We hear so much about “The Aging Work Force” dilemma. And, yes, it is reality that over 40% of the workplace is over 50 years of age with the Baby Boomers at nearly 78 million in the workplace. It is true that the Boomers will exit the workplace to retirement at around 10,000 per day over the next decade. But, the real issue is not the aging work force. The real issue is leadership gaps.
The Boomers are the children of the Machine Age Veterans. The Machine Age evolved right on the heels of the Industrial Age. The workplace was dominantly men and they worked with machines. Leadership style was top-down, authoritative, “my way or the highway” style of leadership. People were automatons. They had no voice. They went to work and did what they were told to do. Machine-age leadership.
Over the next 100 years the workplace became more heterogeneous with first women, then African-Americans, and, ultimately, other ethnic groups entering the workplace. Laws were developed to create equal rights for all regardless of gender, race, age, physical capability, etc. But, the workplace is dominantly still being led by machine age-style leaders.
Yet, we have evolved to a Digital age—also known as Information Age or Knowledge Worker Age, where people are your most valuable asset, not machines. The younger generations—the Gen Xers, the Gen Ys, and the soon-to-enter-the-workplace Gen Zs—will not tolerate being treated like a machine, and neither will the younger Boomers. Gen Ys will soon make up some 80 million or nearly 50% of the workplace.
The younger generations want to work in a collaborative, people-oriented work environment, where diversity and inclusiveness is a way of life. They want a voice in the process. Yet, the dominant style of leadership is still machine-age, top-down, authoritative, fear-based leadership that does not inspire, but suppresses energy and innovative thinking.
To complicate this matter even more, the younger generations have little to no loyalty to organizations. They are loyal to people. They will exit the workplace without hesitation to find a better environment and manager. Most Gen Ys have held at least five different jobs with five different companies within a few years after entering the work force. The suppressed economic environment has slowed down the workplace turnover, to some degree, as people hang onto jobs for fear of not finding another. Also slowing down the turnover is the Boomers delaying retirement due to .com crash pension erosion. But, this tide will turn as the economic climate continues to improve.
Cost of hiring and training employees is considerable, and employee turnover will increase the cost of doing business exponentially, and, ultimately, impact an organization’s ability to create sustainable shareholder value. Massive turnover and a disengaged work force has the potential of bringing organizations to their knees.
Success in a Digital world depends on leaders’ ability to inspire employees to the highest level of engagement. Employees must be fully engaged—they must “want” to be there. They must own the process and the organization as if it is their own. Machine-age style of leadership inspires no one as people are not machines. People do not respond well to being treated like machines. To add to this, there are fewer people in the workplace due to declining birth rates, and Boomers exiting. It will be more important than ever to attract and “retain” top talent.
Leadership style is critical to the success of organizations in today’s world. It isn’t just about top-ranking officers either. Managers and supervisors must become “leaders” as well because they impact your front-line employees where all the work gets done and customer loyalty is formed. There is NOT a fine line between leaders and managers anymore, not when your organization’s success depends on your employees being fully engaged. Your front-line managers and supervisors impact your organization’s success more than at any time in history. Employees will leave a manager, not a company.
The right kind of leadership is the critical issue in today’s digital world, not the aging work force. It is organizational leaders’ responsibility to understand this and begin the process of developing good leaders at all levels, and a culture that will attract and retain the top talent of the younger generations. It’s all about relationships, and old-world leadership is not relationship-based. It is fear-based.
Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Hatley
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