Editor’s letter: The perils of generalising generations

One of the biggest underlying trends affecting the HR function at present is that of workforce demographics.

The world is going through some pretty major demographic changes and of course employers witness this first hand.

Developed countries are mostly seeing an aging population with lower birth rates and static or even shrinking populations.

Meanwhile Africa, for example, is expected to see its population double by 2025.

These general trends do not even take into account national government policies which can exaggerate these shifts further.

And so it means that many countries now see the vaunted five generations of people all in work at the same time.

It is good (and important) to recognise this wide range in ages but I fear too much of the discussion is now veering into stereotyping and losing the nuance required.

While it may generally be true that younger people are more familiar with the always online culture, much of the generational generalisation ignores those who are not so inclined and also suggests anyone outside this cohort shies away from technology.

I could go on with other examples but I’m sure you understand the point.

McDonald’s finds customers want and prefer an age diverse workforce

 

Life changes

Yes, people at different stages of their lives may be looking for different things as part of their employment package and work-life balance, but as societies are changing, so are the ages at which life events happen (or do not happen).

The most important thing for an employer to consider, as far as I can see, is the skills the employee possesses and how they will benefit the organisation.

Automatically assuming that employees over 60 cannot handle new technologies or that 20-year-olds will be leaving for pastures new in six months does nobody any favours.

I’ve tried to reflect this in HRD Connect’s coverage of the world of work thus far and I’m sensing a growing undercurrent of opinion from the HR community that these generalisations are beginning to grate more widely.

McDonald’s has twice researched the issue (with customers and staff) and both times been told that having a wider range of ages is beneficial to the business.

So I’m with PTHR founder and chief energy officer Perry Timms: “I think we are in trouble if we over generalise. I don’t buy into the whole generation thing but there’s a challenge to keep pace with everything.”

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