Is Gen X having an negative impact on business and society?

I’m about to dive into a new career next month, only for the third time I might add, but a lot of my colleagues and friends have changed jobs multiple times in their life so far. I’m part of Generation X, and it seems to be this demographic that has set the trend for bouncing between employers and geographies as they see fit. In fact one of my friends has had no less than 4 jobs in 2 years! It got me thinking…is all of this up sticks and moving harmful to society and business in general.

Here is my thinking:

I recall an older work colleague, when I was just starting out in banking for a major organisation, being rewarded with a watch for his 35 years of service and I can’t think of a single example of that since. The baby boomer generation were happy to stay with one employer for essentially their entire professional career, which one would think, would bring stability to a firms workforce over a period of time. Gen X on the other hand has far less loyalty in many ways and has not been afraid to move jobs in order to further their careers, gain a better salary or find something more suitable to their skills and approach to work/life balance. In part I think this is down to the concept of the grass is always greener and perks like final salary pensions going out the window. If you were on a 75% final salary pension I bet you would think twice before abandoning that organisation for pastures new right?

By having a culture of hopping between jobs, I wonder if it is detrimental to business in general? Take for example any organisation that has a specific client base, like a bank or an accountancy firm. Everyone knows that to succeed in today’s economy keeping your clients happy is key and one way of doing that is looking after them via relationship/account management. People relate to people not brands as much as they use to, hence why there is a massive market in head-hunting people with a good client book and great communication skills. To get to know your customers, I think it is important that there is a consistent face of the business that interacts with them. Of course you can implement complicated CRM systems these days that hold countless pieces of data around your customers, but that does not tell you how people act, how they do business and what is important to them. If the person responsible for such a relationship moves on, perhaps to one of your competitors, surely that would weaken the relationship you have with that client and thus potentially lead to losing that client in the long run? Or have I got this wrong…do people not really care about building long term relationships any more? Do they simply want to just have the ability to get someone…anyone on the phone or via email to sort out a problem or answer a question.

Is it any wonder then that larger global companies spend so much time and resources on trying to retain their top staff and develop them. Most of the clients I interact with in my current role have clearly identified learning and development programmes and have ascertained who their current and future stars are and thus do everything in their power to keep them. One concept that was put forward by the management thinker Kjell Nordstrom was that companies need to act more linear than hierarchical and ensure their departments work as nodes and not silos. The idea being that you may have one department, say legal, working alongside marketing, sharing ideas and best practices…collaborating together which in turn exposes people from each department to something outside of their comfort zone and core skills. By doing so, people will feel less of a need to change jobs as they are getting exposed to new ideas, concepts and challenges without having to leave the organisation. I don’t think people naturally want to leave their job, but they do need to feel valued, challenged and consistently learn new skills. If you can achieve this, I cannot see any reason why an organisation should not be able to hold onto its best staff.

From a society stand point, Gen X is also far less likely to stay in one place for long geographically. My parents have had their house for the past 20 odd years, I doubt that many Gen X can say the same thing, in fact I think the statistics in the UK show that people now stay in the same house for around 6 years, but if you took out the older generation that figure would be much lower. The implication of this is that there are less communities amongst people. Yes people can stay in touch via social media all around the world, but do you know the person who lives 3 doors down from you?  Is Gen X’s affinity for changing jobs and locations having a detrimental effect on local communities and thus society or is just a new way of doing things?

If you move onto Gen Y, well thats a whole other story but probably a natural progression on from gen x. I was chatting to someone the other day who told me that one company in London is completely changing the way they approach employing this younger generation. Instead of offering health cover, pensions and company cars, they are offering free wi-fi access, a budget so that an employee can pick their own mobile phone, laptop, have flexibly working hours and ability to work from home. It is a whole new generation of people who are eager to learn FAST, be exposed to as much as they can and demand career progression much quicker.

They want to work for innovative, creative and driven organisations and in turn demand products that reflect this desire…hence why so many companies across every sector are moving to social media and networking to communicate with their customer base.

I am undecided on whether my generation is having a positive or negative impact on the world around us and how business is conducted. There are pro’s and con’s on both sides; because of the demand for job satisfaction and career development new research is being done all the time….positive psychology, employee engagement and more flexible working conditions to say the least. On the flip side, communities are more disjointed, younger people have less stability in their lives and people might have less loyalty to their employer which can lead to a whole other set of problems. With such differing motives between Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y can we even start to predict where things will lead next? One thing that’s for sure is that simply paying people more is not going to be the way forward, people are looking for more from their careers. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has just written an article for HBR – Attract and Keep A-Players with Nonfinancial Rewards which has an insightful take on this.

Are we just to sit back and accept that things are changing and try and make the most of it or do we need to think differently about the way we conduct ourselves and what really matters in life?


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