Multigenerational leadership – age difference in the workplace

I wrote an article a few years ago for Expatica, and included this quote:

“The dominant factor for business in the next two decades – absent war, pestilence, or collision with a comet – is not going to be economics or technology. It will be demographics”. Peter Drucker (1997)

At the time I was referring to the rapidly ageing global population, and I think that’s mainly what Peter Drucker had in mind, as well, from the quote’s context…but it is also starting to mean something else, both in society and in global companies. Four generations living and working together does not always have a happy ending. Four different generations means four different ways of addressing problems, of approaches to management, communication styles. How does a Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) manage someone half their age…with very different values, work ethic, ambition, attitude and behaviour?

There has been a veritable avalanche of new literature on what it means to have Millennials (or Generation Y, or Generation Next….anyone born between 1981 and 2001) in one’s employ, and with good reason. By the year 2015 in the U.S. alone, Millennials (presently representing 25% of the workforce, to the Boomer 44%), will have a whopping 37% share of the job market, almost equal to the Boomers themselves, at 40%. The middle generation, the Xers (1965-1980) will just slowly ebb away, from their present 23% hold on the workplace to only 20% in 2015. This means….take Millennials, and the changes they bring with them, very seriously indeed. Says Millennial consultant (yes, there’s a whole industry built around how to babysit this demographic, it’s not just Amazon getting the benefit!) Mary Crane:

“They have climbed Mount Everest. They’ve been down to Machu Picchu to help excavate it. But they’ve never punched a time clock. They have no idea what it’s like to actually be in an office at nine o’clock, with people handing them work. You now have a generation coming into the workplace that has grown up with the expectation that they will automatically win, and they’ll always be rewarded, even for just showing up.”

In other words: there’s a lot of adapting to be done, and it’s not going to be done by the (future) majority!

256268_cover.inddOf all the literature available on this topic, there has been one consistently excellent source of solid information and well-reasoned advice, Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking. Click on his name to see a wonderful YouTube clip where he calls Generation X ‘an accident of history’. The Knowledge Omnivore has often referred to them as ‘new industrial slaves’ because, let’s face it…Xers never even got up to bat. And their numbers in management are already declining. Bloated Boomers, now facing pension crises in the financial downturn, will never be able to afford to retire — they’ll sit there, warming their chairs, until the Millennials literally push them out. But I digress…look for Bruce Tulgan’s great new book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y, now available on Amazon. From Bruce’s new book:


Myth #1: Gen Yers are disloyal.
Myth #2: They won’t do the grunt work.
Myth #3: They don’t know very much and have short attention spans.
Myth #4: They want the top job on day one.
Myth #5: They need work to be fun.
Myth #6: They want to be left alone at work.
Myth #7: They want their managers to do their work for them.
Myth #8: They don’t care about climbing the proverbial career ladder.
Myth #9: Money and traditional benefits don’t matter to them.
Myth #10: Money is the only thing that matters to them.
Myth #11: They don’t respect their elders.
Myth #12: They want to learn only from computers.
Myth #13: It’s impossible to turn them into long-term employees.
Myth #14: They will never make good managers because they are too self-focused.

I subscribe to Bruce’s excellent video newsletter and it is always full of practical tips, new research and…humour. Bruce is funny, what can I say? It’s the Omnivore’s favourite trait…

With thanks to the peerless Queta for steering the Omnivore to the following remarkable YouTube clip, ‘Lost Generation’. Listen, and think….


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: