The generation gap in project management is not retro-chic!

The generation gap in project management is not retro-chic!

Retro-chic invokes nostalgia for a time when Britain and the United States were at the height of their powers which manifested themselves in the design, fashions and consumer goods of the times.  This was both fashionable and affordable on a mass scale that also had a futuristic motif about it that aligned with the spirit of the times.  This spirit was one of optimism, a sense of homogenous nationalistic pride and of course, where one could have a middle income job for life with the proverbial house and white picket fence, two parent heterosexual couple, 2.5 children, a dog, a cat and a huge car where you paid a nickel a gallon for gas.  So when this fashion ideology finds itself back into the mainstream, it is taken as a progressive fashion statement that is reusing the past to refashion it to the present so as to make a bold fashion statement, or “retro-chic”.


But when I say that the vast majority of people in project management that both work in and are represented in the field are within the generation of and still think in many ways like the people of the retro-chic area, that this is NOT retro-chic in any way!  On the contrary, the term I’d use for this is passé or obsolete!  As a person in the throes of middle age with sign posts ahead indicating how close I am to my baby-boomer counterparts, I don’t mean to disparage this demographic group, but to highlight that the field is perilously out of touch with what’s going on.

According to many statistics and industry studies, this is the first time that 4 different generations are simultaneously working together as this is a consequence of people living longer and retiring later and completing with a larger demographic pool of candidates with vastly different career aspirations.

The four generations:

Mature/World War II Generation Members of the Mature/WWII Generation (born before 1946) are 67 years or older.  Although most members have retired from the labor force, they comprise a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience.  Many believe this generation views work as an obligation: they respect authority, take rational approaches, and produce quality work.
Baby Boomers Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1965) are approximately between the ages of 47 and 66.  The older members have begun to retire from the labor force.  This generation occupies most of the senior-level management roles.  They are often stereotyped as extremely focused on work, and they possess a strong work ethic and desire recognition for their efforts.
Generation X Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980) is approximately between the ages of 32 and 46.  The oldest members could be entering senior-level management roles while the younger members entering/approaching mid-career and senior-level supervisory roles.  Many members of Generation X embrace diversity and entrepreneurship.
Generation Y/Millennial Generation Y or the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) are approximately between the ages of 12 and 31.  The older members are in the labor force while the younger members are still completing their formal education.  This generation is known for being optimistic and goal-oriented: they are known for enjoying collaboration and multitasking, are comfortable embracing emerging technologies, and appreciate meaningful work.

In my own experience, the realities I see are where the mature and baby boomers are holding on to dear life for the upper management jobs they worked so hard for and to hold on and retire with a decent nest egg, where the Gen X’ers are either straggling along with the traditional career ladder and figuring out what the heck to do next, while the Millennials look at jobs as training grounds for their next start-up venture.  This group has no aspiration of or see any value in staying with a company for the long term.

With the preponderance of matures and baby-boomers that dominate the project management industry, this conflict magnifies itself and is I why I think, I don’t personally see more younger people represented.  I see them much more in the Agile fields since that’s a method that is used in Gen X and Millennial heavy industries like software, internet, Web 2.0, etc. space.

So I guess my point is whether this is of any concern or just a bunch of hot air on my part?  Should the field be doing a better job of narrowing the generational gap?

P.S. – The book “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today” by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, outlines innovative strategies that the best companies are using to create a workplace that the best talent chooses—both today and in 2020.  It addresses many of the issues I outline above and rigorously cites hundreds of references and resources.  Interesting that they target 2020, which is what I wrote about a while back in that almost half of us may be independent workers by 2020!

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