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As we study the generations within American society, managers continue to express a number of common observations about their differences. Here are the answers to a variety of questions that frequently asked during our sessions.
The next generation has been labeled as Homelanders by some. We tend not to place too much emphasis on the label since the media will play the determining role in this. Their birthdates would begin with the millennium (Year 2000) but it is difficult to make any observations about them since they have not yet entered the consumer market and job market. It'll be at least another 7-8 years or so before we see distinct patterns we can observe and track. We do know that they will be the most racially and culturally diverse generation in US history simply because of the migration trends we are seeing both within and without the nation. For this reason, along with advances in global communication, they may be the most transient generation as well.
Some observers do maintain that there is a distinct difference between those born in the late 40s and early 50s and those born in the late 50s and early 60s. Writer Jonathan Pontell went so far as to label the younger half Generation Jones. In the same vein, that argument might also be made for the Millennial generation since they too span 18 years in their birth curve according to the US Census. We have chosen to include the entire curve for both rather than breaking them into distinct groups for two main reasons: 1) The media has not chosen to do so and we would be fighting an up-hill battle to get them to embrace this. 2) While we do receive this question occasionally, it has not received enough focus for us, or apparently others, to research possible differences in the values and expectations between the two halves of the cohort.
These differences depend, to a large degree, on what each generation was taught as children. The Matures, for instance, grew up in the midst of war-time shortages and economic depression. They have always worked hard and paid their dues simply as a means for survival. Even in better times, they have continued these ways simply because this is the ethic with which they feel most comfortable.
Baby Boomers came of age in the midst of tremendous economic expansion, learning to use all the convenience-oriented products that came on the market during their youth. Because of the size of their generation, they were also the focus of everyone’s attention. Boomers have always put in long hours because of how closely they associate their occupation with their identity. Even as they edge into retirement, we predict that most of them will still live to work.
Having watched their parents, the Baby Boomers, put in these long hours, those in Generation X have developed a different perspective on work. They do not necessarily equate hard work and long hours. Instead, they look for ways to work smarter, resulting in fewer hours but greater output. This is the reason why Boomers and Matures sometimes accuse those in Generation X of “punching the clock.”
The Millennials have come of age in an era of technology and convenience. Many of them honestly wonder why machines don’t do many of the mundane tasks they are asked to perform in entry-level positions. They have been heavily influenced to believe that every job should match the same level of stimulation they receive from a video game. As this generation matures into the workforce, some of these perceptions will change. But this group will also alter society’s interpretation of work ethic as they go.
Matures have always put in long hours due to their training and beliefs about paying dues and maintaining job security. Over the years, many Baby Boomers have developed a similar sense of duty. To many Boomers, long hours also equate to self-worth and a sense of contribution. Unfortunately, this devotion to the job has resulted in an imbalance between work and family life. This has been felt most severely by their children, the Xers. As a result, Xers have developed a focus on a clear balance between work and family.
With the oldest of the Millennials being their mid-twenties, it is difficult to predict their attitudes toward work/life balance. But one might suspect that they will place the same emphasis on this issue as their older brethren, the Xers.
Career development, as it is interpreted today, was not part of the equation for many Matures. As young adults, they were conditioned to believe that one should be thankful to have the job. They learned to keep their noses to the grindstone and work hard to get ahead. The ultimate goal was to move up within the organization, even if it meant working grueling hours. The one thing no one wanted to do was leave the organization.
Career development, as a genre, emerged with the Baby Boomers. Richard Bolles’ landmark book, What Color is Your Parachute? heralded the beginning of Boomers’ proactive focus on job-related self-determination. While this awareness opened new doors for them, especially after the layoffs began in the 1980s, relatively few rushed for the exits. Instead, they have traditionally focused on taking the initiative to manage their careers within one organization or at least one industry.
As the members of Generation X began to enter the workplace in the 1980s, they took a proactive approach to career development from the get-go. Having witnessed the mergers, acquisitions and layoffs their parents suffered, they resolved early on to take charge of their own destiny. The key word for them is versatility. The more degrees or experiences they can acquire, the more they feel they are able to manage opportunity. While some accuse them of having no loyalty an organization, to them loyalty to one’s self is paramount.
Millennials will enter the full-time workforce in large numbers over the next decade. But there is little doubt that they will place the same emphasis on versatility as Generation X. They have come of age with a media that lionizes executives who have rocketed to the top and parents who place extraordinary emphasis on getting the best education and positioning for future success. At the same time, the size of their generation will increase competition for plum job assignments and opportunities.
Much of it comes down to a difference in perception about styles and priorities of management. Young managers should begin by spending time getting to know these older colleagues. While some may view this as unnecessary socialization, not doing so can be the critical disconnect between older workers and a younger supervisor. Even dedicating an hour of time toward each individual will demonstrate that the manager appreciates his or her experience and value.
But this is not where the effort should end. Continue by keeping these people in the loop. Ask them what they think. Solicit their insights on all manner of issues. Chances are, these workforce veterans possess some native knowledge about certain situations that could be very useful. Successful leaders know that seeking the ideas of subordinates enhances, not detracts, from their power and influence. If these individuals take a liking to the supervisor, they will share both the insights that might be obvious but also the nuances of navigating the politics.
Many of these differences can be attributed to three factors: Media influence, societal expectations, and the natural impatience of youth. Generation X and especially the Millennials have come of age being fed a constant diet of stories about what work should be like – exciting, stimulating and fun. They’ve seen certain occupations dramatized in television shows. Many have come to believe that if their job is not as interesting as they see on TV, they must be in the wrong position.
Then there are societal expectations. Corporate leaders have been lionized in the media over the past 15 years. They have witnessed the creation of the celebrity CEOs. They begin to think to themselves, “Why not me?” Then they go to work and find themselves enduring the mundane and repetitive work that exists in the majority of occupations.
Finally, there is the natural impatience of youth. Many young people long to be in charge from the moment they step into the workplace. Sometime peer or parental pressures to succeed exacerbates this. But with the confluence of these three factors, it’s no wonder that young workers become restless at an earlier time than their older counterparts.
Is there a way to address these differences? Yes, but there are no quick fixes. The first step is to find ways to engage these young people in what they’re doing. How do they fit in? Why does the seemingly boring job they do make a difference? How can they begin to collect the experiences and learn the skills that will serve them later on? How can they find mentors and advisors who can provide the invaluable wisdom they will not receive from classroom learning? Addressing these issues and the concerns they express is a great way to build their engagement and productivity.
A great deal of the difference between these communication styles can be attributed to the evolution of electronic technology. As Generation X and especially the Millennials have come of age, they have been immersed in an environment that allows them to communicate in ways in which older generations did not have access. The upside of this is that it can allow for more efficient communication. The downside is that the non-verbal parts of communication have been removed. While older generations have taken note of this phenomenon, younger generations don’t see a real difference. This manifests itself in the workplace when someone in their fifties, for instance, prefers to call on the phone and his younger counterpart favors e-mail. It irritates both of them and impacts productivity.
Contributing to this challenge are those who choose to screen all their calls using voice mail, pagers and e-mail. While this is far from a generational phenomenon, it has taught those new to the workforce that this practice is acceptable.
A secondary factor is the evolution of community. Over the past 50 years, Americans have become increasingly individualistic and therefore want to feel less dependent on each other. There are a host of reasons for this including fear of strangers, the increased pace of life and the diversity of culture. The upshot is that people drive around behind the darkened windows of an SUV, avoid eye contact with those they don’t know and guard their privacy zealously. Young people, growing up in this environment, have naturally emulated these practices and become detached themselves.
As for dealing with these challenges, employers need to understand that this is not a passing phenomenon. Younger generations will continue to drive these changes as time goes on. One of the best ways to address this is to encourage the generations to dialog about how these differences might be better handled. Bring it up at meetings. Pose case studies about typical communication disconnects. Make sure it’s out in the open. But this is an evolutionary process that will require constant vigilance.
Matures and Boomers share similar views in that the training provided should be contributing to the organization’s goals. After all, you are learning on company time. These two generations have always taken the long view, believing that training is a path to promotion and additional compensation.
Generation X however takes a more entrepreneurial attitude. They view training and development as a means for enhancing their versatility in the marketplace. They also see outside training as an investment in their future with any employer, not just the present firm. Some may protest that Xers have an obligation to remain with the organization where the training was provided. But Xers will retort that a job is a contract and the onus is on the organization to keep them engaged and growing. If not, all bets are off.
Most Millennials have only progressed as far as entry-level skill training at this point in time. Few have matured enough to have experienced the more advanced training they will over time. But we suspect that they will treat the acquisition of skills and training in much the same way as their older brethren, the Xers. As Xers assume more and more leadership responsibility, they will probably reinforce this understanding.
As electronic technology has evolved over the past 40 years, each successive generation has become more dependent on it in their daily lives. Matures grew up with telephone operators who placed their calls, for instance. The Baby Boomers grew up with dial telephones. Xers grew up with cordless phones and Millennials are growing with wireless communications.
The big difference in adaptation seems to be the level of immersion and dependence for each generation. The Matures and Boomers came of age in an era when most chores in everyday life were done manually. They, of course, strived to invent new technology that would provide both efficiency and convenience. Generation X and the Millennials both adapted to these technologies as children and improved them over time.
But technology is a mixed blessing. While we are now able to produce letters in half the time, we’re also finding that many young people have failed to learn proper grammar and composition. So while electronic technology has improved workplace efficiency for some tasks, it has negated efficiency for others. There’s nothing wrong with technology itself. We just have to understand the dependence it creates in young people and the impact of this dependence in the workplace.
Matures grew up learning that “a penny saved is a penny earned” and that you needed to “put something away for a rainy day. Even in their old age, they remain conservative spenders opting to do without rather than spending impulsively.
Many Baby Boomers have been the antithesis of this approach. Over the years many Boomers have racked enough consumer debt to seriously endanger their ability to retire in a timely fashion. Baby Boomers were the first credit card generation. Unfortunately, many have not learned the devastating power behind the time-value-of-money, leaving them with debts they will be forced to pay down in their later years. This, of course, has made many rethink their goals about working.
Generation X, having come of age in the chaos of the sixties and seventies coupled with watching their parents spend extravagantly have chosen the more conservative paths of saving and spending prudently. The Millennials, on the other hand, are displaying spending habits remarkably similar to the Baby Boomers. Having come of age in the era of clicks rather than cash. While many of them have learned to spend substantial amounts of money at an earlier age than previous generations, their attitudes about spending in general are viewed as troubling by many.
This all comes down to what each age group seeks in return for their time and effort. Matures come from an era that taught them duty to country and community. They have applied these values to the workplace as well. Matures feel rewarded with a job well done. While they, like everyone else, want to be well compensated, they take pride in what they have accomplished. Boomers certainly take pride in their work, but they also derive their rewards from the recognition received for their contributions to the organization.
Because those in Generation X tend to look at a job as more of a contract, they apply more practicality to the rewards. They expect fair compensation and the opportunity to earn extra for doing extra. Secondly, they seek opportunities to build skills and credentials that will help position them for the future. Thirdly, they value time off, which will provide the balance they seek. Finally, they look for an enjoyable atmosphere where work is not taken too seriously.
As the leading edge of the Millennials have entered the workforce, employers have discovered that fun and stimulation seem to be the operative words for rewarding this generation. Employers embracing these desires have been able to maintain lower turnover rates and higher productivity. While Millennials know they have to work, they will do so more effectively if they are having fun and feel some control over their environment.
Matures perform tend to perform best with clear direction and reinforcement for doing a good job. Coaching, as we know it today, is somewhat of an anomaly to them. While they believe it can have value, they view it as more of a Baby Boomer invention than a critical part of the supervisory process.
Some Baby Boomers have embraced the concept of business coaching wholeheartedly, attending clinics and earning certifications. Others view it with skepticism, wondering if it is one more passing fad. How they might respond to a supervisor using these coaching techniques depends upon how they interpret the whole concept.
As one might expect, the members of Generation X are skeptical of coaching, firstly because it seems to be a Boomer invention and secondly because they typically enjoy a more hands-off supervisory style. They’re apt to think, ”If you want to apply coaching techniques, that’s fine. Just don’t get in my way while I’m getting the job done.”
The jury is still out on Millennials since most are still in jobs that require direct supervision. While some managers may attempt to apply coaching techniques, this may prove ineffective in the entry-level positions Millennials now fill. As they matriculate into the professional workforce, they may embrace these concepts because of their similar beliefs about teamwork to their parents, the Boomers.
Generational information in other countries is rather complicated since the birth curves do not match and the cultures differ in a variety of ways. All of this is due to wars, aging populations, paternalistic cultures and our inability to penetrate the subtle barriers that inhibit what people in other countries will say about themselves to a stranger. It can be very frustrating. Of course, many Americans sometimes share too much too. J Canada is the most like us. Europe differs because of its aging population. So does Japan. The Middle East, with the exception of Israel, is far younger. Some influences like technology and some consumer products translate well. Others such as work beliefs, commerce, respect for elders and certainly politics vary considerably.
There are several mitigating factors here. It is more than just manufacturing that is being affected. Retail stocking, call center work, and a variety of other service sector areas all come to mind. Some of this will be eliminated by technology as robots absorb more and more of the these positions to ensure quality, cut costs and address the shortage of quality applicants. Technology will also enable some of these tasks to be turned into game- or simulation-oriented formats thereby providing an entertainment aspect that will promote retention and help workers pass the time. Immigration will also play a role. While we broadly assign a moniker of impatience to Millennials, we are talking primarily about those born in the US. Whether anyone is willing to admit it or not, the so-called work ethic that many immigrants bring with them is out-performing our native born workforce. Their off-spring my not possess it, but the first generation immigrants do. The work may also be redesigned to encourage team performance incentives. This will appeal to Millennials who tend to be more team-oriented anyway and might enjoy the competition and fun of competing to beat another team or a performance standard, especially if it allows them more flexibility in the workplace. Finally, the way the work is compensated may change, much to the chagrin of the unions. Piecework can be a mighty incentive and we may see a morphing of the collective bargaining agreements within many sectors over time simply because the unions do not have the strength and leverage they once did coupled with the threat of off-shoring more and more of the work. Abuses will be kept in check by labor laws and other regulations.
This comes up frequently, but is not necessarily an age-related issue. The best method I know of it to draw a line in the sand. Meet with each of the individuals involved and re-establish your expectations. (This is assuming that you have developed a defined set of expectations in the first place.) As a supervisor, you might say something like “I realize that I have been less than conscientious in my supervision of expectations. But I need to correct that because we all need to be more productive. (You can blame it on great scrutiny from above or maybe corporate belt-tightening.) So let’s review the expectations for your position to re-establish them and how they are being measured.” You might get resistance. You might get cooperation. You might even get a refreshing response. In any event, you are essentially re-starting the clock on performance evaluation. Should this person not perform, you can really only use his or her behavior from this point forward as a basis for corrective action/termination. It goes without saying that everyone with this person’s job title should get the same treatment. This means meeting with everyone individually. You should really meet with every one of your direct reports, just to be consistent.
As much as there have been many assumptions made about Boomer retirement, there is clear evidence that this retirement will not take place the way that most have expected. The majority of Boomers expect to work will past the traditional retirement age of 65, even if it is on a part-time basis. There are a number of reasons for this. These include better overall health than those in previous generations, a desire to contribute to society, not wanting to lose their occupational identity and, in many cases, a need to work due to a lack of long-term financial stability.
Determining work ethic and commitment for those under 25 should be handled the same way it is handled for applicants of all ages. Those hiring should be careful not to assume a poor work ethic among young people just the way they should not assume a strong work ethic among those considerably older. It all comes down to selection techniques and a commitment to more effective assessment of skills and attitudes of applicants. These issues are covered in more depth within the Center’s newsletter and in the hiring resources offering in our on-line store.
For many employers, this is turning into the billion-dollar question. Young professionals and entering the workforce with a more contractually-oriented attitude than previous generations. This means that they are seeking an employment relationship that is mutually rewarding from the get-go. They expect to be training, developed and rewarded immediately. Unfortunately, many organizations do not live up to these expectations out of unwillingness, inability, or both. These individuals are also more impatient than previous generations to see career results. When they don’t, they begin to look for better options. The three big keys to retaining young professionals are: 1) Hiring the right ones in the first place. The best and the brightest, for example may not be the right ones for your organization, especially if they will be placed a job where growth and development takes considerable time. 2) Setting clear expectations during the selection process and reinforcing them on the first day. Everyone needs to be extremely clear about opportunities and commitment. Better to scare candidates during the interviews than to have them say, “I had no idea it would be this way,” once they’re on the job. 3) Maintaining communication about training, development, performance and overall career issues. If young professionals feel forgotten after the first 30 days, there’s a good chance they will not be there after 90. This website is packed with ideas about retention. Take a few minutes to look around. You might begin with back issues of our newsletter.
We must always begin this discussion by defining “work ethic.” Older generations might be forgiven for a more manual interpretation of the term. After all, they came of age when most tasks were performed by hand. As technology has improved societal efficiency, it has also altered the way that work looks. In watching a Millennial work, one might conclude sometimes that there is no work being done, even though the tasks are being accomplished. That said, today’s emerging workers have also been imbued with a philosophy that says, focus on fun before work and so their “happy-go-lucky” behaviors can sometimes be misinterpreted. See the entry above for more information.
This is bedeviling many of today’s organizations. Young people seem to prefer e-mails and texting while veteran workers seem to prefer the telephone, although this is not entirely true. Not only does this make for some difficult communication within the firm, it can also play havoc with customers and vendors. Many organizations seem to be dealing with it by providing a set of guidelines and training that outline the parameters of what the firm considers appropriate. A young worker, for example, may prefer to text-message her clients since she is most comfortable in that environment. But her 50-something client will probably prefer telephone or email. Providing a communication protocol, coupled with some coaching from supervisors will help young workers understand how to make these distinctions. Of course, when in doubt, they should not hesitate to ask. All of this said, it is also important that those older worker who resist embracing newer communication technology should also be coached on its use. As much as the young worker may deal with an older customer or vendor, the reverse is also true. None of this is cut-and-dried however. Effective communication within any organization, begins with the desire of those involved.
There has been a lot written about the coming shortage of workers, but one must first ask about the context. Yes, in some industries and disciplines, there will be shortages. These include utilities, nursing, and a number of the skilled trades. In other areas, such as many of the business and finance disciplines, there will not. There are number of factors impacting all of this. Immigration is certainly one. Much of this depends on the future policies and practices of the US government. Another contributing factor is the shift away from hard sciences and the skilled trades that our nation has observed over the past decade. Employers in these areas are finding it difficult to recruit workers many young people have shied away from these areas. All of that said, most recruiting is local. Where one locale struggles, another may find a substantial supply. It is critical to maintain a vigilance with regard to recruiting and maintain a presence within the applicant markets you need. There is a lot more information on this site about this issue. You might begin by checking out the free articles section and past editions of our newsletter.
This all comes down to engaging them in ways that they find attractive. After all, aren’t we all that way? Many Millennials (or Generation Y) are stimulation junkies who have come of age hearing that what ever they do should be entertaining and stimulating. With the influence of television, video games and other electronic entertainment over the years, young people have become increasingly dependent on external stimulation to guide their lives. Is it any wonder, for instance, that a teenager who watches TV in the morning, plays video games throughout the day, texts her friends, and even completes her homework on a computer would be bored from the get-go when ask to fold a pile of sweaters, shelve books or serve endless meals to endless fast-food customers? While work environments and employees can vary widely, there are some universal strategies that can be applied to encourage involvement. 1) Teach them about the business. How does the place make money? How do you make decisions about marketing, purchasing, sales and so on? 2) Initiate some competitions. Who can fold T-shirts the fastest? Who can carry a tray of beverages the furthest? Who can build the most effective display? 3) Ask for their input. What’s a better solution? How can we increase point-of-purchase sales? How can we save money? You have to decide which ones work best in your environment. For a great example of all this, check out the January 21, 2008 post on Bob Wendover’s blog.
We are all utilizing technology and changing work processes in a global marketplace. But does all this focus on young people means we have to chisel the "hole" to fit the "pegs" rather than the other way around? Every generation enters the workplace with exuberance and expects to make their mark immediately. In some ways, this is even more intense for the Millennials due to technology. There has been a tremendous amount written and broadcasted about how employers must change their ways in order to attract and retain this enormous resource of people. The truth is that both sides needs to work together. The keys here, of course, are clear expectations and clear communications. Millennials, as a generation, have learned to press for as much as possible, but that is true of any cohort of youths. The difference this time appears to be that many of the traditional parameters in society are not being enforced. Effective managers hold the line and make consistent decisions. As Millennials begin to experience these parameters, they will adjust to workplace and its pace. Sure, employers will also find themselves adjusting, but that’s just part of building a productive balance.
While the vast majority of Boomers have adapted well to the evolution of today’s technology, there are a few holdouts. Regardless of their reasons or resistance, they need to make this transition as soon as possible. The best place to begin is by meeting with each to explain that it is no longer acceptable to not use appropriate technology on the job. Do not allow them to debate you as to whether they can do their job just as well without these skills. The next step is to provide each one with a technology coach, someone to whom they can turn to with questions. Preferably, this should be an age peer who is willing to be both patient and direct. If they continue to work around the technology, remove the opportunity. In one case, the manager of a recreation center came in after hours and removed all the paper forms her scheduling assistant had stashed in secret places. While there was some discomfort the next morning, the assistant finally adjusted to the new system recognizing that her job could be online.
I've noticed that many of my younger employees and co-workers seem to neglect the importance of keeping organized, even in terms of professional office appearance (clean desktops, etc.). Is it a generational difference or do these folks just not have the skills or values that my generation calls "professional?” They simply don't seem to see it as an issue or concern to waste their time on.
In the past generation, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on convenience as a virtue. This, of course, has been enabled by the emergence of technology that seem to allow everything to be accomplished with a point and a click. Young workers have simply not experienced the necessity of manual organization. They have also grown up immersed in advertising and media that seems to encourage them to do the least work possible. But all of this said, it is important to examine the outcome of their efforts before assuming that sloppiness results in poor work. If clean desks and professional appearance are critical to the successful operation of the business, then set and enforce clear parameters. Be prepared, however, to explain your reasoning. Is this a generational issue? Probably not. Organization is more related to brain function and personality than age. But in our increasingly informal world, young people are less likely to see the need for professional appearance and a clean desk.
Young people seem to think that everyone should be treated exactly the same. Does fair mean giving everyone the same pay and benefits even though some work harder than others? What has happened being rewarded on the basis of merit?
A good deal of this has to do with a transformation of the term “fairness.” Where fairness in the work environment has been traditionally defined as being treated equally for equal effort or behavior, many now believe that it means that everyone should have the same rights and opportunities regardless of effort and behavior. The emerging generation has come of age immersed in a society that appears to preach equality for all from every quarter. Special interest groups and causes seem to dominate the media. Governments pass legislation designed to protect every conceivable need, condition or belief. Students come of age studying the social challenges of society. But when it comes to compensation and working conditions, most managers are still in charge. There are environments where negotiated work rules play more of a role. But those aside, managers control wages, recognition, promotions, development opportunities and such. A large part of the challenge is a lack of information and understanding. Effective managers work to inform employees about expectations, rewards, and consequences from day one. If this stage has been set correctly, those who complain about a lack of fairness can simply be referred back to the expectations that were explained at the beginning of the person’s employment. It also helps if employees have a better understanding of the organization’s business model. If they understand more about the costs of doing business, the pressures on managers, and the environment in which the organization operates, they will tend to have more empathy for those making decisions.
Millennials sometimes receive a bad rap about this issue. As this generation has come of age over the past 20 years, they have been immersed in a non-stop world that seems to focus on convenience and entitlement. They hear it from advertisers. The media has preached it endlessly. Some have grown up with over-protective parents. Then there is society in general. Rather than enforcing existing rules and policies, many institutions have allowed themselves to be manipulated by young people who are determined to get their way. This has sometimes been enabled by parents who ask those in authority to bend the rules rather than allowing their children to learn about the consequences of their actions. It is only natural then that when these individuals go to work that they would expect the same kind of treatment. The three critical keys to dealing successfully with these individuals are selection, clear expectations and consistent enforcement of established practices. In this age of the detached worker, employers are finding that choosing the right people in the first place can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line. Develop assessments that reveal the work beliefs of applicants of all ages. Once on board, set clear and specific expectations that provide young people with a clear understanding of their responsibilities as well as their rights on the job. Finally, enforce these expectations consistently. Without this, selection efforts and clear expectations become meaningless.
It is natural for any generation to remain longer in their jobs as they age. As they take on the responsibilities of a household and family, they will tend to settle down. Additionally, they are more likely to stay in positions that are harder to attain and fewer in number such as middle- and upper-level management. It would be difficult to enumerate this except in specific industry studies. The trade associations serving larger industries might have information on this based on the research they perform.
It has generally grown shorter for a couple of reasons. Younger workers tend to view a job as a contract rather than a calling. Therefore they feel less tied to one employer. It’s not that they are disloyal. They are just less likely to see loyalty as a part of the relationship. We’ve not seen any empirical studies on this since the effect would be so difficult to measure. The variables are very disparate. There might be a study within a specific industry or two.
We’ve seen three general trends. Firstly, there are older workers who remain with their former employer as consultants. This sometimes happens because the worker retired to have more personal time, but also wants to remain involved and maintain a stream of income besides retirement savings and social security. Secondly, some organizations are employing retirees as consultants who can mentor rising managers and professionals especially in certain technical disciplines. Besides, these individuals are less expensive to employ and can be terminated on a moment’s notice. Thirdly, there is a cohort of older workers who work part-time to maintain a stream of income and a social circle of age peers. Look around the average fast-food establishment during lunch for instance, and you’ll see them behind the counter and out in the dining room. The only source of how many of these people there are would be in the Census data on the percentage of people employed at different age levels.
As far as we can see there is no correlation. Some members of any generation choose to pursue more responsibility and the remaining ones do not. It is true that Baby Boomers dominate senior level positions at this point. But that’s only because of where they are in age. Over time, they will relinquish these positions to those younger and so it goes. With the leading edge of Generation X their mid forties, we’re already seeing this beginning to happen. Another factor is the number of firms that have been started by young professionals over the past 15 years. This effect skews any broader study we might make. Looking into the trends within specific industries might reveal some clearer insights.
It has been postulated for a long time that the smaller size of Generation X would create a shortage of rising managers. To our knowledge, no one has ever quantified this. The premise is based on supposition. With the Boomers projected to stay in the workplace for a longer period of time, all bets are off.