If You Tolerate This…

Regular readers (and people who follow my Twitter threads from conferences) will know exactly where I stand on generational stereotyping. For avoidance of doubt, I’ve covered it here, here and here. The categorisation of a group of people by perceived similar traits – whether you call it Ageism or Generationism in this case – is something that should not be anywhere near the thinking of HR professionals.

You wouldn’t seek out advice on how to manage women, ethnic minorities, gay people or over 60s within the workplace so why do it with under 30s.

Of course one of the major problems with any ‘ism’ is that the categorisations eventually become lazily accepted as the norm and then influence the ability to think rationally and contextually about people…leading to casual ageism and the inevitable inter-generational conflict, in turn creating further unnecessary problems

Which brings me to Kelly Blazek and the infamous rejection email that went viral and elicited strong apologies. You would have read about this a week or two ago so I won’t go into the specifics. Here’s the excerpt that nails it for me…

“Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25 year old jobseeker mine my top tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite.

To me it seems that some of the apparent vitriol aimed at graduate jobseeker Diana Mekota was borne from the old cliche, and hence perceived belief, that her generation feels a sense of entitlement and needs to be taught a lesson. As I said earlier, casual ageism. Did it blind a respected business woman from showing a degree of perspective when she wrote her response? We’ll never know.

We tell job seeking graduates – and therefore our kids too – to reach out and try to connect with as many people as possible in the job hunt. Show initiative. It will help you stand out. But it’s nothing really to do with age. It’s something I did when I first entered the job market and it’s something that job seekers of all ages are encouraged to do now.

But when the young do it they seem to risk coming up against a wall of prejudice.

So once again I say to HR professionals on the subject of Ageism and Generationism – forget it.

If you tolerate it…then your children, quite literally it would seem, will be next.

(Image via mutual pensions & annuity)

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…

Social Media, Judging Others and The 5 Year Rule

The guy who first managed me in recruitment, the owner of the small agency I had joined, had a way of dealing with some of the slightly more overconfident outpourings of the younger, cockier me. He said…

“Write down what you just said.
Put it away.
Look at it again in 5 years’ time.
You’ll never believe you ever said that.”

It was a put down, deliberately aimed at making me feel immature with a lot to learn about the business world. Probably something I needed at the time, and certainly something that stayed with me. The 5 Year Rule. As individuals we do evolve, we learn, we gain experience and confidence. I had views, perspectives and opinions then that I didn’t have 5 years later. Probably not even 2 years later.

When it comes to social media I do wonder sometimes what to tell the kids. I see them using the platforms to communicate in their own way, in their own language and syntax, with their own friends and peers…trying to make their few followers laugh and trying to be more outrageous than each other.

Of course, at some stage they will be entering the workforce and all these old tweets, updates and snaps will be judged by an older generation who never said inappropriate things, made risqué jokes, swore and got drunk. Well, they did but only their close friends knew. Now they’re able to judge another generation by their own standards.

I expect stories of people in trouble for Twitter and Facebook updates to become so commonplace that we stop feeling the need to talk about them. But until then you will get storms like the hounding and eventual resignation of Paris Brown.

As Andy Hyatt from Hodes Group says in this blog:

“You see, part of being young is making mistakes. Saying and doing dumb things and learning from them.

As adults, we are supposed to understand this. We are supposed to provide the right environment to ensure that young people can grow into socially responsible adults. A positive learning environment. Teach them right from wrong. Ensure that children have access to facilities so they can maintain their physical, as well as intellectual wellbeing.

As adults, we are also supposed to recognise that sometimes, children can be childish: selfish, thoughtless, horrible and stupid. And more importantly, we are supposed to understand that this behaviour is only ‘acceptable’ (and again, I use the word loosely) until someone is deemed an adult. And this definition varies between the ages of 16 and 21 depending on where you are in the world”

I’m sure Paris Brown wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. Right now the next generation of public servants, low skilled service workers, MPs, doctors, journalists and bankers are saying what they damn well like on social media platforms. They’re dating on them, partying and sexting on them, and making people laugh on them.

I see them when I monitor mentions as part of the day job. I see more of the teen users now that I’ve got a search running for comments on the advert that my son is in. Often they have about 100 followers who they constantly try to amuse and/or shock. Sometimes they’ve got thousands of followers, and a level of interaction that some social media gurus can only dream of.

It’s no different whatever your generation. The humour, the insults, the in-speak are always different. The tone and content, the syntax and swear words look very different to an older person trying to judge out of context.

No-one thinks about the 5 year rule while they’re tweeting. Continue reading “Social Media, Judging Others and The 5 Year Rule”

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…

Generation Standby…do you Home from Work??

I love a Generational classification. Readers of this blog would have seen me write about Boomers, Generations X, Y and R and even create my own…Generation Bowie.

So I couldn’t resist the chance to write about Generation Standby…not least because this one has little to do with when you were born. It probably covers many of us.

This is the generation of workers who are socially and technologically never disconnected. They never fully switch off from either home or work and expect flexibility from employers in return for longer working hours.

They don’t have a problem with this, because they balance it with ‘homing’ from work – performing personal tasks such as checking social networks, e-mail, shopping online.

Sound familiar? Can anyone identify with this?

I read this mainly from a survey by software security company Clearswift, and some findings that interested me are:

–        66% of all employees who ‘home from work’ say they make the time up by working later or through lunch

–        Men are more likely than Women to ‘home from work’…higher percentages for checking social networking, dealing with personal e-mails and shopping online

–        79% said over and above the role and salary, the most important thing in a job was being trusted to manage their own time, and being trusted to use the internet as they wish

I’ve often thought that companies need to give employees more flexibility and trust, whether it’s how they use social media for work (primarily blogging) or how they manage their time whilst at work, so was not surprised that almost 4 out of 5 want that flexibility.

I did read a blog late last year (sorry there’s no link, but I can’t remember where I read it, maybe someone can post a link) where one of the predictions for social media this year was that employees will begin to expect ‘Social Media Breaks’ for a few minutes 3 or 4 times during a day…a bit like ‘Cigarette Breaks’ used to be. Grab a coffee and take 5/10 minutes out to see what people are saying…

…it would certainly require a leap of faith from employers.

What is clear is that technology has offered us a completely new way of working…longer hours maybe, flexible locations definitely, but it’s also a different kind of work where we are socially and technologically always connected.

I’m interested to know how employers are going to adapt to this…any ideas?

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.


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

What do you think?