Sex… Past, Present and Future: Confusing your Xs and your Ys

(c) Ciaran Griffin - Stockbyte / ThinkstockAcross Europe, Business Schools are now getting in the full swing of the new academic year. Time to deal with subject that is on all business students’ minds and to wonder whether they are really that different to previous generations.

A presentation about “Sex”

A group of students once asked if they could give a presentation about “Sex”.  To give them credit, they did make a vain attempt to bamboozle me with words like ‘strategy’ and ‘industry’ in their question! Nice try, guys! In fact, as I paused before answering I thought of all the different ways in which the lesson could get out of control. I had cold shivers as I imagined what might be on the contents of their PowerPoint or worse, what video clips or pictures they could bring in.

I thought of the possible complaints, the letters to my director, looking for a new job whilst being denounced by the national press and having my unorthodox teaching methods debated on late night talk shows.  The students gave me a certain number of assurances and in the end consented. (Humm?! Maybe “agreed” would be a safer word here!) They could do their presentation but there would be NO audio or NO visual material to support their discussion.

Gestures?” enquired one student, a cheeky grin covering his face.

Don’t even think about it!” I replied.

In fact, the students gave a thoughtful presentation beginning it with this statement.

“None of us can really predict the future”.
(Stock market analysts might like to take note here.)

 “None of us can predict the future. As far as sex goes, we are certain of one thing however; a hundred years from now, men and women will still be trying to get each other into bed!”

In this short introduction the students had shown that they has understood something that many academics and consultants seem totally blind to…the basics of human nature. Some things simply don’t change. Feelings of love, desire, our fears, our ambitions and the need to feel valued; all of these remain constant from one generation to another.

Generation ‘X’ and ‘Y’

For the past 20 years a huge industry has grown up around explaining the differences that separate the so-called Generation X and Y.  Amazon stocks more than 250 books on the subject with titles such as “25 Ways to Motivate Generation Y”, “Sociology of Religion for Generations X and Y”, “Marketing to Generation X”, “Mind Your X’s and Y’s: Satisfying the 10 Cravings of a New Generation of Consumers” and the wonderfully imaginative “X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking.” 

These books have much in common; a lot of generalities and lack of specifics.  Here are some of the main differences that supposedly separate them.

Preferred style of leadership Only competent leaders will do Collaboration with management is expected
Value of Experience Don’t tell me where you have been, show me what you know Experience is irrelevant, as the world is changing so fast
Autonomy Give them direction, and then leave them to it Questions, questions, questions
Feedback Expect regular feedback Need constant and immediate feedback
Rewards Freedom is the ultimate reward Money talks
Training Want to continually learn, if they don’t they will leave Still in an exam driven mentality
Work Hours Do their work and go home Will work as long as needed … or until they get bored
Work Life Balance Want to enjoy life to the full, while they are young enough to do so Their lives are busy – they need a lot of ‘me’ time
Loyalty Are as committed as everyone else working there Already working out their exit strategy
Meaning of Money Gives freedom and independence Just something that allows them to maintain their lifestyle

Questions & Answers about Generation X / Generation Y – Fact Sheet

The list of differences is so long that one wonders how they actually manage to share the same office space without a full-scale civil war breaking out!

Despite these wondrous simplifications of how people interact in the business world, it is difficult to understand in what ways this can help you in your HR strategy.  What exactly is the contradiction between wanting “competent leaders” (which generation doesn’t want that?!) and “collaboration with managers”. When does “regular” feedback become “constant”? And how many 40-year old career-minded people do you know who just “do their work and go home abandoning their PCs, cell phones and PDAs on their desk until 9am the following morning?

Some common sense at last

Now at last a bit of common sense has been brought to the debate.  Jean Pralong, a professor in management and strategy in France recently carried out a study on 400 participants from Gens X and Y. His results were published in the November 2010 issue of Revue Internationale de Psychosociologie, L’image du travail selon la génération Y.”  His conclusion?

“My study shows that no difference exists between 25-year-olds and 45-year-olds at work… On a scientific level, Generation Y doesn’t exist.”

Pralang said he did the study because there was a lack of empirical research on the subject. Many of the ideas were based on consultant recommendations marketing their services to marketing. Now an independent researcher with nothing to sell discovers that this Gen Y and Gen X business could be a myth after all. Interesting, isn’t it?

If you’re still not convinced, you should ask some 20 year olds and some 40 year olds who are their favourite music groups. If the answers are The Police, Queen or Supertramp from both you might want to start reevaluating your ideas on the Generations X and Y.  Unless of course, you’ve got a book to sell.

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Filed under Business, Business Schools, Higher Education, Intercultural, Management

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