The picture isn’t complete without a discussion of the actual talent pool. This chapter discusses how the talent pool has evolved, why Gen X and Gen Y are different to baby boomers and what companies need to do to get them on board, retrain, retain and extract value for mutual benefit.
‘Generation X’ or ‘Gen X’ is the term coined by Jane Deverson, who conducted a survey of British youths in 1964. While the term Gen X can be used to describe a wide group of people, it has come to be universally accepted that members of this generation belong to the group of people born between 1961 and 1986. In France, they call them the ‘Generation Bof’, meaning ‘generation whatever’. Deverson’s study indicated that this generation of children in the UK were rebellious, not religious, had no allegiance to the queen, openly advocated and were involved in premarital sex. Older generations generally tend to have a negative perception of a younger generation that alters paradigms. As a result, Baby Boomers and the media have vilified this generation and termed them as ‘slackers’, ‘bofs’ and the ‘forgotten generation’.
This generation can also be called the ‘crisis generation’. Globally, they witnessed the Vietnam war, the 1973 oil crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the recession of the 1980s, the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the recession of the 1990s, the currency crisis and the 2000s dotcom crash. The Gen X in India also experienced the Indochina war, two wars with Pakistan, the Punjab crisis in the 1980s and the 1985s attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in addition to the other international recessions. As a result, their corporate careers got off to a late start and the wave of recessions caused a lot of uncertainty in their corporate lives.
Gen X children, as a result, were left to fend for themselves. They were the first batch of ‘latchkey children’, who had to handle everything alone as their parents were busy working. India, during the same period, witnessed the emergence of nuclear families. It was not surprising to see both parents working to provide a better quality of life and education for these children. This generation, as a result, grew up alone and were bored. They wanted the attention of their parents and realised that being uncooperative or rebellious would achieve this. They did that by disowning the norms their parents or society stood for. As a result, the media and the Baby Boomers branded them an impossible generation. Despite all the negative publicity, this generation of the workforce has some extraordinarily positive traits which organisations should tap into.
This generation is sandwiched between 80 million Baby Boomers and 78 million Generation Y. They are only 46 million strong and are like the middle child who gets ignored in a family that has three children. Baby Boomers exert their influence over the corporate world by being senior and Gen Y is equivalent to the younger child. However, Gen X is the generation that experienced the first wave of technology, the Internet and computing. Global studies have shown that this generation is a highly educated age group when compared with other generations.
Although they were highly educated, they were not making enough money compared to their fathers. While the media and the baby boomers attribute it to the slackening attitude of Gen X, in fact, to understand the problem one needs to dig deeper. Gen X is the generation that has seen their parents work their hearts out, slaving it in some cases, only to be made redundant during times of crisis. They have grown up in a climate where notions about jobs for life got shattered and they realised that change is the only permanent constant. They grew up with empty houses and did not want their children to have the same experience.
Gen Xers do not have expectations of job security and trust that every job is a stepping stone. They see work as a means to an end and not as adding meaning to their existence. They do not want to work long hours in dead-end jobs. They do not want to sacrifice their personal lives by working harder. They do not trust the organisation and are not loyal to it. They stay away from politics and do not want to invest a lot of their time in something that is not going to last forever. Gen X focuses on investing and improving themselves to work smarter and be prepared to face any uncertainty.
This generation has given rise to organisations like Google, Microsoft, YouTube, Apple, MySpace, etc. They have contributed more to growth than Baby Boomers or any other generation. Whereas other generations worked with incremental innovation, this generation spawned creative thinking and created tools and technologies which have contributed to enormous strides in the progress of mankind. They embrace technology as much as Generation Y and use it to balance their life with work, as they believe work is essential to having a life.
This generation is educated and knows what it wants. As a result, it cannot be fooled for money. They believe in individualism and collectivism at the same time and do not want to be stereotyped. They recognise that business is for profit but they would not work for an organisation that uses profitability to ignore integrity or corporate social responsibility. They are the first batch of latchkey children to hit the workforce; as a result, they want to and believe in working in collaborative relationships. They want to invest in relationships, rather than exploit them to get what they want.
They find it difficult to integrate in a corporate scenario that is inflexible, and advocate winning and control as the key criteria. They hate hypocrisy and believe in ‘walking the walk’. They believe in openness and honesty in communication, and can get easily turned off if the organisation’s communication strategy is not clear. They, as a result, find corporate career paths too narrow and claustrophobic. One in five Gen X individuals is dreaming of giving up their corporate careers to take the entrepreneurial route or work for a smaller, ethical organisation. Many end up working for themselves.
The Baby Boomers are ageing and will all retire during the next ten years. The next generation that has to take up the mantle and manage corporations is Gen X. Realistically, there are fewer Gen Xers than Baby Boomers. Therefore, there is going to be a massive shortage of talent. In addition to that, the Gen X workforce is pursuing the entrepreneurial route, which means the talent pool is going to shrink further.
Any talent management intervention has to reckon with this to understand the impact and create a conducive climate to retain Gen X at work. It is, therefore, essential to understand what motivates this generation. As discussed earlier, they have grown up alone and like to build and work in communities. They have perfected the art of multi-tasking and are capable of handling different things at the same time. They look for constant feedback that will help them improve their skill-sets.
A majority of the Gen X population believe that the Baby Boomer managers seldom provide feedback that helps them grow. They are constantly looking for opportunities to learn new things and acquire new skills that will help them in the future. It is vital that organisations have measures that are valid and relevant to demonstrate progress to this group.
Gen Xers are the ideal candidates for the empowered workforce that is self-directed. In an age where there are no jobs for life, organisation loyalty is not taken as given. Organisations like buyers of talent have to establish the intellectual ability and challenges the profession can afford to get this group motivated. Unlike other generations, where the niceties of the role have to be explained, this group has to be presented with the difficulties and challenges ahead, which will help them to take on the role quickly.
They are not emotionally involved with their corporate careers. Although financial engagement drives them to stay with an organisation for some time, it is the intellectual and volitional engagement that keeps them going. This group will be effective if they can see the value they can add through their roles. The organisation has to have systems in place to support the managers to determine the value this group adds or can add to the organisation.
They own up to a task and show responsibility to achieve it if they truly believe in the work they are doing. They add tremendous value if that aids progress. This tendency to be valuable or add value affords them an excellent work ethic. They do not mind investing a lot of time if they are engaged intellectually. They are, as a result, singularly focused and give it their best when they set out to do it. They love to invest one ‘gargantuan chunk’ of time to complete a task rather than invest ‘bite-sized chunks’ of time spanning several days to complete the same task.
They are firm believers in taking action rather than deliberating over and over again. They despise meetings for the purpose of meetings. They believe in democracy and space. They do not want people looking over their shoulders scrutinising what they do. They are self-motivated, self-reliant and capable of achieving well when left on their own. Although it appears to be hard to let go, managers have to give this group the space to extract maximum value from them.
Baby Boomers still control or manage the workforce and occupy the top positions in the corporate world. They want others to believe in what they care for, and that is where Gen X differs. Boomers want a pyramid structure at the top, whereas Gen X prefer a lattice corporate structure. The reality is that there can be only one top position and a few generals to assist that person. However, Gen X is not ready to accept that as the norm. The average Gen Xer is in their 40s and they have come to accept that this is the way of life. The excellent news is that not every one wants to pursue the entrepreneurial route and therefore many of them continue to work for organisations. The challenge for organisations is to get them to stay on and take on tasks that are not always intellectually challenging. Understanding what motivates this group would help HR personnel and managers to devise systems, roles and responsibilities to assist them. This generation is not a group of slackers but a generation that believes in value and balance. Providing a platform to help them do that is the key to motivating them to deliver.
Organisations and pundits have written about the new generation entering the workforce and highlight why they are different from the existing workforce. When Baby Boomers started working they were the centre of attention. Companies invested a lot of time understanding workforce behaviours, ethics and values, and tried to provide a platform for the Baby Boomers to contribute to their organisation’s progress.
When the next generation, Gen X, entered the workforce, they were once again the centre of attention. Many articles are being written about why they were different and about their expectations and work ethics. However, the number of Gen Xers entering the workforce was limited compared to the Baby Boomers, which has, by far, been the largest group. It is, therefore, natural that Generation Y now is garnering more attention as they start their working life.
HR spin doctors are not entirely wrong to dismiss the Gen Y factor as hype. However, analysis of the facts reveals that there is more to the hype than anxiety. The fact is, many Baby Boomers are retiring, or are in the last lap of their corporate careers. There are not many Gen Xers around to step into the leadership shoes of the Baby Boomers, leaving a skill gap that organisations have to fill. The option is, therefore, to look at Gen Y.
More Gen Y are entering the workforce and their numbers could even surpass the size of Baby Boomers. The genuine talent shortage will force organisations to evaluate Gen Y from a positive perspective. Gen Y is branded as the generation that wants it all but with minimal effort, but is this true? If not, what are they? There is no shortage of literature on this generation, where each aspect of their lives is continually being analysed. The discussion here will revolve around talent management and what organisations should do to satisfy this generation.
There seems to be confusion on the exact timeframe of Gen Y. Some say they were born between 1980 and 1994 while others think that they were born between 1977 and 1999. The oldest of Gen Y have either reached their 30s or are in their late 20s. They are the most highly educated talent pool to enter the workforce since Baby Boomers. Gen Y was born when the world was experiencing a technological revolution.
For Gen Y, salary is not the only determining criterium that influences them to accept a role. They are also keen to work for companies where their personal values match those of the organisations. As opposed to the common perception, the salary expectations of this generation are similar to those of other generations, if not more. Yes, they are restless and do want to accelerate success in their careers. Many of this generation have seen their parents split up and family life fall apart. There is, therefore, an increased emphasis on maintaining family togetherness. They are willing to shun any opportunity if it affects their work-life balance. Like the previous Generation X, they want to achieve their goals by working smart not hard. Therefore, their views on work-life balance are more objective. This is a generation that grew up watching their parents work extremely hard to provide all comforts for their children. They are a smart and highly educated generation. They are aware of the fact that they are qualified and are not afraid to experiment and attract new challenges. At the back of their minds, they always know that their education will help them get what they want. It is not surprising to note that this workforce is more challenging. They are aware of the talent shortage and the role they have to play in filling that gap. Therefore, if they are ambitions; they waste no time in marketing themselves as a niche brand. Their demands also go up accordingly.
Unlike the previous generations, this generation is not afraid to promote themselves. They grew up watching reality TV shows, such as Big Brother. So they know exactly how to market themselves. As a result, they can be seen by others as being brash. The hostility they can cause among other staff is immense, but the damage can be limited if one understands their mindset and learns to work accordingly.
Many companies are trying to satisfy this generation by revisiting their corporate ethics strategy. This can only lead to a healthy organisation that is more people-and society-centric than bottom-line-centric. How far companies will be willing to accommodate Gen Y remains to be seen. The truth is, not many, partially because of the fact that they are yet to encounter a Gen Y workforce or they are still trying to understand this generation. Some organisations have made some alterations or revised their strategies in an effort to engage this workforce. Even then, companies feel that they have to strike a balance and in some cases have refused to adjust.
The state of the economy is also influencing the expectations of this generation. If we realistically look at Gen Y many have not even heard of a recession, let alone experience one. When one occurred, they were extremely young, were gleefully glued to the TV or the games console. Their parents made extra efforts to provide for them and, as a result, this generation has had an enormous portion of material comforts compared to any other.
This is the generation whose parents have taught them to question everything, and they rarely take things on face value. They are stimulated and have good insight. This is the generation that has been bombarded with much information by various forms of media, and as a result, their general awareness is much higher. They strive to gain more value from their work. They want to advance in their careers and do not want to wait for the seniority route. They are equally committed to eliminate their limitations and want to learn more and progress in their career. They are a mobile workforce. They are comfortable working either face-to-face or remotely. The Internet has grown with them, and they are comfortable and resourceful when it comes to technology. They Google or Ask Jeeves if they want an answer and believe that they have a better perspective of any given situation or problem. They are naturally more confident as a result, and that sometimes comes across as arrogance. Their behaviour can also seem threatening to other generations.
Technology is still growing at a rapid rate, linking cultures globally and leading to a unified generation. This generation is connected, they blog about an individual/product/service and can help establish or alter an opinion. Recognition is gained by peer group acceptance. They would rather trust a peer group rating than read about an anonymous customer’s testimony about a product or service. They use Facebook or MySpace or orkut and quickly learn about a new product.
They want to work, but also like to see the value of the work they do. They want to understand the value it can create from a ‘macro level’ perspective. They are brand conscious but would prefer to support a local brand rather than a global brand. Many of the Gen Yers are still at home. Some of them have started living on their own after living with their parents. As a result, the part of the generation that has been working has had almost no expenses and their disposable income is relatively high. Their salaries are somewhat higher compared to any other workers in the same age group. Therefore, many Gen Yers spend their money on extravagant pursuits. Researchers have found young people were focusing on entertainment, fashion, sport, music and travel. In Australia alone this generation spent close to AUS$48 billion in 2009. The volume of spending is remarkable given that a third of this generation has still not entered the workforce. They surely are a force to be reckoned with.
Given the high expectations and that there is going to be an enormous gap in the workforce, should companies then accede to any requests of this generation? The answer is not a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Yes, there is going to be a talent crunch when Baby Boomers retire but would corporations want to risk promoting people who are seen to be bright? Of course, they do need bright individuals, but if they are given much responsibility too soon they are like loose cannons and could potentially destroy their organisation’s reputation.
Are Gen Yers only adept at doing things that involve technology but falter when the role does not embrace technology? Studies have shown that this generation is eager to learn, and their commitment to learning anything new is outstanding. Although this generation is restless, they know their limitations. They are aware of the fact that they are not experienced. They constantly rate their performance below that of their peers or subordinates.
This is terrific news; they are willing to scrutinise their own work and critically evaluate their performance. They are fair-minded and are not ashamed to admit that they lack or need to acquire a particular skill. That is helpful for the organisation as it provides an opportunity for them to invest in the individual’s progress and get the employee engaged with the organisation. The unfortunate aspect is that potentially, when they have been trained, this generation expects to move on to bigger challenges. They want to improve the capacity of the job or get promoted almost immediately. Yes, they recognise their limitations, work on them and when it is done, want to move up. However brash it may seem, it is not the wrong thing to do. This generation is more vocal than previous ones. Let us not forget they make capable marketers.
That brings the question of loyalty into the equation. A few decades ago, it was common to join an organisation, work your way up and eventually retire. That scenario is fiction to this generation. A typical Gen Yer spends 18 months in one role. If they do not get the right opportunity, then they are happy looking for better prospects. That does not mean they are hot-headed or money-chasers. If they are able to see progress, they do invest more time and effort in that organisation. Their style is all about speed, they deliberate at the speed of thought, they consult at the speed of technology and plan at the speed of light. This generation has the ability to perform many times faster compared to the Baby Boomers.
When it comes to decision-making, it is not surprising that they need less time to plan. Given that there is a skill shortage they end up sooner with better roles and greater responsibilities. They do not want to waste their time in an organisation if they cannot see any improvement in their careers. They are willing to cut their losses and move on to do other things.
Gen Y views work and what they do outside work as two different things. They do not mind tarnishing the reputation of their bosses on websites anonymously. They are not less ethical; on the contrary, their standards are higher. They have rekindled the spirit or at least triggered some organisations to think about the wider societal implications of their conduct, a feat that is not small by any standards. Analysing the situation and looking at the allegations made against them, we constantly hear that this generation wants higher salaries, rewards, praise, recognition and promotion.
If we look at each allegation, we see that this can apply to any generation or age group. Who does not like most or all of that? Why single out one generation, criticise their attitudes and label them? They have entered the workforce where the demand for skilled labour is on the rise. The complexity of work that needs to be done requires specific skills, which the current workforce does not have or will take more time to obtain. Simplistically speaking, demand far outstrips supply. It is not surprising to note that a premium is being paid to perform that role. This generation typically has higher disposable incomes, greater job security, better perks, travel opportunities, longer periods of singledom and fewer responsibilities. It is natural that everyone resents the Gen Y workforce. We all have earned more than our parents and why should we oppose it if the next generation earns more? This reminds one of the movie As Good as it Gets, in which Jack Nicholson says, ‘It’s not that you are down that is upsetting, but it is that others continue to have a fabulous time that is upsetting you.’
If we are all the same deep down, then organisations should unmask the hype surrounding Gen Y and create a platform to preserve this skilled workforce. All this generation wants is to be heard and provided with an opportunity. Are they different to any of us then? This is the workforce that needs to be motivated differently to ensure that they remain part of it. Each one is a David Beckham or a Tiger Woods. They are walking, talking, thinking brands. They continually want to improve their brand value and derive a premium for and from their expertise.
This generation has a different way of doing things and speed is of the essence. They expect results faster than the time they take to send a text message. It is not the lack of work ethic but this restlessness that needs to be looked at if companies want to understand them. As employees they consider themselves global citizens, have the ability to juggle many ideas, are tech savvy and expect instant gratification. Organisations have to start talking the Gen Y language if they want engage them. Gen Y is intolerant to bureaucracy and avoids it if they think it inconvenient to get things done. Global studies have always revealed that many of this generation want jobs that exceed their level of experience. This makes us wonder whether they are proud, ignorant or extremely talented. They are ambitious and appreciate any new learning opportunity. It is also said that this generation’s need for acceptance is immense. This is not acceptable to them as it can have a tremendous impact on their performance when the economy nosedives. A study conducted by US universities into narcissistic tendencies among students reveals that the average score of students in the 2000s is 30 per cent more than that of their 1980s counterparts.
This book is being written while the global economic climate is experiencing a downturn in the West while the East appears to be more resilient. With talks of a double dip recession, and given that Gen Y has never experienced such a situation one would think that they would be more concerned. This generation has been pampered, and they are a high-performance and high-maintenance group.
In this kind of situation, individuals who get swayed by instant gratification and do not invest in growth opportunities will stay behind. Agreed, they all start at the same platform, and when there is demand and shortage, jobs will be easy to come by and premiums could be extracted. When companies decide to freeze jobs or curb recruitment, then as always, the best will be sought after, and they can continue to ride high. However, others who have patchwork résumés without substantial experience will bear the brunt. This is the same for any generation, the only difference being, many Gen Yers think they are talented. The question is, would the downturn then inject a dose of reality into their thinking, or would it not? Would they lower their expectations of their work and become more accommodating?
Studies have shown that this generation is already lowering their expectations. They are establishing realistic views of the workplace and their expectations about the job or role are maturing. In the present conditions, they are scaling down their expectations more than any other generation. It could be because they started their demands at a higher level and have had to scale down dramatically to achieve realistic levels. However, they are not as worried as one would expect them to be, primarily because many of them have cash reserves to help see them through a difficult time. They still have the luxury of going back to their parents’ home, which they only left a few years ago; not that they would, but they have that option if required.
This generation of workers has different motivations, work ethics, and they are extremely productive people who are open to change. They have had to cope with so many things at the same time (such as piano lessons, horse riding, ballet dancing, and summer workshops along with their studies) even when they were young and have been programmed by their parents to prove themselves. They are driven and want to prove their mettle.
If the organisations they work for offer these individuals opportunities to learn, see the value behind their activity and provide growth opportunities, they can extract more value from this generation than any other one before. Gen Y has entered the job market at times of near or full employment. The previous generation entered the workforce when the unemployment rate was around 8 per cent. Shortage of talent has directly resulted in Gen Y experiencing more success than other generations. Maybe they do not recognise the value of what they have at hand. Well, they wanted it, and they have it but then what next, is the question that will plague their minds. These are the people that want to think that they have a sense of control over what they do. If that does not occur, they are the first ones to stop what they are doing and evaluate their priorities.