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Generation X - The Prince Charles generation?

When planning organisation structures and the resourcing of talent for the future, the concept of the different needs of Generation X has been at the forefront of the minds not only of the Human Resources function, but also of CEOs and their senior management teams for much of the last decade.

This paper explores whether it is time to see things differently.

A good place to start is to consider how the needs and drivers of 'Generation X' differ from those of their predecessors, the 'Baby Boomers'.

Baby Boomers were born to parents who themselves were born just before, or grew up during, WWII. These parents knew austerity and their desires for their children therefore revolved around security and prosperity. Baby Boomers were encouraged to go to University in greater numbers (without a gap year). On graduation their priority was to start out on a well defined career path and take on their first mortgage as soon as possible, securing their place on the property ladder.

One attribute Baby Boomers inherited from their parents was the deep seated need to save and invest for the future, even though the Baby Boomers also sought to enjoy life and spend ( remember the 1980's Yuppies ). The drivers of the Baby Boomers can best be summed up as:

  • long-term career progression
  • stability, security  and status
  • good 'pension' and investments, leading to early retirement
  • financial independence from parents (or even providing financial support to parents)

So how do these needs contrast with the drivers/needs of 'Generation X'?

To answer this, we need to consider how 'Generation X' were brought up. 

‘Generation X' are the offspring of the Baby Boomers who, like their parents, wanted their children to have everything they themselves had not had. Consequently, they gave their children more holidays, luxuries and choice. Parental financial support extended way beyond the age of 18 years, with under-graduates not only having gap years but being provided with cars, latest technology and housing, well above the standards and level their Baby Boomer parents enjoyed. As a result, the recognised career drivers and needs of 'Generation X' developed differently and can best be summarised as:

  • flexibility around working arrangements
  • no real anxieties about long-term security, but the need to 'have it all now’; in particular consumer products and a high quality of lifestyle
  • the desire for more than just financial reward from their job – for example a good work / life balance and 'values' based environment 
  • career planning low on their priority list, but with a genuine desire for variety  (in terms of both employer and role)

It is these needs which have been challenging organisations to consider how they will attract and utilise the skills of 'Generation X'.  At the same time, there was an assumption that in the first 20 years of this century the vast majority of the Baby Boomers would be leaving the work place. It was therefore considered imperative to plan to replace the Baby Boomers with 'Generation X'.

Recent years, however, have shown Baby Boomers’ lives and behaviours are not conforming to original predictions. The reality is that:

  • Baby Boomers who had been working towards early retirement suddenly arrived in their 50s and decided they actually had things they still wanted to achieve, with 40 years of golf suddenly seeming less appealing
  • Early retirement had been built on the premise that investments and pensions would fund a level of lifestyle. The impact of the recession has seen the value of investments and retirement wealth decline dramatically
  • It is so long since the last recession that relevant experience of managing in this type of economic turbulence is rarer in 'Generation X' than in the 'Baby Boomers'. Again, this is suddenly working in favour of the 'Baby Boomers', who have come back into demand for their experiences as well as their skills.

The rise in unemployment is reducing (at least in the short-term) the number of career development opportunities generally available in the market. This combined with the increase in desire for experience of operating in a recession may well impact adversely on 'Generation X'. It certainly raises the question, whether organisations need to do as much as they thought to accommodate 'Generation X'?

In fact we may see the following interesting developments:

  • If 'Baby Boomers' are now going to stay in the workplace in senior roles longer

and

  • If 'Generation X' are not truly driven to work to traditional patterns
  • Will it actually be 'Generation X' replacing the 'Baby Boomers' when they ultimately leave the workplace or will it increasingly be 'Generation Y'*?

or

  • Will 'Generation X' ultimately only be in real power for such a short space of time between 'Baby Boomers' and 'Generation Y' that they become the 'Prince Charles' of the employment market.

*(Those currently in their early 20s and younger) 

The question really is; if 'Generation X' is the 'Prince Charles' generation, how much do organisations really need to adapt and change to meet their needs? We would be really interested in your views on this interesting debate. Please do let us know what you think.

The next natural question, and theme of a Hoggett Bowers' future article, has to be:

What is the current thinking around the needs of 'Generation Y’ - a generation at the early stage of their professional careers during a recession. So we are equally interested to hear your views on 'Generation Y' and how starting out in a recession will shape their views on their careers.

Karen Wilson
CEO

Note:

The definition of dates of birth for Baby Boomers, Generation X  and Generation Y vary.  For the purpose of this paper we have defined these as:
 
Baby Boomers  born 1946 - 1969
Generation X  born 1970 - 1990
Generation Y  born 1990 - 2010

It is accepted that those born in the1960s may well exhibit some Generation X behaviours as well as the traditional Baby Boomer behaviours.