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The beginning of the end of ‘generations’ at work

by on May 27, 2014

We may be getting ahead of ourselves here but it was heartening to read the comments posted at the end of this item on the Guardian Sustainable Business blog. The item itself is the latest in a long line of articles about ‘generations’ (often not defined or defined inconsistently) in the work place and their supposed differences.

This piece reports on data suggesting that millennials start a new job already planning their next career move and put work-life balance before salary.  The data comes from a five-year survey of so-called ‘Gen Y’ participants on an Emerging Leaders Programme at the London Business School. Here, Gen Y is described as being ‘roughly those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s’.  The headline is that ‘Millennials don’t expect to work anywhere for more than five years’. But since the survey only looked at this particular cohort – and a very selective group within that cohort – this can’t tell us how this differs from or is the same as for other groups in the work force.

And the reader comments so far have picked up on some of the limitations of this type of research. One says: ‘As a millennial, I’m truly tired of being evaluated and generalized’.  Another highlights the arbitrariness of generations as a concept: ‘you might fall in the awkward ill defined grey zone between the arbitrary generational divisions, where nothing really applies to you and you don’t belong anywhere’. And another points out the conflation between Gen Y and chronological age: ‘Young people will be hired out of college because they can be paid much lower wages than the middle-aged workers who were just let go. But in less than 20 short years, these same people will also be let go regardless of their experience or abilities’.

So, certainly not the end of ‘generations’ as a research and business concept – but maybe the beginning of the end?

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