Younger Canadian workers seek better work-life balance

When it comes to attitudes to life and work, we’re moving from a “do anything” work ethic to a “you’ve got to be kidding” attitude.

Gen Y workers don’t want to give their life to their career, as boomers and veterans have, notes Linda Duxbury, a professor and generational expert at the Carleton University School of Business in Ottawa.

She says in a seller’s market – where hiring costs a lot – Gen Y workers will have that choice, as companies are throwing money away if their employees don’t stay more than one year.

Duxbury was speaking at a press conference in Toronto last week.

“I really worry about the ability of boomer and veteran owners to attract younger workers who can’t relate to them,” the Carleton professor said.

She said youth aren’t ready for higher-level jobs – and Gen X and Gen Y workers often don’t want them. They’d rather go skiing on the weekend than be available for work on their BlackBerrys 24-by-seven – something that veteran owners may have a hard time understanding.

Boomers and veterans wonder where Gen Y’s work ethic is, said Duxbury, while Gen Y workers see their father on stress leave and their mother on Prozac and are determined to never make the same mistake.

Research indicates that age also matters when it comes to attitudes toward office technology.

For instance, the generational gap plays a big role in determining how small business owners use technology to address key issues, from mobile systems to business protection to printer consolidation, according to research conducted by Ipsos Reid for HP Canada (SMB purchases represent one-third of HP’s revenue).

The survey includes responses from 1,000 small business owners across Canada to determine the influence of age on attitude toward technology.

(There are more than 2.34 million businesses in Canada, 97 per cent of which are categorized as small businesses, according to Statistics Canada (2007). And 3.3 million Canadians plan to start their own business in the next five years, according to an RBC/Ipsos Reid Survey in 2007).

A seller’s market for labour

Canada has operated in a buyer’s market for labour – where there are more good employees than good jobs – since World War II. So, organizations talked people, but managed money, said Duxbury,

Small businesses thrived because they could pick and choose the best employees. But now we’re moving into a seller’s market for labour on a global scale – and this will be challenging in a sector dominated by boomers and veterans.

Birth rates are declining throughout the world and many countries have an inverted population pyramid. Europe, Russia, China, Canada and Australia all have declining populations (Canada’s birth rate is 1.5, and it would need to be 2.1 to replace our workforce).

People are choosing to retire earlier, stay in school longer, and women are waiting to have children (and have far less of them). Birth rates are growing rapidly, however, in sub-Saharan Africa, where those countries are losing their educated and keeping the uneducated.

“We are all competing for the same group of talent,” said Duxbury, adding that by 2016 more people will be leaving the market than entering it.

Over the next 25 years and beyond, for every two people leaving the workforce, there will only be one person in the pipeline ready to take their place. We’re not seeing a turnaround, she said, and this will have an impact on everything from pensions to real estate.

Duxbury said human resource management will become a critical success factor as companies focus on recruitment, retention, succession planning, work/life balance and career development.

Generations are not defined by time, she said, but rather by watershed events and conditions they were exposed to as they grew up. These events and conditions shape their attitudes, which in turn influence what motivates them.

The last watershed was 9/11, as it dramatically changed how we do business. Kids born after that date won’t remember a time when we could take unlimited fluids on the plane.

Past watershed events include the Great Depression, World War II, the baby boom, the birth control pill, the PC and the Internet.

Right now, we have four generations in the workplace at once: Gen Y (1976-1990), Gen X (1961-1975), boomers (1947-1964) and veterans (prior to 1947).

Age and tech preferences

Generational differences are even influencing attitudes to technology, another industry insider points out.

Boomers prefer traditional devices such as fixed computers to mobile technology, while more Gen X and Gen Y workers are comfortable with laptops and handheld devices, said Michael McAvoy, director of small and mid-sized business at HP Canada.

He said boomers and veterans are more likely to insist on spending their IT budget on desktops, PCs, printers and copiers, rather than wireless technology.

The Ipsos-Reid survey results show that Gen X small business owners are more likely to do their homework before buying, by conducting research online and reading online reviews, as well as using the Internet to find online marketing tools to develop their own marketing collateral. Only 25 per cent of veterans use the Internet to find online marketing resources.

Gen Y is more likely to take technology’s footprint into consideration, while brand is more important to veterans. Younger entrepreneurs place higher priority on energy efficiency to help save the environment, while for older generations it’s more about cost savings.

When it comes to learning how to use technology, 46 per cent of Gen Y entrepreneurs prefer to figure it out themselves, while older business owners are more likely to read the manual; only 26 per cent of veterans say they learn how to use new technology on their own.

Younger entrepreneurs also have a more negative view of the impact of technology and workloads, said Jean-Paul Desmarais, marketing manager of business printing with HP Canada.

This, he said, could be because they feel it’s taking away from face-to-face interaction. Confidence in using technology declines with age, but printers and copiers are seen as critical technologies among all age groups – as an opportunity to use beyond just printing documents and create a more professional image.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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