Generation Bowie – the original flexible workforce?

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it” (George Orwell)

“Talking ’bout my generation” (Pete Townsend, 1964)

‘Trying to forget your generation/I say your generation don’t mean a thing to me’ (Billy Idol, 1977)

I’m reading a lot of blogs lately concerning generational demographics, particularly looking at how the attitudes of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y differ. Now here’s my view…

I don’t believe Generations are a state of mind; they are a question of influences and experiences. Whilst we may often try and use these demographics to define workplace behaviours, their real raison d’être is to define age groups by their cultural, socio-economic and parental influences.

The cultural historians will look at the outside influences during adolescence, specifically the years 13-19, to define generational traits, and see how they impact on a whole range of behaviours, including attitudes to work. Hence the generational type they belong to is usually governed by the decade in which they were teens.

The Baby Boomers were born into post-war austerity, usually to parents who themselves had grown up in the Great Depression (the original one) and they matured during the 60s, whilst Generation X are usually seen as the ‘slacker’ generation, growing up with constant access to TV and with lives shaped by Thatcherism/Reaganomics and the rise of home computing in the 80s/early 90s. Their title, Generation X, was popularised in the novel by Douglas Coupland, written in 1991, which concerned American and Canadians who became young adults during the late 80s, yet the actual expression ‘Generation X’ was first used in 1952 and then again in 1964 to describe teenagers of loose morals and little respect in the mid 60s!

Standing back for one moment, and trying hard not to vainly squeeze oneself into the next generation down, it’s clear that these 3 ‘Generations’ cover 70 years…7 decades which have seen incredible changes and advances, with each one bearing little similarity with the last. Generation X, for example, allegedly contains everyone who will be between 30 and 50 next year.  In my opinion 3 generational classifications are not enough, and are misleading as they ignore age groups who have shown their own identities.

After all, in my quotes at the start Billy Idol clearly felt he was a different generation to Pete Townsend, yet both are considered to be Baby Boomers.

So let’s accept that the Baby Boomers grew up on the 60s, and Generation X in the 80s…yet in between there is a whole decade of very different influences that are usually ignored as being a crossover between the two. Yet meet anyone who grew up in that decade and you will find someone who is flexible and adaptable.

Anyone growing up in the UK in the 70s will tell you that this was a tough decade, underpinned by constant change, fluctuating fortunes, unrest, violence and cultural extremes…4 elections, 4 Prime Ministers, 3 day weeks, bombs on the streets, mob violence, industrial unrest and a whole spectrum of music and fashion trends..Glam, Punk, Disco, Electro…flares and drainpipes, big collars and big statements.

In a decade of such change it’s hardly surprising that people who grew up then have had careers underpinned by change…interview someone who was a teen in the 70s and it’s likely that they will have had many different careers, utilising a whole range of skills and competencies, and their development has been marked by change and a restless quest for new experiences.

This generation has no badge, no obvious name, neither Baby Boomers nor Gen X; yet in the workplace they have shown themselves to be the original flexible workforce. Adaptable, open to change and new ideas, hard working, constantly looking to improve and gain new experiences, not scared to take a step into the unknown…restless and always looking for something new.

Well, I’ve decided to give them a name… a tag that recognises their unique influences.

I’m going to use a cultural icon who defined the 70s…high work rate, constant change and re-invention, always ready to try something new and never standing still.

Ch…ch…ch…ch…changes

From now on I will call them Generation Bowie…or BowieGen if you like…the original flexible workforce!

What do you think?

Recruiters need to get smart to win the Generation Game

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the future recruitment landscape, and how current events and technological advances will transform the way companies recruit. I took part in at least 2 separate discussions about this at London Unconference.

Certainly we 3rd party recruiters have many challenges ahead, and one the biggest, I believe, will come from the generational shift in decision makers from Baby Boomers to Generation X.

Over the last 20 years or so agencies have mainly been briefed by Baby Boomers. They’re the generation that have been the key decision makers, and in the main they like external recruiters. We have been their friends; helped them to build careers, kept them in mind for the big jobs, also helped them to build their teams. They have trusted us with exclusives and retainers, and we have entertained them…lunches, networking drinks, sporting events. We have been their eyes and ears in the market and they have valued this, putting little pressure on the traditional recruitment sales model and fee structure.

Inevitably, the decision-making baton is being passed on and nowadays we are more likely to be briefed by Gen X. They are stepping in to key roles as hirers and decision makers. And there’s a difference…I’m not sure they see 3rd parties the same way.

Whilst I do subscribe to the view that Generational classifications can often be no more than a state of mind, I do think that with Gen X there are certain effects of cultural, social and economic changes that define their experiences. In career terms they certainly seem to have things a bit tougher…largely entering the job market in (or at the end of) a major recession they now find that at just the time they should be making the big career step up the ladder…there’s another recession.

They have also built their careers during the rise of a different recruitment ethos. Whereas the Baby Boomers were comfortable in the knowledge that they had a trusting business relationship with recruiters, Gen X have rarely had the same luxury. During the growth years they have found a lot of recruiters to be focusing on the deal not the detail, instead of building deep relationships they have been  more concerned with speed, CV, size of fee, and swiftly moving on to the next deal. There has been no continuity, no engagement, little post-placement care, and when Gen X have started briefing 3rd parties, they have too often received just a CV shifting service, with no proper matching, value add or consulting.

Any wonder they’ve gone for multiple briefings, with reduced fees and a winner takes all approach?

And any wonder that if you ask them about their resourcing plans for the future they talk about direct resourcing and reducing agency spend?

They usually ‘get’ social media, are big users of LinkedIn and Facebook (with a growing awareness of Twitter) and can see the business benefit of going down this route.

It will be a long haul to win them back, and I’m not sure that they will ever see us the way that Baby Boomers did…the challenge won’t be to turn the clock back, but to work with them collaboratively to map out the future.

On Talent Street the 3rd parties used to lay the paving stones, and often also  had a hand in filling the cracks too…moving forward, could we just be filling in the cracks?