Tag Archives: #Gen Y

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.”

The season of discontent: Singles speak out

Workplace flexibility for all
I spent some time in the autumn with a mixed group of younger high-powered professionals. What they all had in common was that they were either single, or if they were in relationships, they had no children. Young and fancy free – sounds fun right? Well ..no!

Chat moved on to their plans for Christmas. There was more than a little disgruntlement about the issue of how their offices would be staffed during the holiday season. Some companies now close completely, but others expect a level of skeleton manning. There seemed to be an unwritten expectation in all their organisations (cross sector) that when it came to allocating holidays there was a pecking order: employees with children would be given (or take) priority and then the singletons, would be expected to volunteer to organise cover amongst themselves.

These guys were not happy! Not just because they wanted to go skiing or the Maldives (although a few did) but because they had their own obligations and commitments which they considered to be equally important. In recent research I carried out on the priorities of Gen Y women, I saw that they were somewhat intolerant of workplace flexibility for women only and advocated flexibility for all.

Other obligations
David, a Consultant with a major audit company fumed “My parents are divorced and I need to make 2 family visits. It’s just not possible to do that in a few days. All I want to do is take my vacation time when I want it. Last year I provided weekend cover and worked late in December, so that the parents could go to school concerts and do Christmas things with their kids. Parents assume they are entitled to take the time off between Christmas and New Year. I will be expected to work. It’s not that I begrudge them flexi-time – but I think it should be offered to all

There are also many different types of care and domestic or family responsibilities. Susan is single in her early 50s and has strong obligations to look after her widowed mother, now in her mid 80s. Peter’s wife has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requires additional support. They claim , that the fact that an individual has no children doesn’t mean their commitments are necessarily any less demanding. In a C.C.H. survey carried out in 2007 in relation to unscheduled absenteeism, more than 60% of unscheduled absence is related to non sickness reasons, resulting in huge costs to companies.

Responsibility to and for self
But what about the employee who has no responsibilities for others, but simply wants workplace flexibility to allow them to look after themselves? As working days and commutes become longer, technology now offers many options to facilitate that. Workplace stress also causes significant organisational and health issues, so shouldn’t employees be encouraged to give their own needs priority?

Madeleine was more direct and took a firmer view. “People with kids feel that their family status puts them into a special category. Having children is a lifestyle choice. Couples know what the issues are when they make the decision to have a family. My boss quite often asks me to cover for her when she has to leave early or work remotely to deal with childcare issues ( she has 4 kids) .I’m totally OK with that, but when I wanted to go to the gym in office hours, because fitness is a high priority for me and after a 12 hour day, I’m too tired, it was suggested that I go at lunchtime. Lunchtime is for eating! ”

The irony might be that working Mums, the group which cries out for work place flexibility the hardest, would actually benefit if that perk became standard for all. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection takes the matter one step further and suggests that with regard to workplace flexibility “ for it to be universal we need to place a whole lot less emphasis on “family” “women” “care-giving” and “children.”

Could it be the protests from the singletons who want to look after themselves, or simply take time off at the holidays to relax and have fun, with no obligations at all, which will make a difference?

What do you think?

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