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The Inter-Generational Divide: Who Has the Reins of Power?

by Jim Taggart September 16, 2013

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In my last post I introduced my new e-book,Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition. This post provides some highlights of the chapter dealing with the inter-generational divide.

As Baby Boomers (yours truly included) fight the gravitational drift of their upper bodies to their middle, as they contemplate when they’ll retire (assuming they still have a pension plan) and whether they’ll purchase a Harley Davidson or a two-seater convertible, and as they try to figure out how to stop their boomerang kids from returning home, Generation X is steadily taking over the reins of power.

As much as Gen Y and Gen X just want to see older workers move on out of the labor market, the reality is not only will many Boomers be around for many years to come, but a small portion of the Silent Generation (67 plus) will continue working for a while. In reality, we’re facing a workforce spanning five generations as the oldest of Generation Z move towards serious labor market entry in the next few years.

The 1950s of Leave it to Beaver and the 1960s Andy Griffith Show representing the stable American family where dad had a job for life, where mom made apple pies, and the kids had little parental supervision because the world was safe, is ancient history–if it ever existed. And the subsequent three decades where two income earner families became the norm as the middle class struggled to retain its standard of living has now entered a new reality.

The employment contract is now essentially dead.

Defined as the mutual understanding between workers and employers that the former would remain loyal if they had jobs for life, buttressed by the power of unions, it is now only the public sector that can still boast of this. And that is rapidly changing in many countries.

Baby Boomers were the first generation to be affected by the death of the employment contract. Gen X has struggled to create its own identity in the presence of the Boomers’ looming shadow. Gen Y almost seems to have the best grasp that the world is changing and that corporate loyalty, slavish work hours and authoritarian power are becoming long-lost characteristics of organizations.

The concern for Gen Y’s future is that this young generation was hit hard by the Great Recession of 2008-09: last in, first out; organizations not valuing what Gen Y brings; and not providing coaching and mentoring to this new labor force cohort.

Enter the Coffee Economy, currently characterized by Gen Y, including some Gen X and older workers, who eke out a living on subsistent wages. The recent assertions by some service sector workers in Canada and the U.S. (by way of strikes and walk-outs) hold potential promise for future improvements in wages in this sector, similar to the auto industry some 50 years ago. The labor market is in constant flux and evolution, making assumptions and predictions a dangerous game for economists.

Young people are rightly beginning to stand up for themselves.

A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?

– Confucious

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Click here to download my complimentary e-bookWorkforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.


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