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Debunking generational stereotypes – lets not stop with the Millennials

We’ve commented a couple of times recently on news articles that are finally questioning the various generational stereotypes that have come to dominate much public debate about age at work.  And of course we’ve written ourselves on these issues in our recent academic publications (including those available via The Open University).

Today Mark Stoever, Chief Operating Officer, Monster Worldwide, writes in Forbes about the “Millennial Myth“.  The piece is particularly useful in providing a number of links to relevant reports and research findings, as well as offering his professional opinion.  In particular he highlights the issues with generational stereotyping saying: “Stereotyping is never a good thing, especially when it comes to workforce recruitment, where you need to reach individuals with unique capabilities, passions and skill sets, not an entire generation of individuals. Marketers, recruiters and others have fostered the millennial moniker to try and get a handle on this elusive group, failing to realize just how diverse it is, with those in their mid-30s on one end and those approaching high school graduation on the other. They are CEOs and new parents, baristas and budding professionals, high school and college students; when it comes to job recruitment, painting them with a broad brush simply doesn’t work“.

For me it is a shame that he then continues to refer to ‘this group’ and the ‘Millennials’ as generalised labels through the rest of the piece rather than moving away from these terms to reinforce his message, even though he concludes we should ditch the ‘millennial moniker’.  He also chooses to keep some of the positive aspects of the stereotype – for example talking about ‘Millennial-age, technology-focused talent’ – rather than accept that if we are going to ditch the negative generalizations as stereotyping, we must therefore then question the more positive ones.  This of course is true for all the generational labels – not just the Millennial one.  It is of course as different generational stereotypes are constructed that the relative strengths and weakness become the battleground as the debates attribute these to a specific group so denying them to others.  Thus in seeking to keep the notion of ‘technology-focused talent’ as an attribute of the millennial generation so others become stereotyped as lacking this attribute.  These generalisations affect us all, whatever our age or so-called generational classification.

Will GP retirement scupper Tory plans for a 7-day NHS?

Back in April the press widely reported that many British GPs had responded in a survey that they were likely to take early retirement, an issue we’ve also discussed on our blog.  The Guardian was one of those reporting that the results of a poll of 15,560 GPs by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that 34% intend to stop working by 2020.

This has become particularly relevant again as David Cameron announces plans to implement a 7 day GP service within the National Health Service, reported here in the Daily Mail.  Much was made of the commitment to recruit additional staff across a range of medical professions to facilitate this goal including promising to recruit 5000 more GPs, here explained by the BBC.

However this gap between the indication that large numbers of GP may take early retirement and the pledge to recruit more staff is one of the issues that the BMA have highlighted in their swift and largely negative response to Cameron’s latest speech on a 7-day NHS.  While broadly supportive of the need to extend the availability of care the BMA highlights lack of Doctors and funding as a key issue that needs to be addressed.  Retirement plans of many GPs seem to be a critical factor and the issues of ageing doctors in the health service is also one which is bound to prompt much discussion as these plans move towards implementation.

Is People Management’s ’50 over 50′ list a good idea?

People Management, the magazine of the CIPD, have launched a search to find ’50 over 50‘ claiming they want to ‘take a more realistic snapshot of the UK workforce, as we look for the greatest over-50s at work in the UK‘.  You can nominate yourself or someone else and the form simply provides a free format box to answer the question: Why does this person deserve to be included in People Management’s 50 over 50 list?

To some extent I agree that there are too many ‘under’ lists.  Here are just some of the other age related lists that I found from a relatively short google this morning:

So perhaps People Management have a point that most of these lists focus on ‘under’ a certain age barrier creating the impression that achievement at an age older is not worthy of recognition or even perhaps unlikely.  It does appear that these lists reinforce stereotypical associations of youth and vigor, energy etc, descriptors that then become unavailable for those who do not fit these age categorizations.  There are some compilations of ‘over’ age categories but not nearly so many.  For example, there was a book published back in 2007 by Rowe and Larcombe called ’50 Over 50: Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives’.

However I disagree that a list compiled in this way and with an alternative age restriction can provide ‘a more realistic snapshot’.  How can replacing one age barrier with another achieve that goal?  This seems to me to be as problematic as the ‘under’ lists.  There is also a danger that in setting up an ‘alternative’ list, we might end up similarly reinforcing age-related stereotypes for both older and younger workers.

We will follow the outcomes of the list with interest.

Just discovered I’ve missed the ‘Anti-Ageing Show’. What a relief!

Reading the Guardian yesterday I came across this article by Rick Samadder which reviews a visit to the two day ‘Anti Ageing Show’ held at London Olympia.  I was both intrigued and horrified that this existed (and that I’d missed it).  Rick sums up his experience in the article, saying “There is a background hum of sadness under the artificial excitement. Some of the women who have travelled here today – and it is almost exclusively women, because men are allowed to grow old – are over 50, but more are significantly younger, taught to fear the natural processes of their bodies as soon as they become aware of them“.

Looking at their website, the show has the subheading ‘health and beauty’, so why not just call this a health and beauty event, why give it the (albeit eye catching) title of ‘Anti-Ageing’.  There is a glimmer of hope in the fact that one of the features seems to be aimed at supporting women with cancer but again I am not sure how that fits with an anti-ageing tag.

I have no idea how Rick managed a whole day at the event, I have found just reading about it quite exhausting and depressing…I suspect by their measures I have aged considerably as a result!

Generation Sponge – a new Australian phenomenon?

We are always on the lookout for new generational labels to add to our (growing) collection and this story from the Sydney Morning Herald doesn’t disappoint.  The label ‘Generation Sponge’ refers adult children who are financially reliant on their parents.  Interestingly unlike other generational labels this is not defined as a coherent cohort but rather appears to refer to adult children of any age and their reliance on their parents, returning the understanding of a generation to its genealogical roots.

However in a confusing twist the article (based on a website survey) also suggests how ‘Generation Sponge’ is distributed across more common categories:

  • 26 % “Generation Y, those aged 18 to 34″ had parental support for a home loan
  • 12 % “Generation X, aged 35 to 54″ had this support while..
  • 10% “Baby Boomers, those aged 55 to 74, still receive financial support from a parent due to saving for a home loan deposit”.

Interestingly this does suggest that parental help continues even as all parties get much older.  However the intrigue does not stop there as the survey quoted in the article also claims to reveal that:

  • 80% of parents state that they give their children financial help


  • 40% of children state that their receive financial help from their parents.

This contradiction is however aside from research which claims to show that there is a shift from one-off financial support to more regular ongoing payments to children.  The article states: “Lisel O’Dwyer, a social scientist at Flinders University, said her research showed Australians handed out $22 billion to adult children each year”.  This is a very sobering thought for those of us that had assumed we might be able to cut the financial support after children complete their university education.

Meet ‘The Reliables': the UK’s older workers 

On this blog we pay attention to new labels that appear in the media relating to age groups so I was intrigued to see this item in The Express referring to older workers as the new Reliables. 

A survey by an insurance company has found that older workers have better attendance records and take fewer sick days than their younger colleagues. Those aged 50 and over are also much less likely to lie about being ill (‘throwing a sickie’, as it’s called) in order to get a day off than colleagues aged 20 to 39. I’m guessing that these survey results make the headlines because they confound a stereotype that older workers are more likely to take time off for ill-health than younger workers. 

MD of the insurance company describes older workers in the following terms: “They bring a wealth of experience, ambition and knowledge that cannot be underestimated. It is key that we understand that workers in their 50s and 60s are not old, they are hardworking and dedicated and, very much, want work.” This of course is a generalisation. It may very well describe some older workers. But it over-simplifies what is a complex situation with other older workers finding that their health and fitness is not up to the demands of manual labour and others finding that they want to retire but need to keep working for financial reasons. 

Could a change in pay conditions be age discrimination by Next?

The clothing chain store Next could face unfair dismissal or even age discrimination claims after forcing employees who work on a Sunday to give up their overtime. This is the claim made here in Personnel Today by Melanie Stancliffe, a partner at law firm Thomas Eggar. 

How could this be construed as age discrimination? Well apparently, Next pays those under pre 2008 contracts extra money for working on Sundays. However, the company is now moving all of its employees to new contracts, under which they will no longer receive this extra pay.   So those affected could be entitled to launch claims of unfair dismissal or age discrimination, on the basis that those under the original contracts are likely to be older, having worked for Next the longest. OK!

What has the new Government in store for work at all ages?

After an election campaign which featured ‘hard-working families’ on all sides, we now turn our attention to the new Government and its announcements. David Cameron’s speeches since elected have so far suggested that ‘work’ will be a dominant discourse. For example: “We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing. Our manifesto is a manifesto for working people“. And of course the Tories now claim to be the ‘real party of the working people‘.

What might be the implications of this in relation to age?

For younger workers, it seems that the Government plan a ‘learn or earn’ strategy, according to this article here in the Daily Mail. School leavers will be required to take a job or sign up for training as part of plans to prepare young people for the world of work. A Jobs Bill will apparently create 3 million apprenticeships and will ban those who are  under 21 from claiming housing benefit or signing on to the dole. Those young people who don’t have any work experience will be forced to take part in training or work placements as part of a new, tougher Day One Work Requirement. If they fail to comply they will have their benefits removed. Jobseeker’s Allowance will be axed for 18-21 year-olds and replaced with a Youth Allowance that will be time-limited to six months.

I’m guessing that those at the other end of the age spectrum will also be affected. Will it mean working lives being further extended, channelling a discourse that measures ‘successful’ ageing only through economic activity? Or will other forms of ‘productivity’ be encouraged, particularly those that are seen as not competing with younger workers?

Mandatory retirement at 70 prompts poetry-based complaint – but can older workers ever really protest?

A number of newspapers covered the story yesterday of two magistrates, forced to retire at the age of 70, who have used poetry to complain about Britain’s ‘ageist’ justice system. It was reported here in The Telegraph and here in The Daily Mail.

The two women, Janet Boccaccio and Margaret Holyoake, were each presented with a certificate marking 20 years on the bench at Blackpool Magistrates Court, accompanied by glowing tributes from their colleagues. But instead of the customary acceptance speeches, both read out poems they had composed to protest at their mandatory retirement – both obviously feeling that they were not ready to stop work. This is not the first time that retiring JPs have turned to the arts to protest on this regulation. Last summer, another retiring magistrate, Karen Henshaw made headlines when she sang her own amended version of ‘Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty’, also reported in The Telegraph.

Whilst these occasions draw attention to the impact of Government-level decisions about retirement age for JPs (70), and the discrepancy between this and, for example, serving on a jury (75), they also remind me of a point that Katrina and I made in our Generations paper published in Organizational Studies. There we noted the very gentle and unthreatening nature of protests by older workers (there, we noted the presentation of a giant postcard to 10 Downing Street, commenting on how this group was assumed by commentators to be already ‘retired’ in the sense that they couldn’t be seen as a threat) compared to how protests by younger workers are presented (as civil unrest, threatening society etc). These poetry- and song-based protests seem to fall within the former, as worthy of applause, but not really threatening and not worthy of action beyond a general mention.

New jobs for all ages of MPs after the General Election

Having covered a number of age-related aspects of the election campaign, we can’t leave that behind without a quick look at some age at work stories from the actual election.

Most noticeable perhaps is that of newly elected Mhairi Black, the 20-year old public policy student who beat Douglas Alexander to become the youngest Westminster MP since the 17th century. Profiled here in The Independent, she is one of the 56 MPs from the Scottish National Party, but her youth and high profile defeat of Labour’s shadow foreign secretary by 5,684 votes has garnered much media attention. The article reports that she “hadn’t given much thought” to the £67,060 salary she will now receive for her Westminster job and comments that this is a ‘remarkable’ but ‘reasonable’ sum for a 20-year-old who is an elected representative of the people.

The other more general observation relates to those that lost their seats, including well-known figures such as Ed Balls (48) and Vince Cable (72). This morning’s BBC Today programme interviewed two former MPs who lost their seats in the 2010 election about the experience and how they coped (a podcast of this is available via this link). Claire Ward and Andy Reed (who were about 38 and 46 respectively when they found themselves out of a job) describe the sense of initial bereavement, perhaps more acute where the job has been a way of life, and the extent to which Westminster is an old-fashioned employer that doesn’t prepare you well for the wider labour market. Happily, these two at least have found roles into which to transfer their skills.

We don’t know what Ed Balls and others out of a parliamentary job are planning to do next but The Mirror, not very nicely, suggests that Vince Cable ‘appears to be sitting at home, jobless, spending a Saturday afternoon trying to set a new world record for the number of consecutive tweeted thank yous‘ to those who had sent him messages of support. Well, let’s hope that all those seeking new jobs (not just ex-MPs) at whatever age don’t encounter such mean-spirited responses.


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