Leading the Lazy
By John Grubbs
First of all, lazy is a strong term that creates an emotional response. It is the term Baby Boomers (1946-1963) use first when asked to describe Generation Y, a.k.a. Millennials (1981-2000). While I don’t think it is fair to use one word to describe an entire generation, there are certainly reasons for the vast difference between these two significant groups of American workers. In case you are wondering, there is a generation of Americans in the middle known as Generation X (1964-1980) but this group is not large enough to be significant. And sadly, it just so happens to be my generation.
A short review of the generational reality reveals three distinct groups of American workers. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1963. They were influenced mostly by what their parents lived through called the Great Depression. Consequently, they were taught to be loyal to a job and remain steadfast no matter how bad their current supervisor. Most of us know very loyal Boomers that have remained in the same company or organization for thirty or more years. This generation would simply outlast bad management. It is estimated that we have as many as 90 million baby boomers in the United States.
Generation Xers were born between 1964 and 1980. They are known as the skeptical generation because the saw parents lose what were promised as “life time” jobs in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Consequently, their average tenure with an organization is around five years. Xers have a simple philosophy that they were looking for a job when they found the one they currently occupy and their resume is always ready. Unfortunately, Generation Xers are not significant since they only number a mere 40 million Americans
Generation Y (Millennials) were born between 1981 and 2000. We call this generation the information generation since most of them cannot remember the world before the internet. Consider the remarkable period in human history that is represented by this generation. Not since the 1400s, when Gutenberg invented the printing press, have human’s access to information been so remarkably changed. This generation has access to more information on their smart phone than all of historical humanity combined. The average tenure of Generation Yer is as short as sixteen (16) months on the job and with upwards of 70 million in this generation, organizations are certainly going to take notice.
By the year 2020, as much as 50% of all American workers will be Generation Y. Since January 1, 2011, we are losing 12,000 Baby Boomers to retirement each day. Since there are not enough Generation Xers to fill the void, guess who is the future of every employer? That is correct, Generation Y. And while some may call them lazy, we are learning and adapting to their influence already.
We are learning some valuable lessons from this younger generation regarding work. They do not define themselves by a job or career. Those things are indeed important to them however, career or occupation is not the epicenter of their lives. Previous generations are more likely to discuss work when meeting someone new. The social part of life (friends and family) is becoming more important and organizations that seek a balanced work to life approach are going to be very attractive to the best and brightest young workers moving forward.
Organizations must become a magnet for young talent. In other words, they must create an environment that attracts the best of this large generation. Consider your employer. Would you call your current employer the employer of choice or the employer of necessity? Do you find most people want to be there?
In conducting research for this article, I interviewed young people at a very popular fast food chain. They told me they hated the job and couldn’t wait to finish school and find another job. Their insight about the future workforce was very revealing. In most cases, the worker of the future will be nomadic. They will simply move from job to job whenever opportunity or necessity requires a change. No longer will there be a stigma when a twenty something has had twenty something jobs. It will be the new normal.
Generation Y has two significant subsets that will make an impact on the new talent pool. The first subset is a young person raised by a single parent that often works two jobs in order to make ends meet. This young worker has had far less parental involvement and has been influenced significantly by their group of peers. If raised in the urban populations of our country, they will have far less mechanical aptitude and will not come to your factory with the same baseline (common) knowledge as the workers of the past.
Another significant subset of Generation Y is a young worker that was raised by helicopter parents. These young people have been micromanaged by hovering parents their entire lives. They have been over managed, over booked, and over protected ever since they can remember. When problems are encountered, the hovering parents swoop in to save the day. If a problem occurs at school, well it must be the teacher’s fault (sometimes it really is the teacher’s fault) because my child would just never do that. They have been spoiled and given more than they ever needed (I’m guilty too folks) and now feel entitled to everything life has to offer.
Generation Y population does contain normal, healthy young people that will make great employees. The problem is they know their value. They know they are different from their peers and they know they absolutely have a choice about where to work. And, the best companies are going to be waging war to attract and keep these young workers. If you want a taste of what companies will become more like in the future, simply google Google and take a campus tour. The battle lines will not be for customers, rather it will be for talent to satisfy those customers. To put this in simple terms, the company with the most talent is going to win most of the time.
The articulation of a clear and defined talent strategy will soon become the competitive advantage for all organizations that find themselves searching for people. In rural parts of the country, some organizations have already achieved talent saturation. This means they have already hired and fired or hired and lost the best talent in a given population. There are two ways for an organization to realize they have reached talent saturation in a given work market. First, they begin to lessen the requirements for “on-boarding”. This means they lessen the requirements for someone to get hired. In one extreme case, a company stated they use the “mirror test” for hiring. If an applicant can pass a drug screen and fog up a mirror with their breath, they are hired. Another way to determine if an organization has reached talent saturation is when they increase the requirements for “off-boarding”. This means it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of people that do not perform. If a company has saturated a given market, they soon become the employer of necessity rather than the employer of choice and the workers are merely waiting on something better to come along.
Organizations can call the younger generation lazy or spoiled or whatever they choose. However, there is one absolute certainty. They are indeed the future workforce and the best organizations understand that we are going to compete vigorously for their talent. An explicit talent strategy is the most important process for your success moving forward. Without it, long-term viability and profitability are greatly at risk!