Generation Smeneration...It's about People

At lunch today I was reminded that the mythology of generational differences in the work place is still out there. You know, the belief that twenty year olds are dis-loyal gaming fanatics who lack discipline, focus and patience, while boomers are the opposite of all that, whatever that makes them. Whenever I hear this stuff I am reminded of a seminar I attended where David Foote, author of Boom, Bust and Echo, reminded us that twenty year olds have always behaved like twenty year olds, and forty year olds have always acted like forty year olds. I'm not sure we like to hear that stuff when we're forty but it's scientifically demonstrable.

I am amazed when I hear boomers criticizing the Gen X, Y and other alphabet cohorts. I was there when the boomers were twenty and what I remember was that we had long hair and beards and we demanded that society create jobs for us where there weren't any while simultaneously condemning the corporate life style of our parents. Yikes.

When I hear or see recruiters offering up stereotypes of potential employees I am reminded that laziness in thought and action is not the foundation of a good organization, let alone a great one. Often these very same recruiters complain about the lack of quality candidates, that they can't find anyone with experience and when they do, that experience has pummelled the creative life out of them. Where are the innovative mid-career professionals who we all know are the gold standard of candidate profiles, they cry.

May I offer the observation that talent is not age specific, passion can be found in seventy year olds and stupidity knows no age boundaries. Of course you want a diverse work force, you likely have a diverse customer base. Drop the ageism either young or old in your recruiting thinking, it is no more flattering than any of the other isms, like racism or sexism.

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Comment by Lisa Howarth on June 18, 2010 at 5:08pm
You make an excellent point, and this is something that we need to remember when recruiting - people at different ages and stages in life have different motivations, and it is up to us as recruiters to uncover those so we can attract the right people, so we can speak their language, and so that we can motivate them once on board. Each person must be considered individually.

When I was in my early 20s, it was all about earning the precious dollar so we could move out, pay off school debt, buy a car, and then have enough left over for a social life. In my late 20s as I settled into the reality of life after school, it became more about career, getting ahead, gaining credibility in the industry. Now through my 30s, I find myself more motivated by being involved in company decisions, being consulted, and - selfishly - vacation (so I can travel the world and spend time with family and friends that we see too little of).

These are things that I found my peers and I were motivated by through the various years; however I do see changes in the students who are just graduating, or have graduated recently. They've generally spent more years in post-secondary education and I detect a hint of entitlement when they speak about the jobs they want (perhaps reality will beat them back into the old "norm" motivations). With the exposure to technologies like the internet, they tend to be more informed about their opportunities (and thus we, as recruiters, expect them to be more informed about our companies and our jobs.

I'm very interested to hear how others feel about this topic, thanks for raising it.
Comment by Kim Bechtel on June 21, 2010 at 1:27pm
Thanks for your very thoughtful and valuable comment. If boomers would stop seeing the worlf from our precious vantage point we could help organizations be much more dynamic and innovative, just by bringing in people from other age groups! We boomers think email is such a breakthrough, ouch.

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