It's time to revisit the workplace generation gap that pits Generation X employees against managers from prior generations.
When last we checked in, the economy and dot-coms were going strong and Generation X employees (those Americans born between 1963 and 1977) were insisting on promotions and showing unwillingness to hang around in organizations to pay their dues. All of this drew the ire of managers who had advanced through the ranks precisely by hanging around in organizations to pay their dues.
Now that the dot-com boom has led to bust and dreams of mega-greenbacks have been cut short by pink slips, it would be logical to assume that Generation Xers would change their behavior. Right?
Not so, according to Bruce Tulgan, an author and member of Generation X who has written and spoken extensively on this topic. Tulgan is founder of the consultant organization Rainmaker Thinking.
He has addressed a number of food industry forums, the most recent being last month's Grocery Manufacturers of America's Executive Conference in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Tulgan's view is that the New Economy was never about dot-coms. Instead, "It's about business grappling in a highly interconnected marketplace with unpredictable resource needs," he told the GMA audience.
The upshot is that companies need to be more flexible with labor planning in order to drive productivity and quality. And flexibility doesn't lend itself to job security.
All of this hasn't been lost on Generation Xers, whose outlook on the workplace is based on this sense of uncertainty, Tulgan insists. In fact, today's downsizing in the economy, rather than making young people cautious about switching companies, "is a reminder to employees that careers need to be managed differently" because of "the death of job security," he says.
Tulgan's recently published book, "Winning The Talent Wars," discusses these trends and points to a few cases in the supermarket industry. He cites Publix Supermarkets, one of his clients, as a good example of a company using a fluid workforce model.
The retailer's turnover among part-timers is very high, but many of the replacement part-timers are also returning employees, he explains. Those who return often may eventually get full-time positions.
Publix also has significant turnover with full-time employees, but many return later on. Some of the best of these eventually become managers. So Publix picks its managerial ranks from its "fluid-talent pool." It welcomes back good employees. It even urges them to bring their friends.
Tulgan's book cites another food retailer, Akron, Ohio-based West Point Market, for its similarly enlightened attitude in developing long-term bonds with a fluid workforce, building relationships that might encourage former employees to return one day.
I'm sure this more fluid manner of looking at the workforce will feel uncomfortable to some managers. Certainly it's not necessary for retailers to rewrite their employee-relations playbooks all at once.
But those who show willingness to inject more flexible thinking into their human resources policies may see their reputations and their talent pool strengthen over time.