Look out! There’s a Baby Boomer about!

For a long while now, I’ve been interested in the debate about Gen Y. With stats like 50% of the workforce in 10 years will be average age 25, (don’t quote me on that, cos you know, it’s a half truth) it certainly looks like there’s something about to turn the corner which businesses need to be attuned to. And with statements being bandied about like how they are all digital natives, it certainly feels like this is a force heading their way into business to disrupt the normal flow of things. And carry that on with observations that they just need to touch the button of a Google Glass and whoosh they’re off, and you really do get the feeling that this is just all a bit too much and it’s gonna leave businesses standing still.

And we know to take this all with a pinch of salt, so I’m not concerned about who believes it or who not.

What concerns me is where the debate has been heading. And it seems to me that we’ve run head long into an argument which is redundant and completely missed the point.

See, the thing is, it’s not about Gen Y at all. It’s about everyone else in the workplace.

There are a lot of people in the workplace who are on board with new working practices, the need for technology to support new ways of working, and the proliferation of smartphones, apps and digital as a way of life. I mean if my mum (who’s only in her 60s) and my dad (in his 70s) can use a Chromebook with relative ease, the ‘digital native’ concept is so ridiculous that it’s creating a lot of discussion about nothing.

What we’ve missed, completely totally and utterly is the workforce who aren’t ready or prepared for the new world.

They’re the ones who have always caused heartache and pain to managers and HR teams and the likes. But perhaps, just perhaps we’re the ones who’ve had it wrong all along. We’ve bemoaned this lot we have. They’re stuck in their ways. They don’t want to learn new things. That’s just how they are. They’ve always got away with it.

And yet, there in front of us sits a way to understand these perspectives in the form of neuroscience, and in the form of cognitive psychology. Partners in crime, and suddenly a world of insight readily unfolds.

You see, the people who are adept at manoeuvring and keeping with the pace of change are those who have geared themselves up to make that happen. Their neuroplasticity is at a developed enough level that when change comes their way, they can adapt to what that means. They are used to creating new schema in their mental models, re-evaluating what they know, and keeping things moving along.

Be it Gen Y, be it Gen X, or be it your grandparents, we all have that capability and ability. Schooling, for all that critics and cynics rail against education, helps create and prepare us for these constant changes. Our brain doesn’t stop forming and creating pathways unless we let it. Our mental models of the world can readily change, if we accept that can happen.

See, what we’ve known for a long time, and what we know now, marry up in terms of psychological models and modern scientific models.

For our workforces, then, this means that we have a better way of understanding the barriers for helping them be their best self at work.

Ambition exists in all people, we just need to find ways to help that come through. When people are already battling with fixed patterns of working and fixed patterns of thinking, things like motivation, ambition and passion are such far off concepts that they are almost another language. But it’s not because they’re not willing to have those conversations, it’s that they need to understand what they’re stuck with at all.

Understanding how the brain operates, and how cognition develops, help us to understand the challenge we face in the workplace with people who we classify as ‘not willing to change’.

What I haven’t got to, yet, is how we resolve this in an organisational context. What I have got to is that not only is the Gen Y debate dead and buried in my head, it’s that we never should have worried about them in the first place. They’ll adapt just as much as anyone wired up to adapting will do. It’s everyone else at work who is seemingly neglected at the expense of these other groups.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

5 thoughts on “Look out! There’s a Baby Boomer about!”

  1. Hi Sukh, enjoyed reading this, a couple of strands I’d like to endorse and build on – the link between age and learning and the bit about those who, at any age, have appeared resistant to change, learning, adapting.

    As a ‘baby boomer’ many of my friends and colleagues would ascribe me with digital native characteristics. Whether it’s being au fait with social media or avidly waiting for the next Apple product release, I like to ‘keep up’ with what’s new and happening. Probably motivated by the fear that if I don’t keep up incrementally then I’ll get really left behind! I have many younger friends and business colleagues who shun the new, scoff about Twitter being a waste of time and just want their phones to make calls! I have a 15 year old son who doesn’t like Facebook and loves history. We really can’t keep categorising and stereotyping based on age.

    It IS all about attitude to learning, attitude to change and taking on responsibility for our own learning. In my 30 years in L&D I have seen the range of attitudes to training or learning and they haven’t changed much over the generations. I have always maintained that if someone really doesn’t want to learn something new they have amazing abilities to resist but if someone wants to learn and develop, you won’t stop them! I’m not sure we always design our learning interventions with enough care over helping each individual to want to learn first before we attempt to cram in the ‘content’. My stand out moments in my career have always been the ones where I’ve turned resistors into advocates on whatever theme I’ve been working with them on. The neuroscience work excites me and supports my instincts, I look forward to learning loads more!

  2. I like Sukh’s challenges and Margaret’s comments above. “Those resistant to change” and “those who struggle with learning” (either with their own motivation, or with finding the right techniques) feel like much more meaningful categories than media soundbites such as Gen Y or even Millenials. I haven’t got the reference to hand but Marshall McLuhan talks about new technology being a de facto extension of the nervous system – I think new learning techniques fall into the same category (eg PLNs). Some people need more coaxing (coaching/mentoring) into the brave new world than others.. but if we ignore that deep need, we’ll waste a lot of time and energy.

  3. Interesting stats.

    Margaret has expressed so well so much of would I would said, and I couldn’t agree more with the point you make in your blog that age isn’t necessarily the issue. Having said that – , in my personal peer group, my use of technology – internet TV, radio, smart phone, fancy (and irritating) laptop, etc SoMe is not typical. Whereas I don’t know an under 35 who hasn’t got a smartphone, so there is something in relation to age and technology. My elders are all connected but mainly it seems for skype, on line shopping and emailing, so at this point, not massively enabling, but – definitely connected, but not especially curious or creative in their use.

    There is something interesting to explore I think in the evolving roles, responsibilities and relationships as technology changes how we interact, do stuff, make things, access data. I recently listened to an interesting discussion on the development of AI and some of the philosophical and moral implications of technology for humans. If we consider what has changed in the last 20 years, what is going to change in the next 10 the pace of change is accelerating. I think age is a factor, I do – in terms of how quickly we adapt.

    More than ever old command and control mindsets are counter productive as the pace continues to accelerate, and so building trust and collaborative working partnerships are vital. From that I think comes the conditions to innovate in order to adapt and take advantage of the change around us.

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