by Andy Kay
e love to categorise, label and put in boxes – it is an innate human trait. So we came up with the generation game. ‘Baby Boomers’ born after World War II and up to 1964: hard working, and motivated by prestige and competitive; ‘Generation X’: technologically adaptable, flexible and less committed to a single employer. ‘Millennials’, those who came into the workforce at the turn of this century, are digital natives, naturally comfortable with technology and social media. They are individualistic and expect to move jobs frequently to get what they want.
This narrative had its uses. It promoted discussion on the changing work place and provided focus on how to attract, train and motivate people across the ranges of ages we now see in the workforce.
It is, however, very lazy thinking, and when applied to an individual, it promotes stereotypes. Is that what we HR professionals should be doing?
“Joanna is a millennial so she is tech savvy and keen to look for her next opportunity if her company does not respond to her needs.” But wait! Haven’t we just made a number of assumptions about a single individual? What if changed it and said: “Joanna is female and prefers soaps to documentaries and is looking for her next pair of shoes as the shoes she has are very last year.” Ouch! We find this last statement to be frankly shocking, ageist and sexist right? What about the first statement?
In recent years, I have attended many talks, workshops and keynote presentations about workforce ‘generations’. Applied to an individual, it is nothing but absurd stereotyping. On 1 January 1965, the first of the Generation ‘Y’ was born… with a completely different work ethic. Nonsense!
No individual is a ‘Millennial’, ‘Baby Boomer’ or Generation X, Y, or Z for that matter. These are merely lazy assumptions about our likes and dislikes. Our assumptions as to how technologically savvy someone may be, is just that – an assumption. My mother, for example, (Hi Mum!) uses social media, is comfortable with online banking and shopping, and she is 81. The most social media-savvy person I know will be 63 this year.
The working environment has always been constantly changing – together with technology advances. Everyone, regardless of when they were born, and whatever generation label they have has had to respond. We are in this together.
So let’s agree to drop the assumptions in 2018 and focus on the individual. We are all different and we all want different things. As HR professionals, we should embrace this.