IT’S NOT that you grew up with the Beatles but the fact that you’re now in your 50s that makes you so different to the bright young things now coming into jobs, new research has shown.
The apparent differences in career expectations between baby boomers and generations X and Y can be accounted for by their different stages of life rather than generational change, a professor at ACU National told an audience of in-house lawyers at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association National Conference in Melbourne earlier this month.
“I’m not a geneticist, but I certainly haven’t heard my colleagues in genetics telling me that there has been some mutation in the gene pool which has resulted in this peculiar new generation,” Professor Jim Bright said of generation Y.
Of career education and development, Bright said that in the midst of an uncertain labour market, employers have been provided with research results that have oversimplified the differences as generational, and that employers should pay more attention to the individual needs of employees than untested demographic studies.
He was also critical of an “industry” of experts that has built up around generation Y, and of research published directly through press releases rather than via a peer review process.
Bright said the basic characteristics of generation Y — motivated by a search for new experiences and treated with suspicion by their elders — were not new ideas: “Anyone with any sense of history will realise that just about every generation has been described in exactly the same way.
“They [generation Y] want to do challenging, interesting work, and they want to be well rewarded for it,” he said. “[But] if I came here [to report] those sorts of results … I would hardly have thought I’d have presented an innovation to you.
“Wait until they start families,” Bright said, suggesting that a stable work environment with more substantial financial rewards becomes more important as a young employee’s family and social life stabilises, and they take on more financial responsibilities at home.
“Are we dealing with a demographic issue or a life stage issue, [and] have we forgotten the idea of development?,” he asked.
Instead, Bright emphasised that employers should focus on the needs of individuals and their stage of life. “There are no shortcuts to managing individuals if you want to have an organisation that is going to be highly efficient and performing very well … Treat employees as individuals and have processes to deal with them as individuals,” he said.
Critical of arguments that different generations should be managed differently because of technological change, Bright said every generation has new technology and the fact they have adapted to it is not unique to that generation.
“The internal combustion engine has had a much more profound impact on the globe — on the way that we work and the way society is arranged — than anything that has followed. To try to argue that because generation Y allegedly enjoy using iPods, that the way we renumerate and manage them is going to be different than any other generation, strikes me as distinctly peculiar.”