Generational differences

Received wisdom suggests that today's workforce includes workers from four generations. A wave of generational research has classified these as Veterans (sometimes referred to as Traditionals, Matures or the silent generation), Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (also known as Millennial), and generalized the characteristics of each generation. While the range of years used to define each group varies slightly depending on the source, a 2008 Conference Board report Shifting the focus: Updating your work-life approach to integrate employee engagement and talent management, May 2008 summarizes each generation as follows:

Veterans: born 1933-1945: Comprise 6% of US workforce: Characteristics: Work, work, work-and I'll work even more if you ask me.

Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964: Comprise 39% of US workforce. Characteristics: Place heavy emphasis on work and climbing the corporate ladder. Work is an anchor in their lives.

Generation X: born 1965-1976: Comprise 23% of US workforce: Characteristics:Work hard, but concerned about having a life outside of work.

Generation Y (Millennials): born 1977-1991: Comprise 28% of US workforce: Characteristics: Think they can work any time and any place. Believe they should be evaluated on the work produced, not on how, when, or where it got done. Want frequent and candid performance feedback.

In the workplace meeting the employment expectations of the generations often translates into:

a) Flexible working, with appropriate compensation, roles, and benefits, to accommodate the needs of different lifestyles, responsibilities, and age groups. For example, ASDA (a UK supermarket group) in a move to find a permanent solution to the perennial problem of recruiting and losing seasonal workers, ASDA created 10,000 new permanent positions for people looking to work as little as ten weeks of the year. The "Seasonal Squad" recruits are permanent ASDA employees but with a contract to work an annual, rather than weekly, number of hours. The jobs are designed to cover the busy times of the year like Christmas, Easter and the summer school holidays.

b) Education on working with generational differences. For example, Deloitte's Next Generation Initiatives is a case in point. In early 2006, the first in a series of in-house educational brochures about generational changes in the workplace, filled with think-tank research was circulated. In 2008 came the distribution of "Decoding Generational Differences: Fact, fiction … or should we just get back to work?" This specifically addresses working with Millennials.

c) Exploiting technologies to meet different working patterns and expectations e.g. virtual team working, working across time zones, working at home, technology know-how, and so on. New technologies are revolutionizing the way work can be done and is driving the 'consumerisation of IT' – that is the convergence of corporate and consumer technology Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of IT at Wharton, notes "that employees often perform personal tasks – like watching the latest popular video on YouTube or shopping at – at work and they frequently complete corporate tasks at home on their own time. Because those work-home lines have blurred, employees have an increasing say over what technologies they use. "

Whether or not you believe the generational differences arguments, and I am skeptical on these, it seems evident that work patterns are changing at least in the more mature markets. I wonder if there's a similar generational distinction in emerging markets – and if changing work patterns are attributed to this.