I am fascinated by demographics (and psychographics). Decades of experience in change management, talent development and crisis intervention have honed my belief that human nature is largely predictable, despite the obvious behavioural nuances inflicted by unforeseen circumstances and random events.
I have especially come to appreciate the insights derived from research on age-dominant cohorts whose members, having similar significant personal experiences, demonstrate remarkably similar behaviours. More than ever before, leaders need to heed these contrasting life-forming influences and the attendant attitudes that drive certain behaviours in the workplace. Because they affect how people think and thus how they work, stay motivated or involved, and respond to change.
“iGen” is a label given to those born between 1995 and circa 2012 by Jean Twenge, whose book on the subject may have the longest title ever: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood … And What that Means for the Rest of Us (Atria). Prepare yourself … if you haven’t already met them, iGens are your newly arriving work cohort.
Since Seniors (or members of “the silent generation”) are largely gone, today’s workplace consists mainly of three cohorts. Boomers, the first of whom entered retirement about the time iGen’s came of employment age, still comprise the vast majority of leaders and managers. They are highly competitive, success-oriented workaholics who seek work-family balance but rarely find it. Their offspring, Gen X, are well educated, distrustful of authority, resourceful, individualistic and tech savvy. Generation Y (also known as Millennials) prefer to question and negotiate rather than listen to authority. They aren’t yet ready to realistically assess their strengths and limitations, and want the job wrapped around their lifestyle.
Now we have Dr. Twenge’s iGens, a moniker that will likely change with time. Let’s call them i’s. They grew up with cell phones and can’t remember a time without the worldwide web. While the ‘i” stands for Internet, it might just as easily mean insecure, in no particular hurry to grow up, independent (unaffiliated politically), insulated from civic involvement, irreligious, somewhat individualistic, income fearful and consequently feeling inadequate.
When typecasting such broad classifications, it’s important to avoid stereotyping – one size does not fit all. Every cultural change we’ve lived through, whether driven by economics, politics, technology or something else, affects every generation. Boomers are also addicted to their cell phones, though to a lesser degree than i’s. The descriptors used are averages, which means some are better and others are worse. (Dr. Twenge relies on a pretty impressive array of reputable research findings and government data to support her assertions. And she concludes that the behavioural shifts we are witnessing in iGens will be “the biggest social transformation in generations.”)
i’s represent about 25% of the population and are the most ethnically diverse in history. They socialize differently (meaning little social interaction, other than electronically), are emotional basket cases (disconnected, unhappy, lonely and depressed, unfortunately bordering on the suicidal for some), physically safer but mentally vulnerable, and have no patience for inequality of any kind (whether gender, race, sexual orientation or compensation).
i’s tend to stay home for a variety of reasons. They don’t drive as much as prior generations (Boomers acquired their driver’s licence as soon as they could but i’s have little interest in owning their own means of conveyance), their parents are overprotective and they more willingly and easily text friends as opposed to having interpersonal conversations. They generally don’t have an independent means of income, because there are fewer teen jobs. They date less and drink less, don’t read books or rebel against their parents as much as prior generations and get less sleep (guess why?). Their academic skills lag behind Millennials (let’s call them M’s) by “significant margins” and, thinking the system is rigged, are largely apolitical.
There is an empirical correlation between unhappiness and time spent on-line. On average, i’s spend six hours/day on new media (28% texting, 24% on the Internet and 18% gaming). Those who stay off Facebook are less likely to feel sad, angry or worried. A reputable study found that, of those who left Facebook, 36% were “less lonely” and 33% were “less depressed.” This lack of interaction with other humans has encouraged “an epidemic of anguish” – lower happiness and higher loneliness, self-harm and depression. Dr. Twenge concludes: “iGen is on the verge of the worst severe mental health crisis for young people in decades.”
i’s are “the least religious generation in history.” One reason is that they were raised by the largest group of religiously unaffiliated parents in history. The bigger reason is more likely their view that organized religions are rigid, socially outdated and intolerant (especially of sexual orientation, which is the source of their major confusion about the purpose of faith in their lives). Politically, they are libertarian, highly distrustful of government and therefore dissatisfied and disconnected with politics (unlike M’s).
Since i’s represent the largest pool of entry-level talent into the workforce, recruiters must understand what they can offer and what they can’t. The news is largely good. They are practical and forward looking; they want to “fit in.” They grew up during the Great Recession and hence are more realistic about work and the need for a salary. Unlike M’s, they place a pay cheque and job security higher on the list of “what matters” than doing interesting work or making friends.
They are less naive about workplace expectations and are “hungrier” than M’s. They are more cognizant of workplace inequalities like unfair compensation practices and gender discrimination. They require more encouragement than M’s and will work harder when feedback is given in an open, direct, honest manner. They don’t require as much hand holding when they know they’re contributing.
While i’s have a better work ethic than M’s, they are cautious and risk averse. They aren’t entrepreneurial, believing that “going into business for oneself” is much too risky (more so than did Boomers or GenX). Their insecurities require greater attention and assurance than the psychographic profile of preceding generations. M’s were told by their parents they could become anything they wanted to be and, in consequence, thought they knew everything … until reality set in. i’s are already aware of that reality.