What comes after Generation Y?
14 February 2011
As Generation Y, or Millennials, continue to enter the workforce, there is a growing concern that generations will go to war over access to pay, benefits and career opportunities. Sharpened pencils aside, ‘hard-working’ Baby Boomers, ‘entrepreneurial’ Gen Xs and ‘team-oriented’ Gen Ys no longer think it is fair that they are offered the same deals given their different levels of skill and expertise.
Our event for partners at The Work Foundation on Intergenerational conflict: Generation Y vs an ageing workforce challenged some of the old-fashioned ways of thinking about employees in terms of generations. Granted, socioeconomic climate and historical events shape the value systems of particular age groups, but could it be true that many of those stereotypical generalisations are all wrong?
We heard from Liz Nottingam, HR Director of Starcom Mediavest Group, who talked about her experience of people management in a dynamic work environment, largely represented by Gen Ys. She warned against a ‘bottle-of-milk’ approach to the modern workforce – they are clearly not homogenous in their needs and ways of working, so there is no single HR formula to fit all employees. Individuals choose to stay in organisations for different reasons, and the hype around Generation Y has exacerbated employees’ demands for flexibility according to their specific needs.
Sonia Wolsey-Cooper, Corporate Responsibility Director at AXA PPP Healthcare argued that existing people management tools are too blunt and fail to really pin down what motivates the diverse workforce. With the recession has come increased unpredictability, challenging HR to seek new ways to retain and empower employees and increase productivity. Sonia emphasised that understanding of the motivations of different generations will inform longer term, strategic thinking about people management and equip line managers with skills to be responsive to the expectations and challenges of a diverse workforce.
The workshop reiterated that generational theory does not offer any signposts for the evolution of the employees’ needs and priorities. While there is a need to take a wider perspective on the nature of work across cultures, sectors and economies, today many agreed that the organisations of the future will be shaped by what motivates and inspires individuals now and what might be important for them in the years to come. The key to the new deal is to refine workforce segmentation, which may lead to a post-generational theory of people management – something which the next research programme from the Future of HR intends to address.