Cries for Help from the Boomer Organisations

Regular readers will know that there are certain things that raise the hackles here at T Recs, amongst them are:

Hence it will come as no surprise that HR Magazine’s ‘Global war for talent will intensify as baby boomer leaders retire’ scored a complete full house on Merv’s bullshit bingo scorecard.

Not sure what’s more frustrating…that an executive search firm felt the need to release this self-serving guff or that a respected online news resource felt obliged to re-print the press release in the name of ‘journalism’.

So we have a search firm commissioning a report – the grandly titled ‘After the baby boomers; The next generation of leadership’ – which was conducted through telephone interviews with 100 senior executives between 2010 and 2012. I’m guessing that some of the 2010 conversations may be a little out of date now.

There is an executive summary of findings which contains sections with titles like:

  • The war for talent will intensify
  • Most organisations underserve female markets
  • The feminisation of leadership
  • Organisations need to ease the intergenerational transition

The opening statement is:

Should it matter to our future leadership that the world is undergoing unprecedented demographic, gender and cultural change? Or that a whole cohort of leadership, characterised by the baby boomer era, is about to step down? Is it possible for organisations to be ‘prepared’ for such fundamental changes and adapt to a different style f management? Or, as one respondent said about the next generation of leaders, “They may think about the world in a different way but that doesn’t make them poor leaders.

And the conclusion is:

To continue to thrive, organisations must:

  • Transfer knowledge, by coaching, mentoring and codification.
  • Re-evaluate their organisational structure, including their incentive philosophy, and how they recruit and retain talent.
  • Build cultural awareness, designing leadership programmes that develop cultural diversity, flexibility and people skills.

I’m sure it’s a comfort to have Odgers around to help out, given that the next few years will clearly be the first time since before the industrial revolution that business leaders come up to retirement age and hand over to younger leaders. I’ll bet they’re glad that it’s been pointed out to them that they need to be grooming their new leaders, no doubt an easy thing to overlook when you’re running a large organisation.

Apparently only 41% of those interviewed thought their organisations ready ‘for the changing workplace demographics of age, gender and diversity’ but then a closer examination of the report shows only 9% believing their businesses to be not ready. (More scaremongering).

Now if you’ll allow me some generational stereotyping of my own, firms like Odgers and Deloittes (who authored the Gen Y research written about in my last blog) are, shall we say, Boomer organisations. They seem to have an unhealthy obsession with how different young people are.

And if the earlier section headings are anything to go by, women too. They even make a point in the introduction of mentioning that 30% of the leaders spoken to were women, whilst the use of the word ‘feminisation‘ to describe emotional intelligence and people skills is telling.

The generation of 45+year old business leaders have been well served by these Boomer organisations. They’ve found staff for them, helped them in their own careers, come in to do consulting around new projects and structures, and maybe, just maybe, those Boomer organisations are beginning to feel the winds of change themselves.

The next generation of business leaders may well have found shiny new ways to source talented staff, promote their own careers, and check the viability and feasibility of new projects and structures.

So maybe these attempts at creating a perceived problem for their core markets, that requires a solution that they can then help provide, are really just cries for help?

Here’s the blueprint – identify a problem with the young, developing workforce. Legitimise and amplify it by dressing the problem up as research or with a white paper (involving an academic or another Boomer organisation for extra effect) then offer simple solutions worded in a complex, serious way so that only by using your services will they be able to fully grasp and implement what needs to be done.

Well, you know something… I’m guessing most successful business leaders know this stuff already and know what needs to be done… and the younger, emerging leaders have a fairly good idea where to start cutting the budgets.


As a regular attendee and blogger at CIPD events I like the way they have got involved in, and tried to shape, conversations around youth unemployment and opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.

In their centenary year it seems fitting that an organisation that came in to being with an aim to get children out of the workplace should now be spearheading efforts to get them in to work. I wrote about the Our Young People project last year and have written elsewhere about their newly launched research ‘Employers are from Mars, Young people are from Venus’.

However, mixed in between the learning and networking at the recent CIPD HRD conference were presentations of a different type that I could have done without…the dreaded ‘How to get the best out of/understand/manage/up-skill Gen Y’ bilge.

Generalisations about generations are nothing new (cap doffed to Gareth Jones for the inspiration behind the blog title btw) and I’ve written about it several times.

One speaker, a senior HR/Learning person from a major UK plc, hid behind the Deloitte Gen Y research with the usual generalisations – sense of entitlement, used to being placed on pedestals, lack of proactivity, dreamers, unrealistic – and even gave us an interesting conundrum. They don’t get information from people but prefer to source it online. This was seen as a problem as decisions are usually made in meetings. Yet barely two minutes later the presenter told us how difficult it was to organise internal meetings, problems over aligning diaries etc, whilst her 19 year old son can arrange a get together within a couple of minutes online. Opportunity or threat?
















Further comments such as ‘They’ve grown up in times of an economic boom’ are clearly nonsense as anyone born ‘93 onwards has hit adolescence in a time of global recession, but that doesn’t stop them being presented as perceived wisdom. We were also told they are the most researched generation, with more data existing on them than any other…I quite liked Matt Charney’s observation…







In all honesty, I’m getting more and more uneasy with this type of conversation, not just because there’s so much of it and its nonsense anyway, but because it’s really just stereotyping whole groups of people by certain perceived traits, somehow to imply that they are inferior, different or require special treatment. Yes, I do find it worryingly close to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and the rest by a different name.

The casualness of the way stereotypes are bandied around makes me particularly uneasy. The ‘I know about this because I have a teenage child’ line is really just ‘some of my best friends are’ using other words. People who spout generationalisationisms don’t really mean it, they love them really, they’re important because they can use social networking etc…just like casual racism and sexism.

I don’t think this has any place at an HR conference, either here on in the US – check out Laurie Ruettimann’s blog on this subject, written after her experiences at a US HR conference the same week as the CIPD event.

Different people bring different skills to the workplace, and different ages bring different perspectives. An understanding of the different social, cultural, economic and academic influences that shape these perspective and values is one thing.

But discrimination is discrimination, and age discrimination works two ways. HR above all people should not have these crass, and untrue, generalisations anywhere near their mind-set…

Generational Reductionism










Today is Mark’s birthday, he turned 52. He shares his birthday with his Uncle Peter who turns 70, a cause for much family celebration.

Peter has been retired for 5 years. He was a partner in an accountancy firm and is enjoying a relaxing retirement thanks to a generous pension – splitting his time between his London mews home and his beachfront villa in the Algarve. As a baby boomer he has benefitted from unprecedented property price inflation, and also from the fact that his children all went to university before tuition fees became payable. He was able to downsize his property a few years ago and give his two children a very handsome deposit for their first homes. He has little time for computers, having been lucky enough to have had someone to ‘do all that computer stuff’ for him when his accountancy practice felt the need to fully embrace technology.

Mark is also a baby boomer and also an accountant. He has worked for different companies, but has been restructured out of his last two roles. After each redundancy he’s had periods of unemployment followed by day rate contracts. His ‘pension pot’ is shrinking and this, along with the need to keep his skills up to date and worries about financing his children’s university education, help to keep him awake most nights. He happens to be pretty good with computers, something that helps keep him employable.

Mark’s wife Jane is luckier. She is a year younger than him so is a Generation X type. Not for her the riches of the baby boomers, but being born into the digital revolution age means she has a greater understanding of digital concepts. She was allegedly part of the ‘me generation’ of the 80s (although she was already in her 20s), something she shares with her 34 year old niece, Joanna. Although 17 years apart, their adolescent years clearly shared similar ‘slacker’ style influences. However without Mark’s computer skills she wouldn’t have any idea how to pay a bill or send an e-mail.

Their 14 year old son Paul is in Year 9 and has just had a ‘business’ day at school. A number of large organisations sent their graduate recruiters in to educate the boys and girls in employability. He was intrigued by the one of the presentations from a woman who said she was 31 but then also said ‘I can help you, after all I’m a Gen Y’er just like you so I know what it’s like’. He thought it was particularly funny when she said that Facebook wouldn’t be allowed in the workplace because it was just for silly pictures of babies, weddings, parties and pets, when all Paul’s classmates use it to keep in touch with each other, to find out what has been missed at school and to help each other out with homework and research.

Paul found it even funnier when he heard that the lady had spoken very differently to Year 8 (his sister Lucy’s year) by telling them that their lifelong use of digital communication, social networking and mobile sets them apart. When Lucy got home she teased Paul about how she was a digital native and he was just part of the ‘boomerang generation’. She found it odd because without Paul she wouldn’t have the first idea how to use her iPhone or iPad nor how to download or connect…


Barely an hour goes by without a link appearing in my Twitter timeline to an article that goes something like ‘6 things you need to do if you want to hire Gen Y’ or ’10 reasons Gen Y don’t want to work for you’ or a personal real favourite ‘Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25’.

Of course it’s largely tosh. To draw uniformity of influences for people born in a 17 year timespan and then turn that in to some kind of HR or workplace wisdom is foolish. But people do it. People seem to make some kind of living out of packaging it up as consultancy.

The demographists, pollsters, and social and cultural historians know differently of course. They like to draw conclusions from the social, economic, cultural and parental influences that someone is exposed to in adolescence, particularly between 13 and 18, and I can understand this. Experiences within this 5 year age span tend to shape expectations, values, ambitions and aspirations that we carry forward in to adult life. My sons are bound to be different to mine, as will be those between someone who grew up in the 80s and the 90s.

They  have different generational classifications in recognition of the fact that influences change every few years – for example Generation Jones are the ones who grew up in the 70s…though I still think Generation Bowie is better 😉 They are currently the key demographic targeted by pollsters and marketers.

One of the best research presentations I’ve seen on this came from Decode. They didn’t see age as the signifier of attitudes but life stages. Within the ‘traditional’ Gen Y age demographic they found a variety of attitudes dictated by life stage.

Taking work/life balance as an example (something that older generations think is of great importance to Gen Y) they found that it was a number one priority for students just entering the workplace. For the young independents it was of very low priority, whilst for young families its importance had increased, but not to the level of students. All of these attitudes from a sample group in the age range 21-29.

As Pew Research Center recently concluded

“Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and we cast our lot with those scholars who believe it is not only possible, but often highly illuminating, to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of any given age group of Americans.

But we also know this is not an exact science. We are mindful that there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations.”

Just ask Peter, Mark, Jane, Joanna, Paul and Lucy…

Networking, Learning but I still got Those Talking Gen Y Blues – TruLondon thoughts

Following last Thursday’s adrenaline rush of a blog I’m now looking back on TruLondon from a slightly more reflective angle!

There’s no denying that it was great event, and it enabled me to meet and engage with so many interesting and passionate people, from the UK and US, Canada, Holland and Switzerland. Whilst day 2 was certainly more ‘organised ‘than day 1, nothing could detract from the fact that overall there were some very insightful debates.

Three things struck me about the whole event.

Networking… it provides a fantastic networking opportunity. With a mix of HR professionals and recruiters, sourceologists and technologists, job boards and journalists, there is always someone interesting to talk to. My favourite parts are always the ‘break outs’ or the mini tracks where 2,3,4 or 5 people leave a track and start their own discussion. Through this you really get to talk ideas and experiences, sometimes without even knowing who it is you’re talking to!

Learning…  there is a lot to learn. Some of it from listening and some from asking. There is also variety between different tracks, from listening to track leaders debate amongst themselves, to debating with them and finally to those tracks where the leaders often pass their knowledge on. I sometimes wish the attendees would open up more on these and get involved, but then maybe that is something that we all need to work on in this embryonic format. I’m certainly keen to attend unconferences elsewhere to see if there are cultural differences in how we absorb information and ideas.

Got those Talking Gen Y Blues…without doubt my favourite comment of TruLondon came from Charlie Duff when her headline for Day 1 was ‘HR practitioners claim that Gen Y talk is nonsense, but can’t stop talking about it’ …and indeed they can’t!

Talk of Gen Y, the uniqueness of their position, the skills they bring to the workplace, their audacity, creativity and expectations, seemed to permeate through many tracks…and when the debate finally got its own track, then things got quite feisty – an agenda of technology, economics, sociology and geo-politics in one mass of opinions, hopes, fears and convictions.

Without getting shouted down, I’m not sure that their position is so much different to any other generation.  Every age group has wanted it all, and every age group has often had a far sharper and detailed knowledge of current technology and societal mores than their elders. (Dare I say that some of the social and political talk of change sounds not dissimilar to that we’ve read from the ‘hippy’ generation?)

What they do seem to have though is a conviction and confidence that has often been lacking before, but I think are in danger of turning themselves into a cause. However with over 20% of their age group in the UK unemployed, and with companies needing to find ways to best utilise and harness their talents and attitudes, I somehow feel I’ll be Talking Gen Y for some time yet…

All in all TruLondon was an extremely successful event, offering the chance to meet so many new people and learn so many new ideas…and leaving you wanting more. Just reading the tweets and blogs since Friday has made me realise how many people I never really properly got to talk to…

…hopefully I will next time!