Organisational Change Management Volume 2

2. Generational Differences (also see motivation in Ingredient 4)

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Understanding generational differences is important in laying the foundation for change. On the other hand, be careful of stereotyping.

In the wealthier countries, the different generations have been described as "thrift generation", "baby boomers", "X generation", "Y generation" and "Z generation"and are defined:

. Thrift generation or ancients or oldies or builders ‐ members wereborn before 1940 and are thrifty irrespective of wealth; they hate any form of waste and have acquired wealth beyond their expectation owing to inflation and superannuation.

. Baby boomers - members wereborn between 1945-1960, are demand-driven, and at the first signs of marital stress they divorce; generally they lack spirituality; they dictated the arrival of Big Mac, blue jeans, retirement villages, KFC and crematoriums, and wealth creation is important to them.

. X generation - members wereborn between 1964 - 1975, are insecure, and afraid that their parents will divorce; they possess a strong sense of failure; they are not interested in commitment and prefer genuine friendships between sexes without romantic involvement.

. Generation Y - members wereborn between 1975-1985, have developed individual values; they are spiritual; they are fearless of technology and take for granted many things that the baby boomers saw as treats; they are not into wealth creation and prefer to work to get money to spend on holidays.

. The Z generation - members were born after 1985, and are labelled the Infotronic Generation; they have a dominating interest in electronic communications like television, home computers and other electronic gadgets, ie they are true digital natives; they have never know a world without the Internet, mobile phones, MP3 players, etc; they are born into smaller families and older mothers; are growing up faster, educated earlier and exposed in marketing at an younger age.

The differing attitudes of generations need to be considered. For example, the ageing baby boomers, who are currently in positions of power and influence, do not see "retirement"as the end of a productive working life. Furthermore, if population growth falls below replacement rates, people stay at work longer to provide the wealth required to pay for health care and pensions, especially with other pressures on public money like child-care and education. Also, amongst the baby boomers there is an increasing trend to a SKIN mentality (spend kid's inheritance now)

. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between adults and youth is that the latter is better able to multi-skill with the new technology, ie simultaneously do their homework, listen to music and send instant messages.

. Some research on comparing young vs. older minds found

"...the younger subjects performed 10% better when they were not interrupted. Younger minds may be quicker than older ones, but when under the pump and constantly interrupted, the older group caught up......older minds have a faster 'fluid intelligence' that enables them to block out interruptions and focus..."

Martin Westwell, as quoted by Mike Hanley, 2007c

Millennials (born between 1980 & 2000) tend to focus on issues they care about like climate change, health care, education, same-sex marriage, economy, etc; this is called issue-based focus.  Their medium of choice is the Internet, ie they have grown up with the Internet around Microsoft, Google, Wikipedia, social media (Facebook, etc), smart phones, digitalisation, globalisation, etc.  This has resulted in an explosion in information and choices; with little brand loyalty. They account for 1/3rd of the Australian voters and by 2015 they will make up 75% of Australia's workforce (Anne Hyland, 2016)
"...the Internet has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to find alternative ways of organising not just society but the economy; witness the birth and meteoric growth of companies like Uber and Amazon to Airbnb..."
Anne Hyland, 2016
This group has a growing frustration with the lack of engagement and transparency in mainstream politics. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. In the past issues like the Vietnam war, woman's rights, Aboriginal issues, etc have all started from the periphery and become mainstream over time.
This demographic is very well informed and extremely savvy in how they consume messaging. The millennials tend to use online concepts rather than the more traditional tools of political campaigning like polling and focus groups.
"...once you have a relevant message, young voters can...... be a bit harder to get to using the traditional mainstream broadcast communication tools of politics.  We relied almost exclusively on narrow-cast, highly individualised and targeted online communications and lots of direct and face-to-face campaigning for our younger voter campaigns..."
George Wright (Australian Labor Party's campaign director, 2016
An example is 16-year-old Chloe Scott, who lives on a dairy farm, obtaining 160,000 signatures to the petition calling on Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to act on the massive cuts to milk prices that was undermining the dairy farming industry's welfare.  This helped put pressure on the Australian government to provide around A$ 600 m. support package after the milk prices were slashed by processors Fonterra and Murray Goulburn.

. Linked with the generational differences are 3 types of organisations as explained by Jason Cartwright, (2004)

Workforce Profile

Greater Proportion of Age

Typical/Indicative Industry

Potential Challenges

Youth-orientated organisation

18 to 32




New economy

Customer service

Staff retention

Lack of depth in management

Dramatic decline in supply of other workers

Lack of 'mentor' culture

Prime-age organisation

25 to 39

Financial services


Business services

Corporate head offices


Succession issues

War of talent ‐ hottest here

Mature-age organisations






Government, ie old economy

Stable workforce = wage pressure

Injection of new skills & fresh ideas

Not attracting young workers

Developing and promoting young workers

Route to management blocked by '54/11' queue

. Linked with generational differences are the 5 common life stages to consider:

i) youth (0 - 21) - a period of learning and growth

ii) rising adulthood (22 - 35) - focus is on establishing career and family with significant pressure to balance career with family needs

iii) midlife (35 - 50) - most desire leadership opportunities, increasing focus on being a parent and increasing pressure to "have it all"

iv) legacy (50 - 70) - a period of reaffirming values; ending careers with children becoming adults; a strong pressure to maintain wealth

v) elderhood (70+) - focus on "giving back"and passing on values; financial pressure increases as living off their wealth

"...Combining this understanding of life stages with a generational approach provides a significantly better understanding of how to leverage age diversity in an increasingly complex workforce......4 pieces of advice for managers facing this challenge.

Make time to understand individual needs. Begin by understanding the stressors and satisfiers of each staff member to appreciate differing preferences, but identifying specific times when all team members must be available, and exercise discipline to maintain these time frames. Help individuals understand where they fit into the team and its expected outcomes.

Stop using generational labels to describe individual behaviours. Many have argued that 'they' act in certain ways and demand certain aspects from the workplace. While a generation does possess commonalities, individuals possess many more intra-group differences. A 55-year-old boomer who is suddenly faced with raising her grandchildren on her own......has entirely different workplace needs than does her counterpart who is considering upcoming retirement.

Exercise leadership is easy to fall into a standard set of management practices, yet the reality of diversity requires a significantly different course of action. Exercise management sophistication: supervisory style must be situation based, and be thoughtful with regard to matching individuals to assignments..."

David Wagner 2007

. The key to leveraging age diversity is not simply to understand someone in terms of generational stereotypes but to understand the concept of generational evolution. All staff's needs and desire change and evolve as they move through life stages.

(sources: Courier Mail, 1998; David Stauffer, 2003; Ira Matathia et al, 1998; Jason Cartwright, 2004; Brad Hatch, 2006d; David Wagner, 2007; Mike Hanley, 2007c; Neil Shoebridge, 2008)


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