“Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?”
So sung the Beatles back in 1967. Gardening. Mending fuses. Going for rides. This was how the young Paul McCartney envisaged the life of a 64-year-old. He could have paraphrased as ‘over the hill’.
It’s still a hell of a song. Timeless and touching. And yet understandably inaccurate. For a start, our life expectancy has lengthened by 15% since then. Our retirement age is older. Most remarkably of all, the average age across the top 500 boardrooms in the States has increased to 63.5.
Meanwhile, we still leave school at the same age, graduate at the same age, and join the world of work in our late teens and early twenties. Which means the majority of workers outside the boardroom are getting younger, comprising Millennials (born after 1980) and Generation Z (the new kids on the block). In Asia, 70% of the workforce are now Millennial.
Not every business has elderly Board members. And not every employee is fresh-faced and single. But there’s definitely a gulf. Not just in age, but also in expectations.
This isn’t a linear generation. It values different things. Millennials are less focused on the bank balance and more on intangibles. They want their business to be ethical. To create a positive social and environmental impact. To be agile. To be interesting.
They don’t want to be managed in traditional ways, preferring coaching and mentoring to instruction and appraisal. They aren’t looking for a job for life. When they are 64, they will typically have had a different employer every two years throughout their career. There is no hunkering down awaiting a gold watch and a fuse box that requires attention!
As McCartney put it so beautifully, the generational gap is nothing new. It’s fuelled by change in the world around us. And what is changing now, more than ever before, is the pace of life, our expectations of it, and our diminishing levels of trust in authority. We have never been so unsure about what the future holds.
My insights into this generational chasm come through the world of training and upskilling. I have observed countless Boards failing to provide the best approach or value for their people.
The classroom remains the preferred place for in-house training (22% more than any other medium) despite clear evidence that Millennials respond better to coaching and mentoring which has the most effective results. No wonder only 15% of Millennials describe their company’s learning culture as better than adequate. Nor that only 18% believe their companies are good at developing leaders.
So, we are watching a perfect storm develop. Linear supply unaligned with flexible demand. Formal leaders unaligned with relaxed staff. Profit-driven boardrooms unaligned with value-driven employees.
There’s a great opportunity but we must first acknowledge the existence of the challenge. And this one is particularly frustrating as it’s happening under the watch of the baby-boomers themselves. Who were once revolting against the linear cultural thinking of their own parents.
These days, they aren’t knitting sweaters by the fireside, but fully engaged in running businesses. We still need them, but in a softer, subtler, more positive way.
“Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view.“
If that view comes from a Millennial, it’s likely to be seeking a career that encompasses many employers each investing in them, and where work is about much more than fixed hours, a pay-cheque and an annual appraisal.
Pete Fullard, CEO, Upskill People