Generation diversity: elephant in workplace?

The mere mention of diversity in the workplace ignites a passionate and varied reaction from … let’s say a diverse group of people.

diversity in the workplaceWhat was once a topic isolated to differences in color and gender now extends into age, ethnicity and even sexual preference.

Whatever your position, world view or personal bias, one thing is for sure: the workplace is more diverse and changing rapidly.

To remain competitive, viable and profitable, companies must continue to capitalize on the growth of women, people of color, ethnicity and gay and transgender people in the labor force.

But many discussions about diversity tend to leave out what is becoming the elephant in the workplace – generational diversity.

For the first time in history, we have five generations working side by side:

• Veterans or traditionalists – born before 1946.

• Baby boomers – 1946 to 1964.

• Generation X – 1965-1980.

• Generation Y (or millennials) – 1981-1998.

And now we have Generation Z, or the “homelanders,” – born after 1998 – coming of work age.

This diversity of age and more importantly world views is something executives and business owners have never had to deal with.

There is no precedent at managing a workforce ranging from 16 to 90 years old. There are no proven management models to follow.

Being the pioneer is risky business but ignoring the reality can be fatal. Each company needs to understand generational dynamics and devise a plan that fits marketplace reality and company culture.

Talent management is no exception.

Each generation is different from its predecessors in a number of ways that affect how employers recruit, manage and retain employees.

While all generations share similar basic needs, motivating and engaging each generation differs. While many companies got away with one-size-fits-all management for the last 50 years, that approach isn’t working anymore.

Even while baby boomers hang on to their jobs longer than expected and the oldest Gen X-ers reach 50 next year, millennials and now Generation Z will make up more than 75 percent of the workforce within the next decade. What works to retain baby boomers won’t attract or retain their replacements.

And these younger generations are the most diverse in history when it comes to color and ethnicity. This isn’t a wave that will hit the front doors of business, but a tsunami that will alter permanently the labor market.

It will be wise for every business to analyze its workforce composition by asking the following questions:

(1) What is the generational composition of your existing workforce (and customer base)?

(2) What will be the composition in five years?

(3) Does the proportion of generations in your workforce reflect the proportion in your industry, your profession and your customer base?

(4) Is there a concentration of one particular generation staff/associate vs. management positions?

(5) Is there a higher attrition rate among members of one generation?

(6) How does the present and future generational composition change the way you will do business?

(7) How will the three- to five-year employment outlook for our region affect our ability to execute your business plans?

Published in Lehigh Valley Business Journal – September 8, 2014


Meet Generation Flux: Change Agents Extraordinare

Are you a member of Generation Flux?  This isn’t just another name for the generation to follow the Millennials (although it could be.) Unlike all the others generation descriptions, Generation Flux has no age requirement.

leadership change managementGen Flux is less a demographic designation than a psychographic one, focused solely on interests, attitudes, and opinions. What defines Gen Flux is a mind-set that embraces uncertainty and ambiguity. It tolerates, if not embraces, recalibrating careers, continuous innovation, fluid business models, and vulnerable assumptions.

Up until recently, change progressed at such a steady, almost rhythmic pace that it allowed the innovator and entrepreneur to co-exist in a world of moving forward while retaining its hold on the past. Whether he created a new product, strategy, service, or developed a specialized skill, he created an asset that could sustain itself for decades. Often times, the innovation survived multiple generations, allowing the creator to pass the business or royalties from a product or service on to his children and their children.

But within the past few decades and especially since the turn of the century, this paradigm shifted.

The life expectancy of a typical business or product model has shrunk from decades to years. In many industries and businesses, the life of a model is now measured in terms of an Internet year, approximately 90 days. That means while delivering this year’s model to customers, you need to simultaneously prepare for its extinction while creating and preparing a newer, improved model for next year. That shifts the entire course of strategic planning

This unprecedented confluence of innovations has compressed the time between creation to extinction. Change is not only constant, but constantly accelerating. Nostalgia is dead. Status quo is eventually lethal. What we perceive as normal is subject to the blinders we’ve grown accustomed to – inherited from and grown in the past. For any business so in love with its past that it can’t imagine a future without it, its own demise is set in motion. Management feels the ship moving but ignores signs it is sinking.

Change itself isn’t the only cause of self-induced extinction because change is something that has existed since the beginning of time. What is different this time is the almost exponential increase in the velocity of change. For example, it took 38 years for 50 million people to adopt the radio but only 13 years for 50 million people to own a television.  It took Facebook less than 5 years to acquire 50 million users and by 2013, nearly a billion people signed on.

Years have no move to days.  When the Palm introduced its Pilot hand-held device, it took 18 months to sell 1 million units.  It only took Apple 24 hours to sell its first 1 million 4S phones.

The business climate, it is turning out, is a lot like the weather. If you don’t like what you see, wait a few hours.  But once a storm passes, it doesn’t mean things go back to the way they were. Just like the earth around us, every weather event changes the environment and landscape. The same goes for business.

The problem is that our ability to see and predict the future accurately is declining, fueled by all the complex interactions set in place by the intersection and interaction of technology and globalization. Predicting what will happen next has gotten exponentially harder. Ambiguity and complexity has invaded management’s boardroom and worker’s cubicles.

Any business that ignores these transformations does so at its own peril. Despite recession, currency crises, and tremors of financial instability, the pace of disruption is roaring ahead. The frictionless spread of information and the expansion of personal, corporate, and global networks have plenty of room to run. And here’s the conundrum: When businesspeople search for the right forecast–the road map and model that will define the next era–no credible long-term picture emerges. There is one certainty, however. The next decade or two will be defined more by fluidity than by any new, settled paradigm; if there is a pattern to all this, it is that there is no pattern. The most valuable insight is that we are, in a critical sense, in a time of chaos. (Fast Company)

To thrive in this new normal requires a whole new approach.  Not everyone will join Generation Flux, but to be successful, businesses and individuals will have to work at it. Unfortunate for many, the vast bulk of business, institutions, and organizations are not built for flux. Few traditional career  tracks or educational curriculum train us for an era where the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.

Future-focus is a signature trait of Generation Flux. Trying to replicate what worked yesterday only leaves you and your business vulnerable. There is no question that we are in a new world. Therefore only some people and some businesses will thrive.

Will you be among them? Do you have the right management and workforce to steer your ship through the uncharted and unpredictable future?

Changing Paradigm of Work and Career

I’ve written many articles and blogs about how the definition of work and the meaning of a career has changed.  In the past differences have been targeted at age demographics and/or generations.  But today the new paradigms are pervasive and affect workers and employers regardless of age, generation, or geography. 

Below is a table highly the old verses new paradigms about work and careers.


Old Paradigm vs. New Paradigm
Job Security Employability Security
Longitudinal Career Paths Alternate Career Paths
Job/Person Fit Person/Organization Fit
Organizational Loyalty Job/Task Loyalty
Career Success Work/Family Balance
Academic Degree Continuous Relearning
Position/Title Competencies/Development
Full-Time Employment   Contract Employment
Retirement Career Sabbaticals
Single Jobs/Careers Multiple Jobs/Careers
Change in jobs based on fear Change in jobs based on growth
Promotion tenure based Promotion performance based




One-Third of HR Pros and Managers Say Young Workers Lack Professionalism

Professionalism in young workers has decreased according to one third of human resources professionals and management. That’s according to a new survey from the Center for Professional Excellence at York College.

The obvious question becomes – have attitudes and ethics standards slipped or are they just different and reflect different times.

According to David Polk, whose firm, the Polk-Lepson Research Group, conducted the survey, “Current business leaders and HR professionals do not believe that the definition of professionalism should change over time. (They) say young employees need to learn to conform to ‘current standards’ of professionalism rather than the standards be modified in response to larger society changes.”

Hmmm, do I sense a bit of hypocrisy here?  Assuming most if not all the HR pros and managers are Gen X and Baby Boomers, aren’t these the same generations that tested, challenged, and changed the standards?  Generation Y – the Millennial Generation – wasn’t even born yet when casual Friday, then casual attire every day, hit the workplace.  There was a time when men weren’t allowed to wear long hair and facial hair, not even a mustache. Women had to wear skirts or dresses, hosiery, and heels, none of those open-toed, open-backed, sandal-like shoes. And we won’t even get into men with piercings and women with tattoos!

Are these managers suggesting that it’s time to go back to the good old days of our parents and grandparents?

If so, then memories can’t be selective.  With those fond memories of higher standards of professionalism comes smoke-filled offices, terminations for pregnancy, and racially and gender segregated workplaces.

Admittedly, there are a lot of workers who lack professionalism.  They feel entitled, dress like they are headed to the beach, and misuse technology.  This group of workers share many bad attitudes and other less desirable work traits except one – AGE. 

Age has little or anything to do with it.  Just look around and check out your workplace.  Who is arriving late on a regular basis? Who are wearing piercings and tattoos? And when it comes to technology, undoubtedly there is a fixation with digital devices but is that distraction any worse than taking a smoke break every few minutes?  And speaking about technology, isn’t it an abuse of technology when older workers refuse to adapt?

And I can’t help but laugh at the one-third of respondents who agreed that “not understanding the urgency required for completing assignments,” is the worst mistake new employees make.  Really?  This is a generational issue.

The results of this survey shouldn’t surprise anyone. For many managers, I can hear and see them declaring “I told you so.”  But I urge everyone to take a step back and look around.  Think back to when you entered the workplace and how things changed.  Before using the good old days as your standard of professionalism, take off the filters.

Other key findings in the survey include:

33.1: Percentage of HR professionals who believe that the presence of professionalism in new employees has decreased.

36.5: Percentage of managers who believe that the presence of professionalism in new employees has decreased.

50.5: Percentage of HR professionals who said younger employees feel a sense of entitlement. That’s down from 60.9 percent in 2009.

97.1: Percentage of HR professionals who said IT misuse has stayed the same or gotten worse in the past year.

26.9: Percentage of managers who reported that electronic devices and social media contributed to employees being less focused at work.

39.9: Percentage of HR professionals who said not dressing up for a job interview is a mistake. Other mistakes include being late for the interview — 29.1 percent — and not knowing about the company — 25.9 percent.

32.6: Percentage of manager who cite “not understanding the urgency required for completing assignments,” as the worst mistake new employees make.

Employers Need to Get a Grip on the Workplace of the Future

A funny thing has happened on the way to old age and retirement.  It just arrived a lot quicker for millions of 60 years and older workers than they ever anticipated … and they aren’t ready.

The problem isn’t that 60 year olds still don’t talk – and even dream – about retirement. But a combination of lack of financial preparedness and mental readiness is keeping a lot of seniors working longer.

A recent article in Fortune Magazine, obviously written by a much younger reporter, wasted no time in drawing a dramatic picture of the workforce of the future might look like.  She started the article with:

A man parks his bike and unbuckles his helmet to reveal baldness and salt-and-pepper eyebrows. A woman in orthopedic shoes makes her way into an office building, while another peers through her bifocal glasses at her smartphone, the font on the screen bumped up a few sizes for easier reading. No, this isn’t an ad for Celebrex. This is a glimpse at the workforce of tomorrow.

YIKES!  This isn’t the future – it’s now!  Worse, except for the bike and orthopedic shoes, it’s me! And I’m not alone. Currently 7.3 million American workers age 65 years and older are still working. (Fortunately I’ve got a few years before I’m included in that stat.) According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that number will nearly double to 13.2 million by 2022 as again Americans defer retirement, or as many futurists more aptly predict, they will re-define retirement. (In my opinion, these BLS statistics are grossly underestimated, just as predictions of a mass exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce won’t come to fruition.  Yes, Baby Boomers may leave a job or career they held for several decades, but then many if not most, will start another.)

Contrary to the inferences of the article, the generational gaps between young and old are not distinct.  It’s just as likely to see a young worker unbuckle his helmet and see a completely bald head as well as a “geezer” unleash a full head of hair, even a ponytail.  Likewise, young and old workers now use smartphones, although it’s a foregone conclusion that most older workers can’t see a bleeping thing without those bifocals or large fonts.  And in a digital typing race – or more accurately a keystroking competition – young workers will win hands down.

But regardless of how the similarities and differences between older and younger workers is portrayed, what the workplace looks like going forward will be undeniably different. Certainly a lot more gray hairs, bifiocals, and pictures of grandkids will be visible along with tube tops, flip flips, body piercings, and tattoos. Age spans of 40 and even 50 years will be common.  This generational shift  and age divide inherently will require every organization to address everything from healthcare benefits to ergonomics.

The major workplace transformation however will be driven by technology and globalization – and working with those conditions requires new skill sets. The definition of work has changed … and will change again sooner than later. Even basic workplace issues like accommodation for the physically impaired or disabled won’t matter because many jobs can function remotely –from a worker’s home, his winter domicile, and even a rehab or assisted living!

In preparing for the workplace of 2020, the reason to employ either or both young and old should have nothing to do with age.  The critical criteria for hiring or retaining employees must be based on skills, experience, and knowledge. And in a world that changes so quickly and where change doesn’t always evolve as much revolve, age will become less of a reliable indicator of experience and knowledge.

Employers need to get a grip on reality and start planning for the future workplace.  For many companies seniors will be an asset. For others it is young workers that will provide the horsepower and fuel to grow business. For most organizations, the blended generational workplace will be the right recipe. But it will take a lot more creativity to make it work than just saying “we hire regardless of age.”

(Special thanks to blogger Brenda Johnson for the inspiration to write this post. You can read another perspective about the Workforce of 2022 at Brenda’s Work, Career & Jobs @ 40+ Blog)

What’s Next for Baby Boomers vs. Millennials?

There appears to be a lot of white elephants in the room these days, none bigger than a generation gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials.

On this day last year I posted an article asking, “Are Generational Differences Turning From A Gap Into A Chasm?”  Today I read two articles that reveals the gap is still a very real issue that few organizations are addressing adequately.

In one corner we have Steve Israel representing the Baby Boomers. Steve posted an article titled “Millennials vs. Boomers: You twerps owe us everything.”  That about says it all. 

Steve wrote:

If it weren't for us baby boomers, most of you wouldn't be here. Literally.

We are your parents. You sprung from our wombs, from our love.

We don't just deserve your respect; we deserve your eternal gratitude — for the food you ate, for the clothes you wore, for the roofs over your heads. By the way, we're still giving food, clothes and roofs to the more than 10 million of you who still live in our homes.

And what have you millennials — the 50 million Americans born between 1980 and 1995 who are becoming adults at the start of this new millennium — given us?
Nada — except the smug expectation that we should give you more.

How ungrateful can you be?

In the other corner is Millennial (aka Gen Y) Timothy Malcolm. Timothy has quite a different opinion. He urges Baby Boomers to “Give up the reins, you geezers.”

Timothy wrote:

The main reason we 20-somethings still sleep at mom's house is because mom and dad won't get out of the work force. They're clogging the pipeline.

Baby boomers make up the largest generation in American history. The current 20-something generation is almost as large, ironically, thanks to the boomers having all those kids.

Because of improvements in health care, boomers are not only living longer, but they're subjected to the salacious whispers that, yes, even in old age, they can remain vital! They can keep working, climb mountains, row boats and — gasp — have sex! Think about Lucy and Ricky or Archie and Edith cavorting in beachside bathtubs. Yeah, it is ridiculous.

Sure, we 20-somethings have some ridiculous traits, too. We waste time on Facebook, but as one of the original users, I've seen the boomers completely ruin that social networking site. Our music might be hard to understand, but at least I can't take credit for Cher. And, seriously, when are the Who going to stop?

Timothy concludes his article with “So stop wasting our generation's chance. And stop wasting our country's possibilities.”

So far, the first round of the attitude gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials has been subdued and mostly a war of words.  But as the recession lingers on and Gen Y joblessness remains high, one can only wonder if the resentment building up will boil over in a full fledged battle.

Round two anyone?

Lessons from PHL Eagles: Generation Gaps Occur At All Ages

Like many workers, one day earlier this year former Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb and Gen Xer came to work only to discover he was old.

The 6 time Pro-bowler and 5 time conference title QB was dealt to the division rival Washington Redskins.  One reason given for the trade was a generation gap, although Coach Andy Reid denied age was a part of the criteria in the decision to part ways with McNabb. 

One might expect that defensive remark coming from an employer in this litigious job market.  Age discrimination is a major concern as businesses try their best to rebuild their workforces. Many businesses chose to force early retirement and layoffs to create openings for younger, cheaper workers who could keep pace in a faster paced, more dynamic, and more innovative marketplace.

The wrinkle in this generation gap story however is that McNabb is only 33 years old.

As I’ve said before, the gap between generations isn’t always about age, but attitude. The Eagles new twenty-something line-up plays fast and they connect in a nanosecond. It even forces 52-year-old baby boomer Eagles head coach Andy Reid to keep his Blackberry charged.  “I text,” Reid says. “I’ll text something like ‘have a great day at practice.’ Or if I go through practice at the end I might shoot a guy a text like ‘great job’ or whatever the correction might be.

Ira-Behind-The-Lines-Aug2010Communication wasn’t quite the same with McNabb and former Eagle running back Brian Westbrook. Both players dominated much of the offense for the past seven years but both also had other life demands and interests that started to separate them for the younger players.

But this year it was out with the old and in with the new generation of younger players. Kevin Kolb, McNabb’s replacement 26, is the oldest of the offensive nucleus. Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy are 22, while DeSean Jackson is 23. Tight end Brent Celek is 25. He and Kolb are the only guys in the group legally old enough to rent a car.

In addition to texting and tweeting, the new generation spends a lot of time together off the field. McNabb had a lot of different demands on his time. Jeremy Maclin felt that “being close in age you just kind of bond with guys a little more around your age. And I think it does translate to the field.”

Employers of all types of organizations could learn a lesson or two from the Eagles story.  First, generation gaps aren’t limited to Baby Boomers and Millennials. They occur between younger and older workers even when only a few years separate the workers.  Second, generations isn’t just influenced by age differences, but attitudes toward life and work.

Parents, kids today more in harmony than prior generations

Two-thirds of Americans 16 and older see the biggest generation gaps in the use technology, music preferences, and moral values.  But are these gaps just merely different points of view? Are they really as divisive as many people make them out to be….or do actually have more in common between the generations than we admit?  What do you think?  What do you feel are the biggest problems in the workplace caused by different generation attitudes?

Parents, kids today more in harmony than prior generations –

Taking sides in the generation gap | | Palladium-Item


The battle being waged between different generations is only new for the Millennials. For every generation that grew up and entered the workforce before them, including Generation X, different life events gave birth to sources of inter-generational friction. At the very least it, the tension goes back to the early 1800s. In the first chapter of “Walden” Thoreau told us, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

In a blog post that can repeated in their own words by millions of Veterans (born before 1946) and Baby Boomers, Chuck Avery describes a family incident where blame for not respecting elders could easily have been placed away, “By what’s wrong with kids today.”  But Avery instead opens the door to bridging the generation gap.  He writes:

Of course, on the river of time, the currents of criticism flow both ways. I have been guilty of ridiculing hip-hop and rap music, using some of the same deprecations that my elders used toward rock ‘n’ roll when I was in high school. We can’t believe the language used by the youngsters today, but I never understood why my teachers were horrified when I told a classmate to “bite me!”

Avery offers an excellent reminder that taking sides in any conflict is a sure way to turn a different point of view into full-feldged war.

Read the post: Taking sides in the generation gap | | Palladium-Item.

When did baby boomers get so old?

One evening a grandson was talking to his grandmother about current events. The grandson asked his grandmother what she thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general. 
The  Grandma replied, "Well, let me think a minute, I was born, before television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact  lenses, Frisbees and the pill. There was no radar, credit cards, laser beams or ball-point pens. Man had not invented pantyhose, air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and the clothes were hung out to dry in the fresh air and man hadn't yet walked on the moon.
Your Grandfather and I got married first-and then lived together. Every family had a father and a mother. Until I was 25, I called every man older than I, 'Sir'- and after I turned 25, I still called policemen and every man with a title, "Sir.' We were before gay-rights, computer- dating, dual careers, daycare centers, and group therapy. 
Our lives were governed by the Ten Commandments, good judgment, and common sense. We were taught to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand up and take responsibility for our actions.
Serving your country was a privilege; living in this country was a bigger privilege. We thought fast food was what people ate during Lent. Having a meaningful relationship meant getting along with your cousins. Draft dodgers were people who closed their front doors when the evening breeze started. Time-sharing meant time the family spent together in the evenings and weekends-not purchasing condominiums.
We never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CDs, electric typewriters, yogurt,  or guys wearing earrings. We listened to the Big Bands, Jack Benny, and the President's speeches on our radios. If you saw anything with 'Made in Japan  ' on it, it was junk. The term 'making out' referred to how you did on your school exam.  Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and instant coffee were unheard of. 
We had 5 & 10-cent stores where you could actually buy things for 5 and 10 cents. Ice-cream cones, phone calls, rides on a streetcar, and a Pepsi were all a nickel. And if you didn't want to splurge, you could spend your nickel on enough stamps to mail 1 letter and 2 postcards.
You could buy a new Chevy Coupe for under $1,000 but who could afford one? Too bad, because gas was 30 cents a gallon.
In my day, "grass" was mowed, "coke" was a cold drink, "pot" was something your mother cooked in, and "rock music" was your grandmother's lullaby.  "Aids" were helpers in the Principal's office," chip" meant a piece of wood, "hardware" was found in a hardware store, and "software" wasn't even a word.
And we were the last generation to actually believe that a lady needed a husband to have a baby. How old is Grandma?

This woman would be only 60 years old!
While grandma's memories have apparently distorted some history, her story accentuates the era that older Baby Boomers and their predecessors (the Veterans) recall when they reminisce about their youth.  It contrasts sharply with the childhood that Gen X and Gen Y remember.