In today’s “new world of work” , new rules apply. Generation Y is throwing its weight about and resistance is futile. Older colleagues are catching on and shrewd employers are taking note.
Today’s business world is characterised not just by dire skill shortages, but also a shift in the priorities of employees. Those who are known as Generation Y (born 1978-98) demand more from their employers than their predecessors. Flatter hierarchies, sophisticated technology and strong values are driving changes in how employers successfully attract and retain good people of all generations.
“It’s not that Gen Y has a monopoly on the new order, simply that we’re the first people who’ve never known otherwise,” says Emma Reynolds, co-founder of e3unlimited, which has investigated the aspirations of today’s bright young things.
“Generation X talked about work-life balance as though it meant working fewer hours. We believe there is a complete blurring of lines between work and play; being constantly connected means we can ‘work’ at all times of day. Work used to be somewhere you went. Now it’s something you do. Employers need to sit up and take notice.”
And it’s not just the changing needs of the younger generations that should be heeded by employers. Baby boomers are finding that life is very different when they retire and they have different needs. In many ways, they are seeking balance for their previously unbalanced lives.
Dr Paul Redmond, head of careers and employability service at Liverpool University, says the notion of a lifelong career with just one or two employers has long been consigned to the dustbin.
“There would seem to be a mismatch between some employers’ expectations of Gen Y and the reality,” he says.
“For many younger people, the idea of a 40-year career can be a big turn-off.”
At Expert Alumni, we match much needed retired professionals with organisations desperately short of talent. I am glad to see that some enlightened employers are increasingly bringing professional people out of retirement to help to address skill shortages. My suspicion is that Gen Y and baby boomers, while perhaps living in parallel universes, are also co-dependent to an extent, particularly with regard to the workplace. In fact, for baby boomers coming out of retirement to help Gen Y to be successful, there has to be a shift in attitude among employers. Boomers are a lot less different to Gen Y once they’ve retired.
They, too, will make demands on employers; they may not want to come into the office on Wednesdays if they’re playing golf. Employers can’t ignore that. It’s crucial that all generations realise that the pace of change – particularly in technology – has accelerated.
“As Thomas Friedman says, our world is flat. It is now easier to collaborate and compete globally than ever before,” says Bruce Morton, co-founder of e3unlimited.
“It’s really important that generations old and young recognise their differences but, more importantly, understand the many similarities coming through in this new world of work.
“We see Generation Y as an attitude rather than an absolute age-group. We all approach work differently to the way we did 10 years ago; people are far more loyal to their profession now than the organisation and it’s not uncommon for people of all ages to change employers every few years. Forward-thinking organisations understand the changing values of their workforce and are embracing this change.”
Redmond says the challenge for bringing in retired people is working out their take on their experiences. Otherwise, you just have one generation sermonising to another. The danger then is that it’s quite easy for older generations to construct false realities of what things were like in their day.
But once the right people are on board, employers have little to lose and much to gain. Employers are now incredibly concerned about the loss of critical corporate memory and experience. That can damage their business. I believe – and employers tell me – that they categorically cannot manage without that experience. And not just to plug temporary skills gaps either, but to transfer hardcore knowledge for the long term. But that requires an ability to traverse between the parallel universes of Gen X and Gen Y – time and again.
Jon Glesinger is CEO of Expert Alumni