Slashies – bridging generations

I’d never heard of ‘slashies’ until this week. I was chatting to someone who wants to combine cake making/org design/running own business.  She told me the word. I looked it up – it’s not quite everywhere, but it is getting there, under various labels:  ‘Call it what you want’, says one writer,  a portfolio career, diversified employment, the rise of the ’millennial multi-hyphenate’ – but rather than doing one job for life, people are actively choosing to become a “slashie” (ie. actor/blogger/author/dog walker). Or so we’re told.’

There are lots of examples of  slashies:  Emma Gannon, author of a book The Multi-Hyphen Method, gave up her job, social media editor of British Glamour,  job title and the steady salary and became a “multi-hyphenate”, working on a mishmash of different jobs and side hustles.  Emma, a 29-year-old broadcaster, blogger and author, says ‘Being adaptable, moulding yourself to different roles, adding new strings to your bow – that’s a huge advantage in today’s workplace.”

And Sam Grey, a former teacher living in Torquay UK, is currently working five different jobs. In addition to her own dog-grooming business, Toodles, Sam works as a private tutor, teaches crochet and sells patterns, works security for nightclubs and bars and works two 12-hour night shifts at a local arcade.

Sarah Liu, CEO, Gemini 3 – an Australian job-share organisation describes generation slashie as people who have more than one job in a bid to ­diversify, build skills and work in an ­industry they enjoy. Work and passion need to be something that’s not mutually ­exclusive,’ Liu says,  ‘This new generation wants to create a life that’s a reflection of their passion and expertise; it’s a move from specificity to desire. The notion of juggling jobs has changed.’

What’s good about ‘generation slashie’ is that it’s not necessarily linked to age, although many of the reports about it do focus on millennials. However,  says Liu, ‘Slashies are also older workers who are looking to diversify or work part time as they stay in the workforce longer and make the tran­sition to retirement.’   More people, whatever their age want job shares, flexible hours and roles and portfolio careers that enable them to juggle multiple roles.  Younger workers, instead of looking at linear (upwards) career trajectory, ‘are looking at a ­career canvas … building a ­career reflective of what they can do, but also what they want.’ Equally ‘older workers are diversifying because they want a change from their years dedicated to the same career’.

That’s very good news and we need to encourage that way of thinking as technology and demographics change the types of work available, particularly for older people.  A couple of weeks ago,  researching for a talk on the future of work,  I came across statistics on the aging population: The UK population is ageing – around 18.2% of the UK population were aged 65 years or over at mid-2017, compared with 15.9% in 2007; this is projected to grow to 20.7% by 2027.’

The demographic shifts and costs of aging mean that more people will have to stay in the workforce for longer, and this means a different way of designing work, ‘careers’ and ‘retirement’.  The UK Government says that, ‘To address the widening skills gap, tackle age bias in work and enable people to stay in work longer, every UK employer needs to increase the number of workers aged 50-69 in the UK by 12% by 2022. The target is aimed at supporting older people who want the same range of options and opportunities as younger colleagues, and to be recognised for their experience and expertise. In recognising the skills older people bring to the workplace, employers will benefit from the breadth and depth of their knowledge.’

Some recent research from Rest Less finds that ‘Those working into their 70s are continuing to work beyond the state pension age and we see a number of reasons for people increasingly doing so. With far fewer ‘gold-plated’ pensions around and ever-increasing life expectancy, many are actively looking to top up their pension savings while they still can. There is also a growing understanding of the many health and social benefits that come with working into retirement, such as staying active, socially connected and maintaining a feeling of fulfilment.’

It’s not just in the UK, though.  It’s a global demographic shift In China, for example, the numbers are slightly higher than the UK’s – of Chinese citizens aged 60 or above reached 241 million by the end of 2017, representing 17.3 percent of the country’s total population.

The China National Committee on Aging (CNCA) projected on Monday that the figure is expected to peak at 487 million, or nearly 35 percent, around 2050, Xinhua reports.  (See English version here).

There too, ‘Exploring various ways of living in later life is being widely encouraged as the proportion of elderly people in China grows. For instance, Liaoning Province in Northeast China published a plan in early July calling for a progressive postponement of retirement and effective use of elderly human resources.’

The rise in the number of older workers in the global workforce is driven by a number of factors – social, political, and economic.   Many countries have increased the age at which workers can draw a pension, reduced the generosity of social security and changed the terms of disability insurance have also had an impact.

But it’s not all easy those who want to be an older slashie.  In the US, for example, ‘Older workers, aged 55 and over, represent the fastest growing labor group. …  By 2024, nearly 1 in 4 people in the labor force will be age 55 or over, according to the US Department of Labor. The increased workforce participation from older workers results from both increased lifespans, and financial constraints: nearly half of households headed by someone 55 or older has nothing saved for retirement.  There   currently, 3 million older adults are looking for full-time employment.  Many individuals seeking full-time might be part-time, or in low-wage jobs with limited growth opportunities, and it isn’t easy to find work, although some argue that ‘the biggest barrier to entry for older workers isn’t a lack of skills: it’s ageism.’

Given that there will be more older workers in the workforce, that the trend is towards a slashie work pattern, and that older (and younger) people want interesting work that gives financial security what are the organisational design and development shifts that organisations could consider?  Here are five ideas:

  1. Re-think jobs and job titles, ‘Whether you like it or not, traditional job titles are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Employees no longer feel the need to attach themselves to a common job title.’
  2. Re-examine your organisational assumptions and cultural stereotypes of what older workers in your are, common ones are:  they can’t learn new things, they are less productive, they take more time off sick, they are overqualified (a bad thing!),  they are not interested in learning new things.
  3. Discourage notions of ‘upward’ careers and career trajectories and head for career canvases (this may involve re-thinking status symbols, positional power, etc).
  4. Develop your flexible working strategies.  Many people are caring for children/grandchildren and aging parents, sometimes simultaneously, and need part-time or flexible working patterns.
  5. Develop your managers to ‘ensure they have good, proactive age management practices in place to meet the needs of all staff as their workforce ages … many older workers report feeling undervalued and not respected by managers and their co-workers.

What organisation design shifts will you have to make to accommodate generation slashies (old and young)?   Let me know.