Generation Flex

Generation Flex

A revolution has taken place in the workplace over the last decade and it has profoundly affected employees. Beverley Head asks Bruce Tulgan what it means for CIOs.

For a decade social researcher and analyst Bruce Tulgan poked around inside American corporations. He wanted to understand how globalization and technology was affecting the employer-employee relationship.

As he was conducting the survey, which ran until 2003, there was also the beginning of a generational baton change. In 1993 when he began the project, baby boomers dominated the workplace; the youngest were 32, the oldest 47. The oldest generation X employees were 28, and generation Y was still in school. Now baby boomers range in age from 43 to 58, while generations X and Y combined make up about 44 percent of the work force.

What Tulgan, the founder of Connecticut-based Rainmaker Thinking, uncovered was a radical change in the employer-employee relationship - in part the result of this generational jolt, but also wrought from the forces of competition, globalization and technology. Although the research was conducted in the US, it holds real lessons for Australian CIOs, who will have to manage the changing expectations and demands of employees while also meeting the ever-increasing demands of their superiors.

"Over the last 10 years, globalization and technology have created a business environment of high-risk, erratic markets and unpredictable resource needs," the Rainmaker report states. "To remain viable employers have been forced to adopt extremely flexible and efficient staffing practices. In turn employees have adjusted by adopting more aggressive attitudes, expectations and behaviours."

When it first identified these changes in 1993, Rainmaker believed it was only generation X employees that had this newly assertive attitude. "Many analysts expected these trends to abate following the dotcom crash and the US economic downturn that has persisted since early 2001. Instead these trends have both intensified and spread among workers of all ages," notes the report. According to Tulgan, CIOs are going to have to swiftly come to grips with the implications of this shift in attitude if they are going to successfully manage both their employees and the expectations of employees in the broader enterprise they serve.

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