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Welcome to the Exponential Age

Future or Past

The Exponential Age: That’s what Udo Gollub calls life as we now know it. He begins a recent article with this:

In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt.

What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Surprisingly digital cameras were invented in 1975. It was a disappointment for a long time and written off as fantasy…until it wasn’t. And then a fixture of American innovation and business crumbled. Why didn’t they see it coming? Do you view the future through the same lens as Kodak?

The same thing is happening with artificial intelligence, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and even jobs. But this time structural changes won’t take centuries or decades to complete. The technological change of the next 10 years will have the same impact as the Industrial Revolution did in the 19th century. But instead of 100 years, it will happen in only 10 years.

Leading the disruption is software. Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties. What software might rock your industry, your business model, your job?

Will it be artificial intelligence?

Watson already helps physicians and nurses diagnose cancer, 4 times more accurate than humans. Facebook has pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get basic legal advice within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans.

How about autonomous cars?

In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. You will call a car with your phone. It will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Think taxi without a driver! You won’t want or need to own a car anymore. As traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google, etc.) take a revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.

It’s not just the automobile companies that will be affected. Self-driving trucks will solve the problem they have with finding enough qualified drivers. But they will also detach nearly 9 million truck drivers from their current jobs. Insurance companies too will have massive trouble because, without accidents, insurance will become 100 times cheaper. The current car insurance business model will disappear.

Even real estate will change. If you can work while you commute, people will have more options and may move further away to live in a more affordable community.

3D Printing? The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to have in the past.The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes. At the end of this year, new smartphones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.

Longevity? Right now, the average lifespan increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years. Today it’s 80 years. By 2036, there will be more than a one-year increase per year and 100 years old will bethe new 60!

Education? By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. The cheapest smartphones are already at $10 in Africa and Asia. Every child in the world can use Khan Academy to access everything a child learns at school in First World countries. That means everyone will soon have the same access to world class education regardless of socioeconomic status or geography. What will this do the traditional classroom model from elementary school to universities?

Whatever the industry you’re in or the goods or service you use or produce, here’s a simple rule: if it doesn’t work with a phone, your business and business model may be history. Gollub (along with a lot of very smart people) agree that “almost any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to fail inthe 21st century.”

Will they be right? Or are you still betting on your past and feel time is on your side?

And last but not least. Here’s an app that can’t come soon enough. By 2020, there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where its results are displayed while the candidates are talking.

To read the full article by Gollub, click here.

9 More Workforce Trends Worth Knowing

Trends to watch1. There have been job gains at the highest paid level — engineering, finance, computer analysis; and there have been job gains at the lowest paid level — personal health care, retail, and food preparation.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank


2. The jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty — education, construction, social services, transportation, administration — have seen a decline since the recession, especially in the northeast. At a national level jobs gained are paying 23 percent less than jobs lost.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank


3. The lowest paid workers, those in housekeeping and home health care and food service, have seen their wages drop 6 to 8 percent (although wages overall rose about 2 percent in 2014).

Source: Federal Reserve Bank


4. By 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education and training. Including both new job openings and the replacement of retirees, high skills jobs will represent 33 percent of job openings, low skills jobs 22 percent and middle skills jobs 45 percent through 2014.2 This means roughly 78 percent of all available jobs will require education beyond high school. These projections of high, middle and low skills jobs are fairly consistent across all states.

Source: Brookings Institute


5. Forty-five percent of individuals with some college and 45 percent of individuals with associate degrees (those most likely to be employed in middle skills jobs) were in the middle income classes in 2007. » More than 85 percent of the nearly 73 million individuals who earned minimum wage or less in 2010 did not have a postsecondary degree — and nearly 60 percent had only a high school diploma or less.

Source: Brookings Institute


6. While a total of 21 million jobs are needed to put Americans back to work at prerecession rates, six sectors (health care, business, leisure and hospitality, construction, manufacturing, and retail) are projected to contribute to the majority of the growth.

Source: Brookings Institute


7.  Every 1,000 American women between the ages of 15-44 delivered 122.7 births in 1957.  The rate was just 62.9 births per 1,000 women in 2014

Source: Census Bureau


8. More than 1 in 3 American workers today are Millennials (adults ages 19 to 35 in 2016). In 2015 they surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce. The youngest Baby Boomer is now 52 years old!

Source:  Pew Research Center


9.During the next year, 1 in 4 Millennials will quit his or her current employer to join a new organization or do something different.  That figure increases to 44% if the time frame is extended to 2 years.

Source: Deloitte Millennial Survey


To read about 9 more trends, click here.

New Technologies Rewrite Business Playbook

R.I.P. to the the way it was. An epic shift is underway.  From social media to the Internet of Things, digital fabrication to robotics, virtual reality to synthetic biology, new technologies are rewriting the playbook for managing people and leading organizations. Is your business future proof?

For some this shift is the light at the end of the tunnel following years of anticipation. Hope and opportunity await.

standing on train tracksFor others it’s the feared smack-down as the oncoming locomotive’s light accelerates toward them. Today is the future that was forecast for decades, but ignored in the hope these predictions were just were just hype and hot air. Time has run out. Reality is ready to crush those clinging to the status quo and reward those who see possibilities.

I’ve been tracking this shift for nearly two decades, beginning with my forecast of The Perfect Labor Storm as early as 1999. Few surprises revealed themselves other than a Great Recession and unprecedented acceleration in technology that only disrupted the traditional ways we work and live faster and deeper.  For employers and employees alike, this convergence of globalization, demographics, and technology isn’t just transforming fundamental employer-employee relationships.  It’s blowing them up.

The result is an environment that is becoming uncomfortable for anyone over 35. For younger workers, the Millennials and Generation Z, today is the only world they know. What does this mean?

There is no going back.

We live in a world with changing labor markets, changing workforce, and even changes in the very nature of work. Events are unfolding in plain sight. The default presumption that employers offer jobs that are long-term, full-time, and on-site with longitudinal career paths are history. Employment relationships will be increasingly short-term, transactional, and variable.

Anything can become obsolete at any time.

The pace of technological advances and disruption is unprecedented…and it’s just not in computing.  Every aspect of our lives and business can be impacted without notice. Think communication, transportation, entertainment, medicine, education. Companies continually restructure, reengineer, downsize, merge or acquire. Everything and everyone is vulnerable.  Who ever imagined that venerable institutions including governments could run out of money?

Loyalty – Part 1

Continual employment is dead. Job security is history. Responding to both disruptions and possibilities, organizations eliminate jobs regardless of employees’ length of service. They implement technology to replace jobs. They hire fewer full-time employees and more contingent workers.  Employers will work hard to optimize human resources: having the right people in the right place at the right time, moving away from offering long-term stable employment and toward a more efficient supply-chain management approach.

Loyalty – Part 2

The free agent mindset rules. Without credible long-term promises and job security from employers, employees are learning to live one day at a time. Free agency is no longer a stigma – it’s a career strategy. Baby Boomers seek free-agency as they expect to be active and work long after traditional retirement. Millennials and Generation Z have never known the world any other way. Employees are not dumb, deaf, and blind. Not only do most employees worry about wages and benefits but they live under a veil of uncertainty their jobs will be automated or eliminated. They see how susceptible their organization is to uncontrollable events – from global economics to terrorism.  They worry if their company’s management is resilient and smart enough to compete in the marketplace.  And to put the final nail in the traditional employment coffin, turnover is increasing among supervisors and managers. Thanks to better job opportunities and the rising tide of Baby Boomer retirements, the loss of direct supervisors has a subtle but profound impact on productivity and retention.  These supervisors are the people within the company who know employees best. Without them, anxiety skyrockets and ties to the organization are cut.

These are just a few of the factors creating this epic shift. How will they affect your company?

Managing people will only get harder. 

It’s always been hard to manage people. There have always been people of all types and generations working side by side in the workplace. But today there are as many as six generations.  Generational gaps merely skim the surface of how different the workforce is and will be. Diversity, gender equality,  sexual preference, and skill gaps exponentially increase the number of issues confronting managers every day, not to mention run-of-the mill interpersonal differences. It’s like the potential for disruption has been injected with steroids. It’s no wonder that people management has become a thriving and growing industry!

Beware the “youth bubble.”

Millennials and Generation Z are bringing a whole new set of expectations and behavior.Organizations that rely on young workers will face the challenge of an increasingly high-maintenance workforce. Compensation, benefits, work schedules, work conditions, rewards and recognition are still offered like it’s the Baby Boomer generation that is in control. What worked in the full-time, on-site, job secure past will surely fall short in the new normal of uncertainty and change.

Churn and squeeze.

quit job employee turnoverWith fewer long-term traditional employees, a revolving door will become the norm.  Best practice metrics of retention and employee turnover will become irrelevant…or at least be used in a different context. Every person from the senior executive to the warehouse worker will be squeezed to produce more work faster with fewer resources. To maximize efficiency and productivity, organizations will have to staff-up (and down quickly) while acquiring a higher quality worker. In addition to figuring out what full-time and part-time classifications mean, management will need to deal with managing more telecommuters and free agent workers as well as consultants and other contingent-type employees. Employers will need to be nimble, flexible, fluid, and smart in how they recruit, hire, and manage employees.

To remain competitive, companies must recruit faster, hire smarter, and manage better. The ability to get the right people on board, up to speed, and delivering results quickly will be the key.

So I’ll ask the question again – is your business future-proof?

Millennial Females Enjoy Options Baby Boomers Didn’t

If you can believe what you read, the Millennials may not be left with a world that is better than the world Baby Boomers inherited. But that conclusion is not a given. It will take a few more decades sort things out.

What we do know for sure right now is that life is different for Millennial women than it was for Baby Boomers when they were the same age. What a better place to start than what it was like to go to work in the 1950s compared to the present day.

Millennial FemalesMillennials females, especially in the U.S., have a world of opportunity that just didn’t exist in 1950. Few female Millennials could imagine being turned down when they tried to open a bank account because they are single or required to get a husband to cosign a loan in order to start a new business. (And boyfriends and partners don’t count because it was illegal in most states for unmarried couples to cohabitate!) And let’s not ignore the ability for an employer to fire you on the grounds you were pregnant…and the woman had no recourse.

For an aging Boomer like me it’s particularly disturbing and even embarrassing to admit these situations even existed in my lifetime. But they did and it’s an important reminder that despite the challenges that exist today, the world may still be a better place even though it is far from perfect.

To get this party started, let’s compare a day-in-the-office in 1955 and 2015.

Joe and Sue Arrive at Work

Baby Boomer Femaie1955 – Joe arrives at the office in his suit and tie, carrying his leather monogrammed brief case. He heads right for his private office where his secretary Sue is waiting patiently.  Sue arrived a few minutes earlier dressed in her conservative colored dress or suit wearing high heels. As soon as Sue arrived at her desk outside Joe’s office, she rushed off to get him his first cup of coffee before he arrived. When Joe arrives, she greets Joe with a “Good morning, Mr.Boss” then exits his office to empty his ashtray filled with cigarette butts. She returns in a minute with a clean ashtray to start his day and hangs his dry cleaning that she picked up for him. She then pulls out her stenographer’s pad, pulls up a chair, and begins taking notes.

2015 – Joe arrives in his tee shirt and jeans carrying a back pack and bike helmet. Sue arrives in skin-tight jeans and a top showing some cleavage, revealing the small tattoo on her right breast. Both are carrying cups of Starbucks coffee…and a bottle of water. Sue and Joe grab seats in the “bullpen” with all the other associates. After giving each other a morning hug and fist-pump, both Sue and Joe head off to the lunch area and pop in a K-cup to refill their coffee cups. (Did I forget to mention that Sue is now the CEO and Joe works in sales?)

While life for Sue and Joe is representative of many workplaces it is definitely not universal.  So allow me to highlight a few more scenarios that are distant but real memories for Baby Boomers and things Millennials may take for granted.

  • Up until the 1960s, a bank could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman; even if she was married, her husband was required to cosign. Women were not able to apply for credit until theEqual Credit Opportunity Act in 1974.
  • Many women who did enter college pursued a “Mrs” more than the BS or BA. An educated woman was considered to be a threat to a husband’s self-esteem. Many females bypassed college or deliberately produced “C” work in order to avoid embarrassing a male suiter.
  • Top schools were off-limits. With the exception of Penn and Cornell, Ivy League schools were closed to women until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977. Columbia delayed admitting women until 1981.
  • Women were kept out of jury pools until 1973 because their primary responsibility was considered to be caregivers. They were also thought to be too fragile to hear the grisly details of crimes and too sympathetic by nature to be able to remain objective.

Before anyone dislocates his shoulder patting himself on the back for all this “progress,” take a deep breath. New laws and regulations have done a lot to improve equality, but we still have a long way to go. Women in the C-level are still the exception and gender wage gaps prevail. The good old boy network still exists and many still believe the ideal role of a woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It is however helpful to reinforce with Millennials how much gender equality has improved and to remind Baby Boomers how much more work needs to be done.

Is It True What They Say About Millennials?

Published in the November 9, 2015 issue of Lehigh Valley Business Journal

What you hear (and maybe even believe) about millennials is not always true.

That was the gist of my keynote at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Manufacturers’ Summit VIII on the morning of Oct. 28 and attended by more than 80 business and workforce leaders. The theme was, “Is it true what they say about millennials?”

The message was reinforced when six father-son panelists discussed how they deal with generational differences in their respective businesses.

Ira S Wolfe MillennialsI opened my keynote by holding up a floppy disk to show how different generations view the world differently. Workers over 30 vividly remember the object.

Younger workers, however, thought it was cool that someone 3-D printed a model of the “save” icon.

The point is that few workers under 25 have ever used, let alone seen, a floppy disk (or 8-track or 45 rpm record, for that matter), but most workers over 35 assume everyone has.


Millennials, to be sure, are different. But that’s not good or bad.

The members of every generation are different from their parents’ generation for a simple reason. They were born and grew up in a different time and place. They have different memories, different influences and different historical moments.

Baby boomers grew up crawling under school desks to protect themselves in case the Russians attacked. Today, millennial (and Generation Z) students experience lockdowns when a classmate brings an automatic weapon to school.

Different times change how each of us view the world. That’s just life. It’s not bad. It’s just different.

The consensus of the presenters and audience was that generations are more similar than different.

Each generation has extroverts and introverts. They have some people with great work ethic and others whose best skills are negativity and bad attitude. Each cohort has leaders and followers, superstars and slackers.


Participants Millennials in WorkplaceDuring the question-and-answer session, one businessperson asked how to get older and younger workers to engage with other.

I fell back on a trusty tool – the DISC assessment. (DISC is a behavior assessment tool that centers on four traits: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance.)

The root of many conflicts has more to do with “how” someone might interact with others or approach work, and little to do with intentions. It’s the introvert who seems aloof but really is just observing or thinking.

The same goes for the extrovert who thrives by talking things out but is perceived as a blowhard.

But once you get to know the person, you realize how sometimes first impressions don’t paint a true picture.


With tools such as DISC, workers from different generations may begin to recognize that many styles and values cross generational boundaries. In fact, boundaries blur and similarities open doors.

DISC doesn’t solve all problems, but without getting different generations talking with each other, generational gaps will only widen.

Much to my surprise, two of the companies on the panel confirmed they were already using DISC to help bring their multigenerational workforces closer.


Throughout the hour-long summit, several themes kept coming up from baby boomer fathers and millennial sons. These sentiments were echoed by the audience and moderator, a millennial recruiter from Crayola.

The three businesses at the summit attributed part of their success and low-employee turnover, even among millennials, to a few reasons:

(1) They all manage a flat organization with little hierarchy. They give young and old workers a “seat at the table.”

(2) They all have a story to share, and their employees are an integral part of it. (You can tell by their passion and enthusiasm that “people are our most important asset” isn’t just a set of words but a way of life for them.)

(3) Purpose and community involvement of the business and their employees are drivers for growth and high retention.

(4) They became more flexible with time, creating collaborative workspaces, allowing telecommuting, adapting benefits and rewarding an “intrapreneurial” spirit of workers.

(5) They focus on similarities and value differences between generations.


I closed my address with the following: “Millennials didn’t create the environment that they live in. [Baby boomers and older Gen X parents] did. They grew up in our world. Don’t make millennials scapegoats for how they were educated, how they work and how they play because we shaped their lives.”

But my favorite quote of the morning was by Bill Hindle, president of Easton-based HindlePower Inc. His words epitomized the attitude about how his company, like the others, exudes success and leadership especially when dealing with millennials and the multigenerational workforce.

“Tattoos don’t tell the character of the person,” he said.

Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart like the media and many consultants want you to believe. For sure, there are differences, but similarities between individuals trump the different world-views that arise from growing up in different times.

Ira S. Wolfe is president of Lehigh Valley-based Success Performance Solutions and author of “Recruiting in the Age of Googlization” and “Geeks, Geezers and Googlization.” He can be reached at or 484-373-4300.

Does this mean college education is not important?

For years employers have complained that our education systems were not preparing students to meet the demands and expectations of employers. Only 28 percent of recent college graduates were rated as excellent by employers in the area of critical thinking skills (and a disturbing 0 percent rating for high school grads). This comes at a time where critical thinking, complex problem solving, and judgment were the top 3 skills in demand for 9 out of 10 top jobs.

Graduation Career Choices - MBA?The message is clear. Employers are telling schools, colleges, and universities to **** or get of the pot!

As a first step a few organizations are beginning to make a statement.  They have scrapped academic accomplishment in exchange for skill-based criteria as a minimum hiring requirement.

Ernst and Young, one of the largest recruiters of college grads, “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.” Even earlier PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) adopted a similar stance.  Since many employers seem to follow the lead of both of these highly respected organizations, other organizations are likely to follow.

The bottom line is that employers need competent talent. They need to be certain that new hires can compete in today’s volatile, uncertain, and ever-changing workplace. Many are finally doing what it takes to acquire it, even if that means discarding several sacred cows of employee selection, including minimum education requirements.

How dire is the situation?

Edward Gordon, a respected thought leader and author of several books on the employment skills crisis, recently wrote in his newsletter that the

“mismatch between [job skills required and preparedness of workers] has been building for more than 20 years. It is a structural and systemic economic issue directly related to obsolescent education-to-employment systems at the regional and national levels and the failure of businesses to provide training to new and incumbent workers.”

He continues:

“It has become very apparent that partial reforms, piecemeal plans, and concession to the status-quo have placed much of the current and future workforce in jeopardy…defending an outdated workforce preparation system designed for a less-demanding 20th-century labor market. That era has disappeared.

Does this mean college education is not important?

Hardly. Don’t even think for a moment that a college education doesn’t help develop skills such as time management, commitment, and the ability to prioritize. It also provides an ample foundation of functional skills in areas of language, finance, science. But as far as employers trusting that a college degree implies adequate preparation for decision making and problem solving – forget about it. And as far as securing a good paying job with any assurance of employability 5 to 10 years from now, high school diploma only jobs are surely headed for extinction.

Schools and universities must start delivering graduates with workforce ready skills. If they don’t respond quickly, candidates won’t pay for it and employers won’t depend on college education as the door-opener for a good paying career.

For employers, it’s time to reevaluate your minimum hiring requirements especially minimum education. In order to avoid missing out on talent, what are the best predictors of future success if a four-year degree isn’t one of them?

What’s Ahead in Recruiting for Q4 2015

The success of your company depends on a team of qualified, competent, and engaged employees who keep every aspect of your business running smoothly. But according to the Jobvite 2015 Recruiting Nation Survey, the ability to be fully staffed and productive is getting much harder. Fifty-six percent of recruiters are hurting for skilled or qualified candidates. In many industries the problem is much worse.  The CEO of the National Association of Home Builders describes the situation as “an epidemic.” The Associated General Contractors survey reports 86 percent of commercial builders are having trouble filling hourly and salaried positions. Sixty-five percent of HR officials at small companies are struggling.
hiringStories like this pop up in the news on an almost daily basis. And it doesn’t seem to matter if the company is large or small, product- or service-oriented, domestic or international.
There are a number of reasons why filling open positions quickly is getting worse in the U.S. as well as in many other countries.
Growth:  While the economy is not robust, it has been growing at a steady pace and is expected to continue.  Many companies are hiring especially in skilled positions. While this is great news for their companies – and the economy in general – it can be a challenge for hiring managers to fill many positions quickly enough to keep their companies operating efficiently. But 95 percent of recruiters expect the hunt for talent to remain or grow more competitive.
Recruiting Options:  The growth of the Internet has led to an explosion in recruiting opportunities.  Job seekers used to rely on classified ads and word of mouth; now, they can use job search engines like Indeed, job boards like Craigslist and Monster; social media, online recruitment agencies, and corporate recruiting websites.  This onslaught of new job-seeking opportunities has made it made it ridiculously easy to apply for jobs and more difficult for companies to screen and vet a high volume of applicants efficiently.

Time:  Most hiring managers are bombarded with multiple tasks, from placing ads to screening and interviewing potential job candidates.  The average hiring manager spends 4.5 minutes reading each resume that lands on his or her desk and 15 hours each week sourcing candidates.  And yet, because of the high volume of resumes coming in combined with inadequate applicant management capabilities, the time to hire hit an another record high recently at 29 days.  For jobs requiring more advanced skills and for companies looking to find candidates who have the right skills and fit the culture, 6 months or longer is fairly common.

As you can imagine, there are several business-changing consequences to these trends:

  • Too many unqualified applicants congest the hiring process, making it harder to find qualified applicants.
  • While jobs remain unfilled, related tasks are either delegated to inexperienced staff, or not performed at all.  In both cases, the company’s overall productivity and profitability suffers.
  • Conversely, jobs are filled by people who are a poor fit for the job, either temperamentally or professionally.  This leads to poor organizational synergies, low productivity, and overall inefficiency.
  • HR teams spend too little time with applicants to determine whether they’re right for the position, resulting in the hire of unqualified or poor fit candidates.
The new reality is if your business is going to compete effectively for and hire the most talented people in your industry, traditional recruiting practices are no longer good enough. They must be multi-faceted, streamlined and responsive too.

Millennials Aren’t So Different After All

Plato was said to have complained that young people “disrespect their elders” and “ignore the law”. Peter the Hermit griped that they “think of nothing but themselves” and are “impatient of all restraint”. Child-rearing expert Haim Ginott scolds parents who talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.

Millennial Generation

Millennials Aren’t Do Different After All

For centuries older generations have been reprimanding young workers about their lack of loyalty and work ethic.

Let’s start with the hypocrisy of loyalty – managers and executives seem to like to call the kettle black. They forget how mergers and acquisitions led to wholesale job terminations, how outsourcing and offshoring decimated production floors and call centers, how pension plans were raided and guaranteed benefits erased, and how greed stifled wages and benefits for the past 30 to 40 years.  Generation X and Millennials are the by-product of companies and even government terminating their parents’ job and disrupting career paths. Is it any wonder they don’t trust management? Who could blame them for taking back as much control over their careers as possible?  Loyalty is a two-way street and much like our infrastructure, the side that corporate America controls has crumbled.

What was good for the goose became good for the gander and workers responded accordingly.  It happened in the 1990s when Generation X entered the labor market and Baby Boomers complained about the Gen X free agent attitude. And then a decade or so later, Millennials came along.  And guess who was doing the loudest griping this time -Gen X.  Yep, history repeated itself – just as the Matures and Veterans complained about Baby Boomers and our great-great-grandparents dwelled on the attitudes of their kids, Gen X bellyached about the flighty-no-loyalty-lousy-work-ethic Millennials.

Are you getting the picture? Today, managers, older workers, and the media tend to paint the Millennials as a privileged, narcissistic, entitled bunch of spoiled job hopping Trophy Kids. As every new generation enters the work force, it’s amazing how quickly they’re mislabeled with attributes that are common to young people. These labels tend to stick, and they become increasingly inaccurate as the generation ages (assuming they were at all accurate to begin with).To paraphrase Jennifer Deal (Center for Creative Leadership) and Alec Levenson (University of Southern California), most generalizations about millennials as employees are “inconsistent at best and destructive at worst.”

Truth be told most Millennials get a bum rap as the current older generations abuse the privilege of age as much as anyone ever did.

The numbers don’t lie. When economists compare people who started their careers in the 1980s with people who started their careers in the early 2000s, they find that the two generations (Gen X v. Millennials) are more or less identical in terms of how often people change jobs – about 50 percent change jobs each year. That turns out to be 6.3 jobs for Millennials between the ages of 18 and 25 and 6.2 jobs for Gen X when they were the same age. And how about those loyal company “men” – the Baby Boomers?  Well, they too worked an average of 5.5 jobs by the time they reached age 25. In other words, when young people change jobs and look for new opportunities to learn and grow, it does not represent a lack of loyalty; it’s simply the time in their lives when they are seeking these experiences.

The commonality between generations just doesn’t stop at job change either. Studies from CEB and Center for Creative Leadership reveal how much workers of different generations have in common. Every generation has their share of introverts and extroverts, capitalists and socialists, superstars and lost souls, givers and takers. But as a group they want roughly the same things regardless of when they were born: to be given interesting work to do, to be rewarded on the basis of their contributions and to be given the chance to work hard. And like Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, the top three motivating factors for changing jobs are to enter the fast lane (by far the most popular for all generations), shoot for the top, and follow one’s heart.

The truth is that although millennials may be the “selfie” generation, they also care about the world around them. They want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can.  Contrary to popular belief millennials rate “contribute to society,” “correct inequalities” and “be a leader in the community” higher than baby boomers did when they were younger.

The first wave of Millennials is rising up the ranks at work and shaping — or making — key business decisions. It’s important to understand the impact they’re having on today’s changing workplace – from jobs they will hold to parental leave and same sex benefits. So, what’s really going on? Commonality between generations is not time for complacency or finger pointing. It’s time to dispel the myths and respond to the truths.  And the truth is that our society and our workplaces will never return to the good old days. Companies and workers can either fall victim to the change or become agents to shape the good new days. Technology, automation, and globalization have no innate bias. They target all people, regardless of age and without discrimination. Whether you belong to the oldest generations or the youngest Gen Z, adaptation is necessary. And to accomplish that, collaboration and communication between generations is essential.

(Published in Business2Business Magazine, September 2015)

Baby Boomers Still Got Game; Where Does That Leave Gen X, Gen Y?

Boomers still “got some game” in their life and work and, unfortunately for Gen X and Gen Y who were poised to take the field, they have hit what I called the “gray ceiling” – the inability of younger generations to be promoted and move up the organizational chart.

baby boomer v gen yDon’t worry Gen X and Gen Y (also called Millennials), Boomers can’t live forever. But for now, the apocalyptic silver tsunami that many economists predicted has rained on the workforce more like a sun shower. One day Boomers will finally retire completely…or at least slow down. But for now, the labor force participation rate for people 55 and older is near its highest level in several decades, up by approximately one-third since 1990.

A combination of delayed retirements, improving but still slow job growth, and increasing life expectancy has disrupted the once orderly exodus of older workers and the entrance of younger ones. A recent report by AARP  finds that one-third (33 percent) of older workers are delaying the age at which they expect retire and nearly half are now planning to work part-time after they reach retirement age. Economist Matthew Rutledge calls this idea the “the lump of labor”: “There’s only a certain amount of jobs out there, and if an old person’s holding that job that means a young person isn’t.”

Millennials who complain, “It’s not fair” are justified to some extent especially with all the hype pre-2010 when the first Baby Boomers turned 65 and the retirement floodgates were supposed to open.  It’s like an Olympian enduring years of practice preparing for the big event and at the last minute the event is cancelled. “Why can’t you be like all the generations before you? Retire, play golf and bridge, go to the rest home, or die? It’s our turn to play.”

What does this gray ceiling mean for employers?  For some it translates into complacency. Unfortunately, that’s the absolute worst option management could choose.  The longer a company can hold on to older experienced workers is a good plug for the brain drain but bad stand-alone strategy for future growth and sustainability. It just postpones the inevitable. Besides, complacency and procrastination nearly always backfire. What are better options?

Pay attention to Gen X

Companies must begin to recruit and hire and promote younger workers.  Generation X, who has patiently been waiting, is next in line for management and leadership roles.  With these roles at highest risk for turnover, enforcing the gray ceiling may force these heirs apparent to follow their dreams and careers elsewhere…and there are plenty of opportunities available.

Boomers Will Act Their Age – Eventually

But succession planning shouldn’t stop at the top. No position is immune from an unexpected job opening particularly in companies that have enjoyed long tenure by Baby Boomers and low turnover.  Whether it’s time off to travel, replace a hip, treat cancer, deal with an ailing parent or spouse, or just spend time with the grandchildren, Baby Boomers will eventually begin to act their age. The more physical the job (and this includes jobs that require a lot of travel or long hours) the more likely a Baby Boomer will be forced to cut back sooner than later.

All Good Things Come to an End

Finding new talent is just the tip of the iceberg when succession planning these days. While Baby Boomers may be the last generation that enjoyed 30 and 40 plus year careers at the same company, Millennials will seek multiple careers. For many young workers, five years in the same job is a lifetime! Succession planning isn’t just a matter of finding more high-potential talent but dealing with higher rates of turnover.

Arghhh! The Dreaded Multi-Generation

Another insidious impact of the gray ceiling is that allows many organizations to avoid addressing the inevitable changes that are disrupting many company cultures. It is the event that sends chills up and down the spine of many managers. It’s the dreaded generational gaps.  As long as Baby Boomers stay put and replacement can be avoided, managers can avoid dealing with the multi-generation workforce.

But as sure as the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, every manager in every company will be faced with managing multiple generations.  In some organization that could mean 5 generations working side-by-side – Matures (also called Veterans), Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.  This unprecedented generational smorgasbord is enough to turn even a Millennial’s hair gray. From attitudes about work and career to vacation schedules to training and development, each generation has different needs and wants. Breaking down barriers and bridging gaps is no task for the faint of the heart, naïve, or unprepared.

That leads up to these key questions:

  1. How prepared is your organization to replace older workers?
  2. How prepared is your organization to recruit, manage, motivate, and retain a multi-generational workforce?
  3. What infrastructure (policies to work environment) do you have in place that will become obsolete?
  4. What infrastructure (policies to work environment) will need to be created or tweaked?

If you can’t answer all those questions with confidence, the only advice I have is – good luck! Without a talent management and succession plan to ensure a smooth transition, every company’s productivity and competitiveness is vulnerable.

Baby Boomers Then and Now

Before the Millennials, Baby Boomers were the most talked about demographic in the U.S. By virtue of their sheer numbers, 78 million strong, Boomers transformed everything from our housing market to Social Security to our workforce. But Baby Boomers, or those born during the post wartime ‘baby boom’ of 1946 and 1964, have grown up and are now ages 51 to 66. 

social security for baby boomersSince the Boomers have previously driven societal trends for the past 50 years, it is likely the Boomers will continue to exert their influence on the way we live and work. The future that the once-idealistic young adult Baby Boomer envisioned didn’t quite pan out. Many Boomers are experiencing (or will experience) major life changes like caring for an elderly parent, health changes to them or a spouse, careers that begin or end and many more. These changes have financial consequences and of course will impact their quality of life, their goals and spending habits moving forward.

Let’s take a look at where Boomers are now as a group and as individuals.

Some are retired but many are still working

Remember when Baby Boomers were forecast to leave their jobs in mass at their earliest eligibility? The apocalyptic forecast warned us that 8,000 Baby Boomers turned 65 each day … suddenly employers would experience a mass exodus. The reality is that they are staying put. Many are starting second careers and businesses. Sixty one percent reportedly work because they want to, not because they have to. A MetLife Mature Market Institute survey updated those results in 2013, showing that more than half of those boomers born in 1946 have now fully retired—up from 19 percent in 2007 and 45 percent in 2011.

Many Baby Boomers aren’t downsizing their homes

Housing is an area that demonstrates some of the distinctions within the Boomer generation. Only about 21 percent of this group is actively downsizing their living space, the highest percentage of any age bracket. And 25 percent of Boomers want bigger homes, perhaps to house all of the possessions that they accumulated and possibly a teenage dependent. Fanny Mae research also notes that many Boomers currently display no hurry to trade in their houses for retirement condos, much to the surprise of real estate professionals. One reason is that Boomers far outnumber Generation X, the chronological successor generation who traditionally have purchased homes from retirees and older generations. Generation X is also only about half the size of the Baby Boomer generation which means fewer buyers. Finally we have the up-and-coming Millennials who unfortunately are not looking to purchase large homes or are able to afford them.

Boomers are retiring in place, close to their families

Baby Boomers are staying where they are, according to Census Bureau data that shows that just 1.6 percent of retirees from that era moved across states lines in 2010. And those who did move are going all over the country, not necessarily moving to a retirement address in Florida. Many who did relocate have returned “home.” Staying close to the grandchildren, working at home or caring for someone else may factor into that trend. Compared to a generation ago, Florida claims only about half the share of out-of-state retirees.

Their debt levels are declining but still higher than ideal

After 2008, many households radically pulled back on spending and focused on reducing their overall debt. More than half of Boomers have similarly cut back on spending and reduced credit card debt–one-third even paid off their mortgages, according to a 2011 report by Bankers Life and Casualty’s Center for a Secure Retirement. So too did the Baby Boomers, many of whom having been cutting their credit card debt. A recent report from TransUnion found that nearly 1 in 3 Americans at least 60 years old has debt and the average balance is more than $60,000. That’s up sharply from 2005 when only 22% of seniors 60+ had debt and the average balance was $40,000. Unfortunately, older Americans are indeed living with more debt as they reach retirement. 

Many are supporting a grown child and elderly parent—at the same time

Pew Research says 15 percent of people in their 40s and 50s are paying to support a grown child and a parent at the same time. Over the next 5 years, 1 in 5 older workers between 45 and 74 say they may need to leave their jobs to care for an adult family member—with more women than men expected to face this dilemma, according to an AARP study released in January. College expenses are also taking a big bite of boomer budgets, as loans and scholarships cover only 31 percent education expenses according to Sallie Mae’s study, “How America Pays for College.” Nearly 40 percent of the total—is paid by mom and dad.

Health-wise, boomers are not in great shape

Even though they have a higher life expectancy, many Baby Boomers are in worse physical shape than their parents. Obesity, disability, blood pressure and chronic illness are more common. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gathered data on those between the ages of 46 and 64 (average age: 54.1) during 2007 and 2010 and then compared them to their elders, who were previously surveyed at same age range, between 1988 and 1994. The results showed that only 13.2% of boomers rated their own health as “excellent,” compared with 32% of those in the older group. Boomers were more likely to have high blood pressure (43% vs. 36.4%), high cholesterol (73.5% vs. 33.8%) and diabetes (15.5% vs. 12%). A full 38.7% of boomers surveyed were obese, compared with 29.4% of their elders. Which means that while they will remain disproportionately in the labor force (compared to estimates of their withdrawal) at some point their health challenges will surely challenge Boomer productivity relative to younger generations anxious to advance