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Generation Nope & the Gender Gap

A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about.

 

Generation Nope

New Study Finds All Millennials Are Not the Same – Early & Late Millennials Have Varied Work Expectations, Concerns – Bridgeworks Consulting

“…a consulting company working to bridge generational gaps in the workplace, recently conducted a survey to gain job insight on younger generations. 3,103 participants consisted of the two divisions of Millennials: Early Millennials and Old Millennials (aka: Recessionists), as well as the newest generation in the workforce, Generation Z (aka: Gen Edge).”

Okay, so this comes from a consulting company that sells services to “bridge generational gaps in the workplace”, so obviously we must equip ourselves with several grains of salt, and this kind of article or report really isn’t anything new. It’s just an especially egregious example of the kind of Generational nonsense that HR people need to think very critically about.

Consultants, writers, and advertisers have made lots and lots of money convincing us that “Millennials” as a group require an entirely different set of skills to effectively manage and interact with. As the demographic group generally labelled “Millennials” have aged (the cohort is typically described as beginning in 1980, so those people are turning 37 this year), this type of “research” is a great example of the Millennial money-making machine trying to remain relevant…

In my opinion, for HR professionals to rely on the concept of generations as a useful and principled theory to inform our work , we have to be able to assure ourselves that:

  1. generalizing about the work and communication preferences and tendencies of a broad swath of the labour force is more accurate than it is inaccurate, and:
  2. that accepting and acting on those generalizations is considerably more likely to produce better outcomes for organizations and the workers in question than it is to produce worse outcomes for organizations and those workers.

I don’t think we can be sure that either of these is true (particularity if we take into account the diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of this segment of the workforce, typically not contemplated in generational “analyses” or descriptions).  If we’re at a point where companies selling generational consulting services are now resorting to “sub groups” within the generations to explain differences in their discrete archetypes, then I ask you to please have a serious think about the reliability and utility of the concept of generations. That is:

Is it more likely to help or hurt efforts to unite and engage team members to label them based on their year of birth, ascribe a range of general qualitative characteristics to them, and then manage them based on those assumptions? How would it feel if someone were to do that to you? Maybe, just maybe, could we be causing more harm than good with this approach?

I urge you to consider this question, because as you can see from the press release excerpt above, that industry is gearing up to convince us that the next generation is also a mystery wrapped inside an enigma (spoiler alert: they have a consultant for that…)

Gender and Work

Gender Gap Report 2016 – World Economic Forum

I read this today, the day after record-setting Women’s Marches took place all over the United States, and the world (including in my city, Toronto). For those who still respect facts and thorough research as a means to inform one’s world view, I invite you to read this well-organized annual report (now in its eleventh year) on the state of gender parity in 144 countries in 2016, across the following four sub-indexes:

  • health
  • education
  • economic participation and earning potential
  • political decision-making power

At a high-level, the report concludes:

“All things held equal, with current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in 83 years across the…countries covered…”

Combined global scores reveal significant variation on performance across the four sub-indexes (note that the percentage score below is a measure of the difference in outcomes between women and men). Economic and political participation remain areas of significant difference in male and female outcomes, despite education and health/survival outcomes being largely similar between genders.

screenshot-2017-01-22-17-01-04

In terms of overall rankings, (a combination of the four sub-indexes), the top ten countries are:

  1. Iceland
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden
  5. Rwanda
  6. Ireland
  7. Philippines
  8. Slovenia
  9. New Zealand
  10. Nicaragua

In case you’re wondering, the United Kingdom ranked 20th, Canada ranked 35th, and the United States ranked 45th (I’m sharing these three as they are the primary sources of my blog readers).

Work/Life

Restoring Sanity to the Office – Jason Fried & Sarah Green-Carmichael HBR Ideacast

I enjoyed this interview with Jason Fried about his thoughts on “sanity at work, how over-collaboration and excessive real-time communication/chat are destroying our work days”. If you aren’t into podcasts, you can read the transcript here.

 

I wrote about how much I liked the premise behind Fried’s upcoming book “The Calm Company” a few weeks ago. In this interview he went into more detail about experiments that his company Basecamp have tried in order to get a handle on chaos, and bring a sense of calm back to their workplace.

  • Silent Thursdays: Fried suggests picking a day a month and making it a “no-talk” day. It’s exactly what it sounds like. People just don’t talk to each other…

“What people find is that, first of all, the world doesn’t end. If people aren’t talking to each other the world does not end. The business does not go out of business. It’s not this tragic thing that people are afraid of.

Actually what happens is, the people get a lot of work done. They feel really good about the day. They leave at a normal time. And they’re looking forward to the next time that that happens.”

  • Library Rules: This is a regular day-to-day approach to office interactions that Fried says keeps their office nice and quiet. He note that it may not be right every day for all organizations, but he suggests trying it our for one day a week or month.

“You recognize people are studying or learning or thinking or reading, whatever it is. They’re at work in their own mind doing something. And you don’t bother people. You don’t speak up and you don’t raise your voice. And you don’t tap people on the shoulder. You just be quiet. And if you want to talk to someone you go pull them into a room…”

  • Asynchronous communications vs meetings: Fried notes that meetings are a habit, but they are often unnecessary and wasteful of people’s time, productivity, and thus salary dollars.

“People think it’s efficient to distribute information all at the same time to a bunch of people around a room. But it’s actually a lot less efficient than distributing it asynchronously by writing it up and sending it out and letting people absorb it when they’re ready to so it doesn’t break their days into smaller bits.”

Do you like any of these ideas? Or do they go too far? Would you try any of them at your workplace?

Image credit: Oscar Keys via unsplash.com

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I lead a consulting practice but we are passionately opposed to labeling groups of people. It’s dangerous to try leading people based on generalisations. In our work we have never found any convincing evidence-based data to support claims made about generational differences.

    In 2009 the Conference Board ran a national survey to explore generational differences across 900 Canadian workers including Boomers, Gen X & Gen Y. They found that these age groups had more in common than was generally thought.

    To quote Tim Krywulak, a senior research associate with the Conference Board –
    “When we got down to the level of the individual we said: ‘What do you really want in the workplace, and what do you want from you employers, and what do you expect of your workplace colleagues?’ there were actually an awful lot of similarities,”… “respect, flexibility, fairness, and the opportunity to do interesting and rewarding work are things people from all age groups want.”

    January 22, 2017
  2. I laud your reliance on evidence-based data, particularly on such a fundamental issue as whether we should make sweeping assumptions about people based on their age. We need more of that in the world. There are too many (otherwise smart and logical) people who take these generalizations as facts and base entire org philosophies and programs on them. Meanwhile, I suspect that on a personal level they often appeal because they satisfy our natural human need to categorize things and people, and give ourselves a sense of control. In my experience, people who are firmly committed to the truth and value of ‘generation theory’ can’t see the difference between being able to rely on these archetypes to *predict* someone’s behaviour (which you can’t), rather than feeling they can retroactively *interpret* an aggregate of behaviours they observe in others to be attributed to the generation they are supposedly a member of.

    January 23, 2017

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