Category Archives: Workplace flexibility

Extreme commuting! Why more of us are becoming Super Commuters

Limited local opportunities, expanded job markets and better value housing further from city centres are prompting more and more people to undertake longer commutes. Factoring in the career of a spouse or partner, slumps in housing markets making it difficult to sell or rent property,  as well as issues impacting kid’s educations, commuting rapidly becomes the most viable option in a range of other poorer choices.

Typical commutes 
Whether by plane, car, train or any other form of transport commuting is consistently listed as one of the bug bears of modern life.  Recent research in Sweden from Erica Sandhow at Umeå University,  on the impact of commuting,  suggests that 45 minutes could be considered a long commute. However, in the US a typical commute would be 50 minutes  while the British commuter spends 200 hours a year getting to work. Although there are a number of benefits from an increased number of career opportunities,  there are also significant downsides, with Sandhow suggesting that couples engaged in commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to get divorced.

International commuting
Just the mildest of enquiries in my social circle produced the feeling that long distance commuting is more commonplace than these stats would suggest. In fact most believed that average commutes are taking increasingly longer as congestion is most towns is rising and 45 minutes elapsed time door to desk  was actually on the light side.

Yet many choose to commute not into their local city,  but internationally.

During a recent trip out of Malpensa airport I found myself in conversation with an Italian gentleman, Fabio, who was negotiating the security line with all the frequent flier finesse of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”. He works in international business development for an Italian conglomerate and was headed, not the 25 minutes typical Italian commute down the road, but 700 kms back home to Brussels.  Fabio was quick to let me know why he has decided to live apart from his family Monday to Friday.

Tough decisions
When I was offered a senior role back in Italy 3 years ago, it was a tough decision. On the one hand I had a great promotion but on the other I also had to factor in my wife’s career. She is British and an E.U. lobbyist, so needs to be Brussels based, as well as my children’s education. They are 16, 14 and 10 – so not great for the older ones to move. We speak English at home and the kids go to Belgian schools so they only have conversational Italian. So as I travelled 80% of my week  at that time anyway – the logical solution was to find a pied à terre Monday to Thursday in Milan and commute between Belgium and Italy“.

I have been in that situation myself twice when my ex-husband commuted internationally, in the days before cheap flights and speedy boarding. It’s not easy. Fabio continued ” When I’m not on the road I can work from home but obviously I need to be in Milan a couple of days a week at least. Technology helps and I’m lucky that my General Manager is a results orientated rather than presence orientated manager, but when you run a team being visible and available is important.”

Downsides
So what are the downsides as if I didn’t know already. “When flights are delayed or cancelled – that’s a hassle. My wife struggles sometimes dealing with my 16 year old son on her own and feels isolated. It means if she needs to travel for her own work we have complex childcare arrangements as we don’t have family in Belgium. Hikes in fares means that it’s high cost too. But overall it’s the best decision for our family

 Women super commuters
Erica Sandhow’s findings show that extended commutes primarily benefit the careers of men and also contribute to polarised gender stereotyping with women assuming a  greater share of domestic responsibilities in the absence of the men, while their partners become the defacto more significant salary earner. I can certainly testify to that.

If a high number of super commuters are men, what about women?

I spoke to Hannah who commutes between Paris and Amsterdam, leaving 2 children on Sunday evening or Monday morning,  with her husband Markus until Friday night.  “Yes it’s stressful but you get used to it. I find that I have to separate my work and personal life, but as the main salary earner in the family, I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I am 16 years younger than my husband and will have to work for another 18 years at least.  I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for.  My husband wishes I had more time, especially if I ever have to work at the weekend” 

At the same time, it is reported that those fewer women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher salaries – so there are some benefits.

But are they worth it?

So how long would you commute to work?

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

What is your career sine? New take on career strategy

What is your career sine?

Career ladder or lattice?
Our society is evolving at a phenomenal pace. Technology has brought about changes that even 15 years ago we could only have dreamed about.

New trends
Think tanks are predicting labour shortages in key sectors, pension plans and a default retirement age are likely to be pipedreams for the next generation. Many will have to work until the age of 70.

Family structures are changing and with almost 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the nuclear family is disappearing as the cornerstone of our industrial culture. The number of highly educated women in the workforce is at its highest level. Whether quotas are voluntary or enforced, there will be an increasing number of professional women at senior levels. With the rise of single parent households and expected extended longevity, pursuing a career will no longer be a question of choice for most women, but a case of economic necessity.

Men are now expected, and want, to play a stronger role in childcare, while single parent fathers with joint custody agreements are no longer as free to assume traditional roles and commit to their careers in terms of availability and mobility.

Burnt out executives are opting for mid-career gap years while they are still healthy.

Gen Y have a different expectations to their parents about what they want from corporate life. Research indicates that they may have as many as 10 different jobs before the age of 40. Large numbers are heading home to Mum and Dad, as the post college traditional rite of passage to start their own lives becomes unaffordable, creating a new group of “Boomerang Kids “. It has been suggested that Millenials might not be fully independent of their parents until their late 20s. With a working life that might end at 70, that still gives a career spanning 40 years.

Work and life are morphing into a single continuum as hi-tech communication allows us to blend the two spheres. Work is no longer another place, or even a fixed and regular time. Now, work is what we do, when we need to, or even when we want to.

Life long learning has become a necessary part of an ongoing process to stay current in our ever-changing world, rather than a night of relaxation in classes to learn a spot of DIY or holiday level language skills, after a hard day at the office.

Job hopping will cease to be a pejorative term associated with an inconsistent and unreliable work ethic, but renamed multi-direction career strategy.

In short, society is changing and the work force has shifting requirements. But is the workplace and our current leadership keeping up fast enough? I do wonder.

New Approach
I was interested to read research and a new approach to career strategy from Deloitte called Mass Career Customisation. They maintain that ” The end of traditional career paths and work patterns is upon us.” And I would agree. Anyone who is tapped into this sector has been aware of this for a while and this might seem to be stating the obvious. But issues assume a different complexion with a big multi national consulting organisation behind them, rather than a few bewildered bloggers at ground zero, scratching their heads in collective wonderment. Not only is there is a name to what we are seeing but there is a solution – also with a name!

What many of us have been observing is that we are entering an era where core elements such as workload allocation, employment location and roles are being reviewed by both employers and potential candidates in trade-off situations. Key to the Deloitte MCC philosophy is the credo that individual priorities change over time and that ” multiple views of success are affirmed through recognition of results and value created … contribution levels ebb and flow along with personal life stages

The end of career ladder?
So are we seeing as the Deloitte approach suggests the end of the traditional vertical career ladder but an ” undulating journey of climbs lateral moves and planned descents” which they call a career lattice? I think so.

I was involved in a recent executive search where the wife of a leading candidate was employed in a senior role tied to a specific geographic location, which made family relocation impossible. Maybe even 3 years ago, his candidacy would have been ruled out as untenable. Today the question is ” We value and need this skill set. How can we make this situation work?”

Companies which are prepared to bring this flexibility of thinking and demonstrate empathy with the driving forces in today’s workplace, which alone would indicate that they are in tune with the shifts in society’s culture in general, will find themselves I believe, one step ahead of the game.

Check out your own career sine. Click here to complete the Deloitte MCC interactive test.

What have you learned?

70 or bust? No! Bring forward workplace changes

How old will you be when you finally retire?

Why wait until 2040 to implement workplace changes?

I seem to be receiving lots of invitations to retirement parties recently. A number of my friends and associates are heading off into the sun or sunset with a variety of fabulous plans: sailing around the Mediterranean to the Baltic, travelling around the world, spending time in summer homes, learning new sports, going back to university, volunteering, spending time with their families and taking up new hobbies. Some simply wanting to potter around in their gardens.

One thing they all have in common was that they are well under the age of 65.  So in some ways it was quite a contrast to see the cover of last week’s Economist ” Pensions: 70 or Bust,” staring out at me from a news stand, suggesting by 2040 for economic reasons, the retirement age will need to be extended to age 70.

Changing retirement age
65 has been considered by many as an aspirational average retirement age and in a number of countries is considered the default age. However, many people like my friends, take steps to retire earlier and it has been quite common for people to retire at 60, or even younger. Recently, particularly since the recession, there have been calls to scrap the default retirement age to allow those who would like (or need) to work longer, to do so. I have come across many who either wish to, or have been forced to, re-enter the workplace as property values and pension pots nose-dived. But in the future individuals may actually be obliged to work those additional years before they will be entitled to any company or state benefits – if they will even exist then at all.

70 or bust
The Economist suggests in its lead issue last week that by 2040, the retirement age in Europe will have to be increased to the age of 70 years. Since 1971, the average life expectancy rate in the advanced countries has risen by 4 – 5 years, and forecasts suggest that until 2050 it will grow by additional three years. People living longer and retiring earlier is not a problem per se , but forecasted labour shortages because of declining birth rates will not allow this.

The article also suggests that this birthrate reduction means that ” in the US, there will be only 2.6 workers per pensioner in 2050, while in France, Germany and Italy – 1.9, 1.6 and 1.5 workers per pensioner, respectively. Countries are already intending to raise the retirement age: in the United States – to 67 years, in the UK – to 68 years” . However The Economist maintains that these measures don’t go far enough.

By raising the retirement age it argues that employees will receive more years at a higher income level, governments will of course profit from further tax revenue, and a later retirement should stimulate a growing economy. However if governments are requiring individuals to stay economically active longer than previously, it means that organisational and employees practises and attitudes will be obliged to accommodate this demographic shift.

Specifically:

  • Discrimination policies will need to be enforced particularly in the areas of recruitment and retraining. A 50-year-old candidate potentially will have 20 more years on the career clock.
  • Workers in jobs requiring certain physical skills and stamina will have to be reassigned to lighter roles if necessary.
  •  Older workers will require cross generational and new technological training.
  • Older employees quite often have spousal and elder care roles. Support will be required.
  •  Flexible work schedules may be required (reduced, compressed, extended work weeks, job sharing, part-time hours, unpaid vacations will all have to be options)
  • Home offices and remote working should be considered.
  •  Re-organization of work and the redesign of jobs could be desirable.
  • Health and wellness initiatives would be beneficial.

Commonalities
It also struck me that some of these proposed measures to support an aging workforce would also be useful to women, but not by 2040. But today. So if organisations are going to be required at some point to implement changes, why not pre-empt a crisis and bring those plans forward 29 years, before we’re all keeping our teeth in jars on our desks and needing ramps for our walkers. If many of those proposals were introduced earlier, they would perhaps stem the exodus of women out of the workforce at critical points in their careers, some of whom never return. Who knows, many might be tempted to have larger families – if managing a career and a modern family simply became easier for everyone.

Those who wish to work longer can do so and those who wish to retire earlier can head off in the direction of their choosing. Then perhaps then some of those gloomy pensioner support ratios might look a little healthier. Or is that too simple?

What do you think?

Grown up gap years: avoiding burn out

Mid career breaks. How to stay sane and avoid burn out
Just before Christmas I had an email from Thailand from an ex business associate. He was in between jobs and had negotiated a six month career gap. At 45 he had been working his socks and body parts off for over 20 years and needed a time-out to re-charge the flagging batteries. It was the best thing he’d ever done he claimed, wished he’d done it earlier and felt it should be mandatory for all executives. “You don’t know how tired and under performing you are until you actually stop. I also realised how worn out many of my team and peers were too, especially after the last 2 to 3 years fighting for survival during the recession. It’s not good for concentration, impacts the effectiveness of both the team and decision-making process and ultimately impacts the bottom line.”

Voluntourism
Another colleague is about to take off on a gap period to do some “Voluntoursim” a relatively new concept where individuals combine voluntary work with travel. One site describes this experience as .. “The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination

He had no specific job lined up for his return, but his employer had agreed to keep a position open for him “Yes “ he said ” there’s some risk, there are no guarantees that any openings will be in line with my expectations, but I wanted to do something different, give back and travel. This seems ideal. I’ll take my lap top and i-phone with me, keep in touch, but I just need to clear my head. I also want to do this while I’m physically fit and intend to come back refreshed and ready to go! Savvy organisations will realise that this can only help them be more profitable

No longer retirees
When I looked on Google there are literally dozens of organisations, companies and blogs set up to cater for this new trend of older people taking career breaks and going to destinations as diverse as India, Ecuador and the Arctic Circle. These trips of a lifetime were frequently associated with post retirement plans ( or even post graduation), but as those days are being bumped further into the future by economic and social change and retirement may now not start until employees are in their late 60s, many want to take those trips while they can. My own father, sadly, was diagnosed with cancer the week before he retired and was never able to fulfill his dreams. Today, many are not prepared to wait and take a chance.

Flexible working
A new study (“Flexible Work Models: How to bring sustainability in a 24/7 world”) of 3,300 professional men and women published by Bain & Company on the adoption and effectiveness of flexible work models finds that a lack of availability of these programs, as well as their poor utilization, can dramatically increase the likelihood that employees stay with their current company and more effective implementation can improve retention of women by up to 40% and up to 25% for men.

Despite the fact that flex models are one of the hottest recruiting and retention tools, they aren’t sufficiently used at many organizations,” said Julie Coffman, a Bain partner and study author. “Companies can no longer get away with just offering cookie cutter options; they must tailor them to their employees and also provide adequate levels of support and resources to ensure better cultural acceptance.”

10 Steps to burn out
So what would cause an executive or any other employee to start internet researching and reach for their credit card, when to the outside world they have great careers. According to the Bain report, a combination of 5 of any of the criteria mentioned below, identify the hallmarks of a challenging work situation, which could lead to a need for a break:
§ Unpredictable work flow;
§ Fast-paced work under tight deadlines;
§ Inordinate scope of responsibility that amounts to more than one job;
§ Work-related events outside regular work hours;
§ Expected to be available to clients or customers 24/7;
§ Responsibility for profit and loss;
§ Responsibility for mentoring and recruiting;
§ Large amount of travel;
§ Large number of direct reports;
§ Physical presence at workplace at least 10 hours a day

When employees work in excess of 50 hours per week, that can also contribute to a feeling of burnout. This is of course without factoring in any of the usual domestic pressures or any other specific difficulties, which routinely crop up in most people’s lives and contribute to overall life stress. Not surprisingly, by mid – career many wish they could take a break. Seemingly, those that can, are actively trying to make that happen in ever-increasing numbers.

Organisational view
One HR Director I spoke to said ” At one time it was mainly women who wanted flexi-time arrangements or sabbaticals to extend their maternity leave, so that they could stay at home with their children. Now, leave of absence requests are becoming increasingly common from both men and women of all ages, as employees seek not just challenging careers, but opportunities to take breaks and recharge their batteries. Our top executives are entitled to extended leave periods every 5 years. For both younger and older non-executives sabbaticals tend be the best-fit flexible work option. They very often choose to travel or do voluntary or project work. Others use a break for child or parental care, or even to pursue further education. Some organisations are also offering employees the opportunity to buy additional holidays, which effectively means that they take a salary cut in exchange for additional time off. In some functions this can be easily arranged. In other more operational areas it can be more difficult.”

As all Gen Y research has indicated, Millenials will demand greater flexibility from their organisations in the future. So flexi-time options previously associated with supporting women to take care of their children, will move further into mainstream cross gender HR policy. This will mean organisations will be pressed to consider the provision of a full menu of flexi-time options including parental leave, flexible hours or remote working as well as extended leave of absence.

I’m already looking at the map!

So how about you? Would you like to take a mid career break?

 

Home and work: Balance or convergence?

Transplanting biz strategies into the home
The gender split of household duties and child care as well as a general work/ life balance, is one of the most talked about issues in any group of working women whether on-line or IRL. In a women’s online professional forum I have recently joined as a mentor, the issue is debated intensely, although with few solutions offered. Complaints abound: the lack of workplace flexibility, partner inflexibility, school runs, orthodontists appointments, parent teacher conferences, nanny, crèche and au pair issues

Earlier this year, I carried out a survey of Gen Y women and 54% indicated that they expected their partners to be fully engaged in household management and childcare, so with older generations letting go of the Superwoman myth, things should be improving. However currently many women are still assuming a greater share of domestic and childcare responsibilities.

Non – alpha males
Lucy Kellaway in an article in the FT.com Breaking the glass ceiling at home carried out an analysis of the partners of the top 50 Women in World Business. and decided that these women successful were in relationships with non-alpha males. “The biggest reason that alpha women don’t become CEOs is that they have made the common, yet fatal, error of marrying an alpha man” These non alpha males are seemingly happy to take a back seat and let their partner’s careers take priority.

I think however we need to bring some financial perspective into this discussion. Ms Rosenfeld’s husband, may have given up his professional activity, but was it really to pick up a dish cloth or pair up the socks? With Ms Rosenfeld’s compensation package according to Forbes estimated to be at $26m I somewhat doubt it.

Genetic hardwiring
Lucy Kellaway’s theory, interesting though it is, also flies in the face of anthropological theories fielded by psychologists who tell us that women are genetically programmed to seek out the males who will help them produce the strongest children. In organisations, these men are commonly (but not always I agree) found near the top of the pyramid, profession or chosen field of activity. So it would suggest that ambitious women would tend to seek out like-minded men.

So how does the average non salary millionaire couple strike up the ideal balance, so that both can achieve their career goals? As the workplace becomes more flexible with dress down Friday’s, remote working, and with the possibility of employees being professionally contactable any time and anywhere, how are some couples and single parents dealing with this?

I spoke to a number of different women and it seemed that many were applying business techniques in the home. I heard the words procedure manuals, outsourcing, monthly meetings, responsibility allocation, forward planning.

Personal stories
Julia a senior business consultant told me ” I approached it almost in a business change management way. During my maternity leave , I identified key tasks, drew up ” job profiles ” for our domestic management, splitting chores and responsibilities according to our strengths and capabilities and what was logistically possible. We agreed to allocate a budget for a weekly cleaning company, because neither of us want to spend our very little free time doing the ironing. We decided that in the short-term to take the financial hit to make life easier and it was a small penalty to pay for both of us staying on our career paths“.

It was one of my greatest professional challenges combining work and home” Sarah now a CFO with an international pharmaceutical company ” the early years were very stressful. I had a number of au pairs and nanny’s which basically ate up my whole salary. At the time my husband wanted me to give up work and stay at home. Happily I didn’t because we are now divorced! As a single parent I allocate domestic responsibilities between my children. We all have the equivalent of job descriptions and ad hoc project management duties! I am lucky I can employ domestic support – a man before you ask!

Sally’s approach is much more indirect ” I cultivated some weaknesses. I made a mess of the laundry early in our relationship and it’s not a job that I’m now expected to do. I designed a procedure manual and made sure all the recipes we use are in there. Now my son aged 13 has his own copy and is quite a competent cook. I use online shopping and home delivery for almost everything and even outsource the ironing. I’m one of those crazy people who goes to the supermarket at midnight! “

Melissa and her partner have a monthly domestic meeting in the same way as they might in an office. “We check how we are doing. Manage our budget, make plans and allocate responsibilities. Now the kids are older they also join in for the last part. The minute we let the formal structure slide – chaos descends in no time! “

So as the gender split of domestic responsibilities becomes a workplace issue, some women are making a corporate style stamp on their home management. But is this a successful attempt to find balance or a destructive convergence as Stephen Covey suggests in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,Home life has become more like an efficiently run but joyless workplace , while the actual workplace with its emphasis on empowerment and teamwork, is more like a family

What do you think?

Generational divide:Changed but how different?

How great are the changes?
Much has been written about incorporating Gen Y into the workplace and although there are some forward thinking companies who have tapped into these generational norms and harnessed them commercially, most do not. If there is a generation gap, many older ones think it will go away as it did for them. These 20 somethings will become reasonable surely? Just like we did. Who would have thought that the boss in the corner office might have looked quite different in a previous life.

I actually had a “what was it like back in the day?” conversation with some Gen Y contacts recently, discussing different generational experiences. Apart from feeling really old – it was pretty interesting. One would have thought that Boomers would be perfectly placed to bridge any gap , but it would seem that we can’t or don’t. So although many of Gen Y’s early work experiences are common to ours (disappointments about routineness of work, under utilisation, frustrations about disorganisation in the workplace , struggles with being constantly judged and erratic training) the environment they are working in has changed completely.

So what is different?

Business models – were consistent over longer periods and working practices to meet those needs probably stayed in place longer. Now organisations are expected to respond to market conditions faster than ever before and with greater creativity and effectiveness. The pace of change seems much faster.

Numbers. As university enrolment has increased in most Western European countries (in the UK, 24% of the age demographic) that makes a lot of young people flailing in, or around, our job markets. In the ’70s in the UK less than 10% of the population were involved. Boomers accepted corporate culture because it was presented as a golden conveyor to opportunity and generally it was. Gen Y are contesting (even resenting) some of the basic tenets that the older generation have willingly embraced. Not only do they doubt the opportunities exist, they are angry with Boomers for depriving them of their futures, as we have seen in France with teenagers taking to the streets ( “Jeunes au boulot, vieux aux bistros” ) and violent student protests in London.

Technology means that remote working, mobile working, flexi-time are all viable options, when 35 years ago they were not. We had to pitch up at the office – there were no alternatives. A Telex machine was considered cutting edge! Gen Y are frustrated by our skill set deficits with technology and also our reluctance to trust their generation to guide us. Technology also means they struggle with the Boomer work centric notion of presenteeism. If they have nothing to do directly, that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to go out for a cigarette (Boomers could smoke in the office) take a personal call on their mobiles ( didn’t exist) or hit Facebook (ditto!). Computers were the size of an articulated lorry and social media might have meant friendly journalists. Back in the day there was always filing (paper!) to be done. We all looked super busy to avoid that. They now have to find and ask for something to do to fill every moment. Hair might grow in company time, but it can’t be cut in company time, unless they are exceptionally lucky.

Economic they were different times. The impact of television and advertising campaigns was significantly reduced, as was an access to credit. It simply wasn’t possible to run up huge debts. Loan applications carried an actuarial function and were not linked to banker’s OTEs. We didn’t do things because we had no money!

Speed and style of communication Corporate relations seemed to be more clear-cut and formal. I called my boss Mister. No one swore around women and full courtesies were maintained, making the workplace less intense I think. Today, emails or texts can be fired off in a nano second, with a circulation list of dozens. Comments can be posted on walls and tweeted. Years ago a “memo” had to be given to the typing pool and if you were very lucky it would emerge days later, with carbon copies, placed in brown internal envelopes and delivered by hand, even within the organisation. That process could take days and by that time everyone had stopped being mad.

Lack of recognition No one likes this, but especially Gen Y. This is the ” everyone a winner ” generation made to feel special by us “child-focused’ Boomer Mums and Dads, over compensating for a lack of public endorsement from our own more reticent , father-centred, parents of the previous generation. Unfortunately there are winners and losers, first and second place and then the rest. It’s tough to face the realities of a pecking order and hierarchy.

Self scheduling – struggling with work life balance. That was never really a problem back in the day that I recall. Shops are even open later now and 7 days a week to boot. If those are missed, there’s internet shopping and take – outs. We didn’t have the opportunity to be in constant contact with our peer group and our social lives seem to be lower key. Our need for external gratification and stimulation also seemed to be reduced which of course is always cheaper as well as being less time-consuming!

Each generation enters the workplace, shaped by the culture in which it lives, both immediate and wider. That is what changed perhaps more dramatically than the basic people involved. We all just responded to what’s going on around us. I once had a really impassioned inter-generational discussion with my dad about who would endure the longest – Frank Sinatra ( me..” omg.. boring.. old.”.) or the Beatles (Dad.. “scraggy haired yobos”). We all know the answer to that one!

Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed.”