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Le Chéile

HUMAN RESOURCES

GENERATIONS IN A DOWNTURN

Human Resource consultants Joe Ungemah and Alex Fradera explore why generations respond differently to the pressures brought on by the recession.

Very few organisations in the community and voluntary sector are immune from the effect of the recession. Bearing the brunt of this burden is the frontline workforce. For employees who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs, freezes in salary and pension contributions, shorter hours, and lower job security are commonplace.

Not all employees are reacting the same way to this pressure. Some take a positive view of the situation, seeing it as laden with opportunity, whereas others express frustration, anger, and anxiety at their predicament.

How can two individuals react to the same situation so differently? The answer lies in the psychological baggage each brings to the situation. Whether they are driven by challenge or innovation, whether they value security, or whether they have gone through tough times before - such questions are pivotal.

Some of these questions can be answered by looking at the psychology of generational cohorts. People born within a fixed time-span and raised in a similar culture are considered in the same generation and likely share common psychological drives. Currently there are three generations in the workplace: by understanding what makes each unique, we gain information about who is likely to weather the downturn and where extra support is needed.

If it weren’t for the downturn, the Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) would be approaching retirement. Their personal wealth hit hard, they have been forced to prolong their working life, frustrating many. Employers need to harness their value by investing in retraining and maintaining engagement levels.

To do this, they would be smart to recognise what drives this generation: the psychological needs of meaning, prestige, and self- sufficiency. The benefit is that so long as the Boomers’ contributions are valued and recognised, this generation will respond in kind with continued loyalty and strong performance.

“Rather than a single approach, consideration of each generation on its own terms is called for…”

Generation X (born between 1961 and 1981) has a very different flavour, driven by the insecurities that have defined their experiences with

finances, family, and society. Members of this generation have little faith in social structures and as such, are more resilient to the downturn.

The need for hard decisions will be misunderstood by the Millennial Generation (born between 1982 and 2005). Despite their diversity, technological skill, and self-confidence, they are least prepared for the post- downturn workplace. Due to their cushioned upbringing, they depend heavily on others for direction and have career expectations that are drastically out of step with economic reality.

The inability of Millennials to deal with hardship is worrying when considering that youth unemployment (those aged 16-24 years) stands near 21% in Ireland, above the EU average of 18%. This is a 10% rise since 2008.

Unlike Gen Xers, the Millennials do not have the resources to find their own way in a crisis: they look to social institutions to provide direction. If these fail to deliver to their high expectations,

Millennials are left devastated, angry, and lost.

The three generations we have described are driven by different psychologies, which are shaping how they react to the downturn. Gen Xers are likely to fare the best, whilst Millennials have the potential to be left far behind in the recovery.

How government and the sector respond to such divergent needs should be a matter of priority. Rather than a single approach, consideration of each generation on its own terms is called for. Inclusion back into the workplace for Baby Boomers, space to explore new ways of working for Generation X, and career direction for Millennials may provide the best path to recovery and increased well- being amongst employees.

Joe Ungemah and Alex Fradera are Human Resource Consultants at SHL Global (www.shl.com). They are presenting workshops for The Wheel on May 6th in Dublin. See www.wheel.ie/events for details.

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