Generation R: has the recession united the generations?
Generation Y has been a hot topic of recent years, what do our leaders of tomorrow want from their careers, how are businesses engaging them, what are their aspirations etc. And now Generation Z is on its way. As a member of Generation X I can’t remember this much debate about what we wanted and how employers should be adapting, so I can only imagine how un-appreciated the baby boomers felt!
I was prompted to consider how the world has changed as an impact of the last 5 years of recession, and with a mind to people’s career expectations and preferences, it struck me that perhaps there is now more commonality between the generational groups than in pre-recession times. Dare I say there is a new generation that employers should be considering in their engagement and talent management strategies – let’s call it Generation R(ecession) – those with experience working through the global financial crisis.
The key theme I’d suggest to be more widely prevalent to people of all ages nowadays is that the working population are perhaps now more acclimatised to living with high levels of ambiguity in their working lives. Organisational change is the norm, and employees have got more used to it. Are we better at dealing with anxieties on job security – difficult to say – but most people have probably become more conscious of the risk, and in contemplating the implications they are more likely to be armed to take matters into their own hands.
Tracking the rate of new business start-ups in the UK, Startup Britain (http://www.startupbritain.co/) expect 2013 to have seen the UK pass 500,000 for the first time, following consecutive increases in the previous years too. Clearly today’s workforce is more prepared to be self-determinant. But is this across the board, and are there overriding themes as to why this is the case?
What actually got me thinking about this subject as a whole initially was a conversation with one of my family member– as we cast our eye across our immediate relatives of working age to see some dramatic changes, and I wondered if others would have a similar experience? We are a group of 8, degree educated 30-50 year olds working with success across a range of professions, who in 2008 were all in permanent employed status. Present day 2014, only 3 of those are now still ‘employed’, 2 of those living outside of the UK, and the other five include 2 working as independent contractors, 2 have started up their own businesses, 1 has just been made redundant!
Naturally this experience is too narrow to be taken as a representative cross section of the UK, but it was food for thought around the impact of the recession on a group of Gen X-ers. It seems we are not alone though, and reading an article in London’s Metro also quoted figures that 80% of 16-30 year olds (Gen Y) who’d been surveyed expected to go it alone with their own business within 5 years. I also recall reading research investigating generational trends to entrepreneurialism recently, and it suggested a raised propensity to entrepreneurialism with increasing years. The latter research is likely to be the result of an accumulation of wealth and experience, but overall it does suggest that the inclination to do it for yourself is running as a much more common theme across the generations.
So are employers losing talent that could drive their businesses forward? Are these people with a desire, passion and motivation to really make a mark being allowed to exit corporate life too readily, or unconsciously? Why are people making these choices?
Interestingly 20% of people who set up on their own did so believing it to offer greater job security. This is territory you’d traditionally expect employers to have the trump card on, but clearly years of uncertainty or bad experiences with redundancies have altered people perceptions of how ‘safe’ a job with a corporate employer might be. Could employers learn from this in their communication on change or way in which they conduct downsizing? I saw a report on the BBC citing that 70% of new business start-ups were also set up working from home, bringing the question of greater flexibility for work and life to the equation perhaps. Are employers squashing the creative or entrepreneurial flair of their employees with rigid office conditions, rather than creating a working environment that could harness this potential and help it flourish? A senior reward professional also suggested there could be an impact of changes to pensions in recent years, historically a means to tie people more closely to employers, but now increasingly portable or generic in their offering.
As employers consider their retention and attraction strategies, would they do well to notice greater commonality across the generations of a workforce hit by a ravaged economy, rather perpetually trying to identify and tap into the differences? Maybe it’s out of their hands now though, as the perception of corporate employment as a secure haven may be permanently tarnished. Maybe we’ll all be ‘in it together’ as old news Gen R anyway soon, as Gen Z and beyond takes the stage of fashionable discourse!