What’s Happened to the Generational Challenges in the Workplace?
As little as only a few years ago, many articles, radio programs and even TV news slots abounded with predictions of impending generational challenges in the workplace (which some predicted would soon become a significant crisis which would need to urgently managed). Although the reports of the so-called crisis varied somewhat, they broadly suggested:
- The older Traditional generation (born before 1945) were working longer (so we needed to find more work for them to do, when they wanted it).
- The Boomer generation (born 1945 to 1962) were about to start retiring (and the numbers would be significant as this population is the largest of the generations).
- Generation X (born 1963-1981) were smaller in number and were not ready to step into vacant boomer job roles-especially managerially) and many did not want to do so anyway.
- The new Y or Millennial Generation (born after 1981) were completely unready to work successfully in the current world of work (with its emphasis on goals and follow-through) .
All of these predictions were naturally expressed in dramatic and over-exaggerated ways to garner attention but they were compellingly put arguments and many employers believed the hype at the time. So what happened and why do none of these issues seem to be on any employers concerned radar today (at least for the most part)? Let’s therefore look at each of the above crisis predictions, one at a time:
Traditionals are still around and more work needs to be found
As the youngest member of the Traditional generation is now 68/69, the majority of this generation have already retired from their formal work or former employer, where they had a job. However, it is certainly the case that quite a few have not yet retired at the more traditional age for doing so (62-65) and stayed on well into their 70’s. In addition, many Traditionals have stayed on, with the consent of their employer, in different roles or have taken on a part-time role. Some may even have gone to work for an entirely new employer (in a part-time or casual capacity perhaps). If anything, this minor trend has added to workforce flexibility with the ‘grey’ population able to take on jobs and shifts that other younger individuals do not seem to want.
Boomers are retiring leaving a huge gap in the workforce
Despite the predictions, the widespread and rapidly occurring retirement of boomers has been much slower than initially thought. Firstly, it is estimated that over 80% of Boomers are still not at the normal retirement age of 65 (the oldest of this group being 68-69). Secondly, many Boomers have decided to not early retire and even continue working beyond 65 (and may work for some years to come). This has therefore not led to the worrying over-vacating of positions (especially at management level) so the more recalcitrant Generation X population has not been forced into roles they do not have the experience or the desire to do. Of course, there is another reverse problem that’s now developed in these circumstances. This is that Boomers are not retiring quickly enough and are now blocking the advancement of both Gen X and Gen Y people who want managerial responsibility in particular.
People from Generation X could/would not fill workplace gaps left by Boomers
Generation X in numbers (at least in the western world) was always just over half the size of the Boomer population so there was and is a structural gap that will continue to prevail for a decade to come at least. However, this has not been anywhere near the problem it was forecast to be. Firstly, as we said above, the Boomers have not vacated their positions as much as expected. Secondly, the apparent recalcitrance or reluctance of the Gen X individual to step up into the managerial or workaholic shoes of the Boomer has not materialized. Not only have Gen X people stepped quietly and often quite successfully into such roles when available, but where they have had the chance, they have re-shaped the role to better fit their more lifestyle oriented needs.
Generation Y individuals are unready for the modern workplace
Perhaps this claim was always the most speculative and unscientific of all of the ones made some years ago, mainly because so little was known about this young population (the oldest of which are only 33/34 today) and many have yet to even enter the workplace. In actual fact, although unemployment challenges are greatest for this population of people, these millennial individuals have been steadily entering the workplace and in many cases bringing many new skills to bear, especially in the technology/systems-familiarity area. And some of these have already made it to managerial level and are starting to challenge Gen X and Boomer individuals for management jobs when they are vacated. Gen X people also need to realize that millennials as a group are almost as big as boomers so will be happy to directly fill their shoes at all levels.
It seems that the generational crisis predictions of a few years ago were not very accurate. So, does this mean that we can ignore generational issues or move them a long way down the list of workplace challenges that need to be tackled. Well, perhaps the best answer here is yes and no. Undoubtedly, the specific challenges described above are clearly all smaller in scale and thereby very manageable. However, we still need to recognize that we have four generations actively working together in the workplace and the main challenge now is to get them collaborating smoothly and in optimal ways at all levels.