With any new generational shift, there is always the hope that the new young upstarts will eventually wise up, settle down and, basically, conform. Anxieties arise as new generations come along with new attitudes and expectations. The current generational shift, however, is about more than the new butting up against the old.
Let me put it this way: we are all Millennials now.
The generational shift we have seen unfold over the past decade has been one of historic significance, defined by the macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace.
These six macro forces have defined the transformations evident in every aspect of life and work:
Globalization. We are now capable of connecting across borders in every direction, at lightning speed. Relationships that would have been impossible a few decades ago are now taken for granted. Interdependency and competition are now measured by everyone on a global scale.
Technology. The pace of technological advances is unprecedented, and it’s not just iPhones. Computing, communication, transportation, commerce, entertainment, food, medicine, war—in every aspect of life, anything can become obsolete at any time. Possibilities appear and disappear just as swiftly.
Institutional insecurity. Ours is a world threatened by conflict and environmental cataclysm. Economies fluctuate wildly from boom to bust. Governments shut down or run out of money. Great companies conquer or fail or merge or continually downsize, restructure, and reengineer. Established institutions—no matter what they are—are no longer trusted as anchors of success and security.
The information environment. We are now working, thinking, learning, and communicating in a never-ending ocean of information. And not all of that information is good. Wireless internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, and immediacy define our access to information, ideas, and perspectives.
Human diversity. In every dimension, the world is becoming more multifaceted and more integrated. Each generation is more diverse than the last. That’s true in terms of geographical point of origin, ethnic heritage, ability & disability, age, language, sexual orientation, color, gender identity, and every other way of categorizing people. Every single individual, with their own combination of background, traits, and characteristics, is their own unique diversity story.
Online identity. Through social media we are now plugged into an endless stream of content and in continuous dialogue—forever mixing and matching and manipulating from an infinite array of sources to create and project into the world our own personal montage of meaning and selfhood.
In 2020, the dynamics of the workplace are change and uncertainty. This has not only been driven by the macro forces described previously, but also by an environment of unpredictable and often wild market fluctuations. That scramble has been picking up steam every year since 1993, when we began tracking the current generational shift.
The workplace of the past was based on one-size-fits-all, long-term, hierarchical employment relationships. Today, the workplace revolves around short-term, transactional employment relationships. And there is no going back. The traditional employer-employee relationship of the past has finally faded away.
Careers today are a patchwork of short-term and transactional employment situations. Resumes are less likely to feature one or two long tenures at established organizations and far more likely to feature an array of positions, often concurrent with one another, of every shape and size and in every kind of organization. Even significant gaps in employment, once considered the largest hiring red flag of all, are becoming not just accepted but nearly expected.
Of course, this poses major challenges for employers. Identifying the right investments to make when it comes to employee retention, succession planning, training, and development is now much more difficult.
But here’s the trap to avoid: there is no cookie-cutter solution for identifying which investments to make in which employees. That’s true whether you’re considering someone’s employment situation or their generation. You must tap into the unique wants, needs, anxieties, and career hopes of every individual.
Resisting the transactional nature of employment won’t make things any better. So, go with the flow. Work with employees and find ways to make their unique career ambitions possible in your organization.