Dan Schawbel’s post on who’s to blame for Generation Y’s high turnover is not a matter of finding fault but understanding an inevitable change

Posted on November 23, 2011


NOTE: The following is a guest post I wrote for the new Remarkable Leader Blog.

While I must admit that I never gave much thought to the subject of generational differences in the workplace, the concept of generational divides entered my consciousness in 2008 when I spoke at a conference for a Canadian purchasing association in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  (Travelogue: The hotel at which I had stayed provided an amazing view of the harbor and an actual iceberg which from what I understand, is a common sight for Canada’s furthest point east.)

It was at this conference that I sat in on a presentation by Jim Gray from Media Strategy whose session titled “The Generation Trap” was back by popular demand . . . at least that’s what was stated in the program.

During the session, Gray talked about the current day phenomena where “four generations work side by side in offices, institutions and manufacturing plants throughout North America.”  This according to the speaker, “created a new workplace challenge – how to communicate effectively with the members of several different age groups.”  It was really quite a fascinating 60-minutes.  It was also what caused me to pay attention when Bill McAneny contacted me about his research in the area of generational learning.

I figured that as was the case with Gray’s communication challenges, similar issues might exist within the realms of learning – especially in terms of the increasingly diverse globalized market.

In researching these as well as other questions which I posed to Bill during an interview on the PI Window on Business, there was definitely no shortage of reference material.  This included Neil Howe’s and William Strauss’ Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, a book that was originally published in 2000, and to which one critic referred to as being “familiar territory rehashed, and the profiles and prophecies just too general . . .  but it’s hard to resist this hopeful vision for our children and the future.”

In his research, McAneny takes the Howe-Struass communication concept one step further in terms of learning, with the introduction of Generation Z who in an earlier article “Generational Learning: What is the Impact on the Purchasing Profession?,” were referred to as being “digital natives,” and an “introverted generation, with a lower attention span.”  A kind of Reality Bites meets The Net mindset.

While questions regarding the differences relative to how generations learn, including the impact it has in the real world in terms of increasingly blended workforces, were addressed in the McAneny interview, I could not help but think of how these past discussions applied to Dan Schawbel’s November 22nd post (Who’s at Fault for High Gen-Y Turnover?) concerning Generation Y’s nomadic inclination towards earning a living including career advancement?

Well to begin, and like the shift away from cradle to grave employment that was once a given in the working world, today’s corporations are modular and adaptable in achieving their goals and objectives.  This includes leveraging a variety of strategies from off-shoring and outsourcing certain services to process automation which both ultimately result in a smaller albeit more expert employee base.

So why should it be surprising that there is a reflected shift in the Generation Y and now Z mindset, in that they too share a similar modular mobility in which long-term employment outside of a core competency group is tentative at best.

After all, and as IACCM’s Tim Cummins had once suggested, the concept of long-term employment is a 20th Century ideal that has outlived its purported benefits.

Referencing Ronald Coase the British Economist, whose seminal works include “The Nature of the Firm” (1937) and “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960), Cummins indicated that other than a relatively brief period in history, the concept of long-term or cradle to grave employment is or at least was by and large a short-lived concept.  A blip on the proverbial radar screen if you will.

Ronald Coase

Or to put it another way, mobility and short tenures are the new “old order” of the day and those companies that recognize and respond effectively to this changing workforce reality will endure and prosper, as will employees . . . regardless of generation.


Posted in: Commentary