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Home > Blogs > Anthony Harrington > The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part Two

The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part Two

The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part Two Anthony Harrington

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Part One considered the practice of labeling the three generations since the 2nd World War as, in order of sequence, the Baby Boomers; Generation X; and the next generation along, Generation Y, or the "Millennials" as they are also called. In Part Two, the significance of this "generational thing" on the world of work is up for scrutiny.

First, it is worth taking a detour through an extensive inter-generational study carried out by the global accountancy firm PwC, in association with the University of Southern California and the London Business School. PwC summarizes the findings of this two-year study by confirming that it finds Millennials rather different from prior generations, in that they are more tech-savvy, globally focused, informal and more willing to share information. The upshot, PwC concludes, is that organizations need to change very significantly to get the best out of the Millennial generation (and, presumably, the even more super-geeky Post-Millennial generation that will start following the Millennials into the workplace in the next five to eight years).

However, the report, snappily titled PwC's NextGen: a global generational study: Evolving talent strategy to match the new workforce reality, emphasizes that the Millennials can be just as committed to the organization as their Post-Millennial counterparts. The caveat implied by PwC, though, is that, in order to fully commit to their work, the Millennials have to feel comfortable that the organization is up to speed with the kind of techie environment that they are used to at home - complete with social media, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and everything else they treasure.

The boundaries between work and home get fuzzy with Millennials - and that doesn't bother them, though it would probably drive many Boomers squiffy. The study focused on PwC's own staff, which means that we're talking about accountants, which is already quite a severe filter to put over the top of Generation Y. The decision to study accountancy implies a degree of discipline and an affinity with business and measurement which just might be a tad alien to a whole chunk of techno-bright Millennials. So, when the report notes that PwC's Millennials have a preference for "greater options in their work hours and location", i.e. working from home or the local coffee shop, one suspects that this preference has been dialed back quite considerably by comparison with the vast majority of Millennials who have not opted for accountancy as a career. Remember that Monty Python joke, "Hello, I'm an accountant, I'm boring"? A slur on the profession of course, but it does catch something. As the report puts it:

"Given the opportunity, 64% of Millennials [...] would like to occasionally work from home and 66% of Millennials [...] would like the option to occasionally shift their work hours."

As I say, pretty dialed back. Generation Y, taken in the round, would probably delete the word "occasionally" from these sentences and go for a full-on blend of work and private life to the point where the two blur into each other inextricably.

However, the Boomers are still around, still at the top, still in charge, and while they might be prepared to indulge the youngsters, they are pretty comfortable with the world of work retaining pretty much the shape they know and love. They're getting lots of consultancy reports, viz the PwC study, nudging them into some fairly radical changes, but that kind of thing really serves to remind Boomers that there are worse things than a well-funded retirement. Seeing the office transforming into a coffee shop with staff keeping haphazard hours is going to be really annoying for them and, for many Boomers, this in itself will be a good reason to speed up the handover to Generation X; let the kids deal with their kids!

By the time the Post-Millennials have arrived, we could find ourselves with loose, shifting networks of massively qualified individuals shifting back to the kind of piecemeal work that used to characterize cottage weaving and spinning 200 years ago. The workplace could be morphing into loose-knit transient teams, stitched together for a specific project then dissolving on the project's completion, with all the constituent parts splitting up and finding new assignments on other projects. Significant chunks of IT have worked like this for a few decades now. The rest of the world of work could be headed off down the same road, bumped along by the Brownian motion of vast numbers of dissatisfied, restless Millennials...


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Tags: Baby Boomers , Facebook , Generation X , Generation Y , London Business School , Millennial Generation , Millennials , PWC , social media , twitter , University of Southern California , YouTube
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