THE APPARENT differences in career expectations between baby boomers and generations X and Y can be put down to their different stages of life rather than generational change, an audience of in-house lawyers was told at the recent Australian Corporate Lawyers Association National Conference.
“I’m not a geneticist, but I certainly haven’t heard my colleagues in genetics telling me that there has been some mutation in the gene pool which has resulted in this peculiar new generation,” said Jim Bright, professor of career education and development at ACU National, of generation Y.
In the midst of an uncertain labour market, he said employers have been provided with research results that have oversimplified the differences as generational, and that employers should pay more attention to the individual needs of employees than untested demographic studies.
He was also critical of an “industry” of experts that has built up around generation Y, and of research published directly through press releases rather than via a peer review process.
Bright said the basic characteristics of generation Y – motivated by a search for new experiences and treated with suspicion by their elders – were not new ideas: “Anyone with any sense of history will realise that just about every generation has been described in exactly the same way.”
“They [generation Y] want to do challenging, interesting work, and they want to be well rewarded for it,” he said. “[But] if I came here [to report] those sorts of results … I would hardly have thought I’d have presented an innovation to you.”
“Wait until they start families,” Bright said, suggesting that a stable work environment with more substantial financial rewards becomes more important as a young employee’s family and social life stabilises, and they take on more financial responsibilities at home.
“Are we dealing with a demographic issue or a life stage issue, [and] have we forgotten the idea of development?” he asked.
Instead, Bright emphasised that employers should focus on the needs of individuals and their stage of life. “There are no shortcuts to managing individuals if you want to have an organisation that is going to be highly efficient and performing very well … Treat employees as individuals and have processes to deal with them as individuals,” he said.
Critical of arguments that different generations should be managed differently because of technological change, Bright said every generation has new technology and the fact they have adapted to it is not unique to that generation.