In 1999, leadership expert Ira S. Wolfe coined the term “perfect labor storm” to describe a convergence of demographic and socioeconomic developments that would result in an unprecedented shortage of skilled workers in 2011 – the year the first Baby Boomers hit 65 and start to retire.
But a severe and prolonged recession has delayed Dr. Wolfe’s predicted storm. Economic uncertainty has caused many Boomers to remain on the job, amid the highest unemployment rate in more than 30 years.
Until we see the inevitable changing of the guard over the next decade, the workplace will be inhabited by a multigenerational stew of younger and older workers.
Baby Boomers are lingering in the workplace. The younger Gen X and Gen Y (New Millennials) are growing impatient to ascend to leadership responsibilities. New graduates are knocking at HR’s door in record numbers. And technology, including social media, is transforming the mode and pace of communication. These trends are creating new opportunities, but not without foreseeable generational clashes.
In the work I do in corporate coaching, I hear about new generation clashes often. This workplace environment will provide real opportunities and significant technological problems, Dr. Wolfe notes in his latest book, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace (Xlibris, 2009).
Eighty percent of polled adults believe Gen X and Y have a distinctly different point of view – the highest perceived disparity since 1969, when generations clashed over the Vietnam War and civil rights. Younger adults (18 to 29) report disagreements over lifestyle, views, family, relationships and dating. Older adults criticize their “sense of entitlement”. Gen X and Y tend to be more tolerant on cultural issues, while Boomers cite manners as the greatest source of conflict.
New information technologies also divide the generations. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trust, only 40% of adults ages 65-74 use the Internet daily, while 75% of those ages 18-30 go online daily. The gap is wider when it comes to cell phones and text messages.
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