Baby Boom is the assassination of JFK. These are the offspring of the Matures, their formative years were shaped by economic expansion, rock – n –roll, the proliferation of television and moving to the suburbs. They lived with their nuclear family, the rest of the relatives were miles away so there was not the immediate passing on of values seen previously. Boomers grew up with a sense that their security was taken care of, leaving them the time for sex and drugs and rock and roll, civil rights. Media for the boomers was Mad Magazine “Threes Company” and the Grateful Dead. Despite this generation running amuck in the 60s the vast majority have returned to values

like loyalty, hard work, hope, prosperity, helping others and achieving world peace. Boomers believe in the system.

Generation X – 1965 to 1980. Events marking GenX are the resignation of Richard Nixon, Vietnam, corporate downsizing, AIDS. Media that defines this generation is “Sesame Street” They have grown up with technology, learned their ABC’s by age 4, and stand in front of the microwave impatiently waiting for food to cook in three minutes when it used to take 45 in a traditional oven. Their values about life and work is a ‘Reality Bites’ attitude. This is a generation of latchkey kids that learned to fend for themselves by age 12. The institutions that they were taught to believe in have betrayed them: they witnessed their parents laid off from jobs they had devoted their lives to, their national leaders are constantly challenged, personal relationships are complicated by AIDS. Consequently, this generation is self-reliant and personally focused. They have a different set of attitudes about work, they want a balanced life and do not want to pay dues.  They want to be home for their kids, run a marathon or play soccer. They don’t live to work , they work to live. Generation X brings skepticism to the table, they are used to problem solving and look for ways to use resourses to their best advantage. They have learned to fend for themselves.

Millenials or Echo Boomers – 1981 to 1991. Events marking this generation are the Oklahoma City bombing in the US, the collapse of Enron. One in four comes from a single parent family. They are the product of a society that has once again seen tremendous economic expansion and the explosion of technological convenience. Millennials have matured in a world where shortcuts and manipulation of rules and situational ethics reigns. They have grown up seeing adults attempt to use the system to their advantage and have seen organizations large and small lobby within government to push legislation that will produce the outcome they desire.  As a result, they are said to have a lack of critical thinking skills because they have not been held accountable for their actions. The media that defines this generation is “SouthPark” and “Beavis & Butthead” They have mixed messages about what is right and wrong, good and bad. They have an expectation that they should work, but on their own terms.

So what do we do with this information. I leave you with three tips for getting along with your co workers from other generations

1. Once a person has been programmed with certain values, most become uncomfortable with changing their core beliefs about work and society. The more you know about the shared life experience of other ages, the more you can understand their expectations, values and fears.

2. Manage according to values and attitudes, Delegate the outcome instead of the individual task. Unless they are a Millenial where critical thinking is not a strong suit so delegating by task is best.

3. Provide opportunity to grow on their terms, and with their priorities. Taylor your messages to what they value.

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