Category Archives: Generations


Older and younger workers have similar interest in workplace flexibility

Technology has enabled a virtual world that Boomers and Matures never imagined, and one that Millennials and Xers have come to expect–especially in the white collar workplace. Why should someone be tied to a desk all day if their peers are not in the same office, or even the same time zone?  What difference does it make if I work from 7-2, take a break to handle afterschool duties, and then resume working at home from 8-10, as long as I meet my deadlines?

This unorthodox balance of the personal and the professional, and the underlying message that time has its own value, has been central to the expectations of younger generations in the workplace for years. In recent years, it is becoming increasingly important to older generations as well.

Whether due to financial need or simply a desire to stay active and involved, Boomers are working longer, but are increasingly seeking more flexible work options. A recent New York Times article, The Age Premium: Retaining Older Workers, shares the stories of Boomers and employers that are seeking to create balance for older workers. One of the most interesting approaches is that of CVS’s “snowbird” program that allows employees in northern climates to transfer to stores in the south during the winter. The program allows CVS to place its mature employees where their customer base is also largely mature, creating a benefit for the business as well as the employees. Other companies offer reduced schedules for semi-retired employees, allowing them to serve as mentors to rising leaders.

And that may be the critical thing. With Generation X such a small workforce compared to Boomers and Millennials, businesses may be facing a knowledge gap. Looking outside the box and considering flexible employment scenarios can help bridge that gap while also helping hesitant Boomers ease into their retirement years.


Millennials and Boomers may work alike, but they don’t vote alike. Or do they?

I am frequently asked whether the differences in the generations are true differences or simply differences between ages.  It is also a common belief that individuals grow more conservative as they grow older, however statistics do not necessarily bear that one out.  The Pew Research Center recently reviewed 30 years of voting trends, comparing the percent of young (age 18-29) and older (age 65+) voters who voted democratic in each election between 1972 and 2012.  With the exception of the 1972 Nixon election and the 2008 and 2012 elections of Barack Obama, the gap between the ages has only been a few percentage points.

In every year between Nixon and Obama, the percent of democratic voters was fairly consistent at both ends of age spectrum. So while Millennials and Boomers are not voting alike right now – there was a 21 percentage point gap in the 2008 election and 16 point gap in 2012, older and younger generations have more of a consistent voting record than one would think.  In fact, from 1988 through 2004, the democratic vote for both age groups hovered around 50 percent. What does this mean for the workplace?  Honestly, I’m not sure.

But what I do know is that for most of the Millennials’ lives, their supposedly “more conservative” elders have actually been voting fairly democratic.  And as the Millennials came of voting age the percent of young people voting democratic jumped to 60+ percent.

I can’t help but think that this has a correlation to the Millennial desire to “find a job you love” – the manifestation of ideas set in motion, but never quite realized, by their Boomer parents.


Statistics can prove almost anything

In fact, some researchers used statistics to prove that theory a few years ago. Generational behaviors are no different. One poll says that Gen X is the most optimistic it has ever been. Another says it has the most financial stress of all the generations. Another says, no, Boomers are the ones who are facing financial crisis. All the while Boomers are lauded as the having most of the nation’s buying power.

If you want to take a position on the generations, you can find a study that will back you up. But that’s what makes it interesting…how do you get to the bottom of the numbers and figure out what’s what? That’s where generational norms come into play. When you step back and consider the world that each generation grew up in, and how that world makes an imprint on the generational DNA, you’ll notice that trends begin to emerge among all the disparate research. The essence of each generation begins to appear. And while there are, of course, individual differences from person to person, generational norms tend to ring true more often than not.

The studies, polls and research are interesting moment-in-time snapshots of a particular issue. The fundamental truths of each generation are the reasons why they are responding to a moment in time in a particular way. The more you know, the more you can predict, or at least adapt to, the way your coworkers, managers and employees react to changes in the workplace based on their generational perspective. And I’ve got the stats to prove it. 


Baby Boomer wealth a myth?

Not exactly. But while much is written about the high concentration of affluence in the Boomer ranks, and the speculation that Gen Xers will be the first generation not expected to surpass their parents in terms of financial success, a Bloomberg Businessweek feature tells the story of wealth disparity between a Boomer worker and her Mature father.

It might be easy to blame this on the recent recession, as so many Boomers lost significant value in investments or found themselves unemployed at a point in their careers where they expected relative stability. Yet, the underlying issues may be more about generational norms than the nation’s economy or state of the global markets. During the course of the Boomer career, the fundamental structure of work changed. Boomers saw the disappearance of the golden watch retirement and the scaling back and near extinction of employee pension plans. Retirement planning became self-guided and self-funded. Career paths became mercurial (though this was certainly just the beginning). They also pioneered the idea of work hard, play hard – spending significantly more on entertainment than previous generations (at all income levels).

You can’t take it with you, right? If the woman profiled in this article is any indication, these choices may be catching up with some Boomers who will not have the financial footing to expect an old age of leisure and travel. Yet their parents, who likely never made a fraction of the salary they’ve come to expect, had the savings discipline borne out of the great depression (even if passed on by their own parents) and the societal infrastructure to support a strong and adventurous retirement, if they wish. 


Coworker preferences – where gender and generation collide

In December, the Pew Research Center released the results of a snap survey that asked whether individuals preferred to work with male or female co-workers. Whether politically correct or simply honest, the overwhelming majority (77%) expressed no preference. However, of those that did express a preference, males and females both stated a preference for working with males. But then they dug deeper and analyzed the responses by generation…

Interestingly, the survey indicated that Millennials are “significantly less likely to prefer working with male coworkers than other generations.” And Millennial men are nearly twice as likely to prefer working with mostly women than Millennial women.

Admittedly, this was a very simplistic survey – asking only three questions about personal preference and the perceived preference of others – yet I still find it intriguing that the youngest men in the workforce are the most interested in working with women. The survey doesn’t indicate whether that preference is for female peers (Millennial women) or all women (female bosses over male bosses), so the theories on why this could be are far ranging and could build on every gender stereotype known to man. But is there something inherently different with this generation, or is it simply an issue of age? I did not find any similar reports from previous generations, so for now we’ll just have to surmise. What are your thoughts?


Who’s the boss? Or rather, who wants to be the boss?

That’s the question the Pew Research Center asked recently. And the answer is, the kids. Millennials want to be the boss, Gen Xers are split, and Boomers say, no thanks. More scientifically, 32% of Boomer, 58% of Gen Xers and 70% of Millennials males (and 21%, 41% and 61%, respectively for females) want to be the boss.

That may or may not come as a surprise to you. Often those with the least power are most hungry for it, and those in power better understand the burden. So, from a generational and age perspective it makes sense that the youngest workers are most eager to become the boss. But what does that really mean? 

If you apply what we know about each generation – Millennials’ desire for independence and self-reliace, Gen Xers wish to better balance personal and professional achievement – it may be that there is a slightly different definition of “boss” at play. Does the younger generation want to be the boss of others?  Or just the boss of themselves? 


Millennial (not just Boomer) demands are creating new business opportunities

Aging Baby Boomers who don’t want to take on the typical retirement stereotypes have created demand for new businesses aimed at helping them address their AARP years in a whole new way. On the flip side of business, some Millennials are recognizing that their unique way of navigating the workforce demands some new ways of looking at business. Dan Friedman, the millennial founder of one such business, Thinkful, recently shared his perspective in Business Insider. In an nutshell, Friedman proposes that the loss of expectations for meaningful employee-employer loyalty has created a professional learning gap for today’s young workers. More companies are offering less professional development because employees don’t stay around long enough for it to be considered a good investment.

Friedman’s solution is to create a non-collegiate learning platform that allows young professionals to get the workplace development they want on their terms, regardless of employer involvement. Which, when you think about it, a very Millennial approach:  my way, right away, for my benefit. And it would be easy to get cynical about that, except for that pesky truth about diminished professional development at many companies and the incredibly shrinking tenure.

In the chicken-egg discussion that is generations in the workplace one might ask whether such a solution is only fueling the problem, but that isn’t going to get you very far. The more interesting discussion, in my view, is this: what other businesses may develop in response to changing demands from this youngest workforce?  So much attention is paid to what the Boomers may need (and they tend to have the finances to support entrepreneurs, so this makes sense), but their offspring have some high needs, too. Kudos to Friedman for seeing a distinct trend and creating a business opportunity for himself that may well be an opportunity for business overall.   

Believe it or not, your employees want to be engaged in their work

As much as it is maligned, the whole concept of “go out and find a job that makes you happy” may not be such a bad thing after all.  Yes, it is possible that seeking happiness may make a person perpetually dissatisfied, as if there is always likely to be something better around the next bend.  However, there are layers of happiness that can come with simple things, such as career accomplishments.  And it seems this is where some companies are missing the boat.

In a recent Workplace Insights study by Accounting Principals, hiring managers shared that while they know more employees leave to pursue professional development opportunities (26 percent) as they do salary increases (21 percent), they are more willing to negotiate salary (39 percent) than to discuss career development (14 percent).  And yet 25 percent are kept up at night thinking about recruitment.

On the surface, the logic seems awfully clear:

  • Employees value career development ahead of salary and are willing to leave to learn.
  • Recruiting is a pain point for companies and is more expensive than retaining good employees.
  • Clear career development programs could increase engagement and retention, thereby minimizing recruitment needs.

And yet the go-to negotiation is salary. That’s the old way. Today’s workers want to be engaged.  They want to feel empowered.  And they want to grow – all of this can be used to your advantage as a business owner or manager.  Spend the time to understand what your employees want to learn and how they see their careers advancing.  Then make sure the mechanism exists to help them achieve that goal. The result will be interested, engaged and better-skilled employees who are creating the jobs that make them happy.

Generational differences must be accommodated to ensure optimal employee engagement

A new survey by Ceridian, reported in MarketWatch, highlights the changing expectations and desires of the different generations in the workplace.  The results demonstrate that generational perspectives have a very real impact on the way employees engage with your business.  Understanding and adapting to the generational difference can make a difference in the employee engagement, job satisfaction and company loyalty.

According to the survey, non-monetary rewards are extremely important to the youngest generations.  While salary certainly counts, 64% of respondents overall and 70% of Millennials wanted to see their companies offer perks such as free personal days, free food and access to event tickets (shows, concerts, sports, etc.).  These are the extras that make the work environment more interesting.

The study also found that employees simply want interesting work.  39% are motivated by interesting work, 32% by autonomy and 31% by a good salary.  Interestingly, Boomers and Millennials put the strongest rating around interesting work.  As we’ve discussed, Millennials are the ones whose parents told them to “go out and find a job you love” and those parents are frequently Boomers.  Xers, many of whom are deep in the throes of child raising, rated good pay as the most motivating factor.

So how did survey respondents suggest you could make their jobs more rewarding?  Flexible work hours, more training opportunities, telecommuting options and clear growth plans, with the opportunity to take on additional (more interesting?) work.

Are you adjusting your formal and informal policies to reflect the changing desires of your workforce?

Rethinking the Baby Boomer market

Businesses spend quite a bit of time trying to understand what’s next…from the workplace demands of the next generation of superstars to the buying habits of the famed “18-24 target market” of potential brand loyalists.  However, demographics tell us that “what’s next” may well be what just was.  That is, the power of last generation’s new target market—Baby Boomers—is still the most powerful consumer market, and the older Gen Xers are right on their tails.  Businesses need to keep up.

By 2017, nearly half the US population will be 50 or older. They will have the more purchasing power than any other generation has had at this age, and they will want to use it in ways that are not “old.”  This is the message in a recent Financial Times article, Why companies are failing to cash in on flood of aging Baby Boomers worth US$15-trillion.

Much has been written about how Baby Boomers are eschewing the traditional retired life, whether that means working longer to make ends meet, launching into a second career to fulfill one’s dreams or moving to the city instead of the retirement community, Boomers are doing things differently and companies need to figure out what that means from a consumer standpoint.  And they need to do it fast.

When creating new products for this “new” market, or selling existing products/services to this group after many years, it is important to remember that while the fundamentals of the generation may be the same, they are still evolving and growing.  You may have always sold to Baby Boomers, but do you know them now?

The FT article reminds us “When it comes to aging, myths abound. Here’s one: Older consumers buy the same brands they’ve always bought, so why bother catering to them? ‘If that theory was true, I would drive a Chevy Impala and wear English Leather,’ said (gerontologist Ken) Dychtwald, 63.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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