Analyses - October 7, 2005



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October 2005


Print Human resources,

Demographics and the workplace

In tourism, segmentation does not apply solely to customers; employees also have differing needs. In an evolving work world populated by baby boomers, Generation X and others, the term “inter-generational” is a topical one. Younger generations experience, enjoy and embrace change. To ensure harmony among the generations, employers must become familiar with the values of each generation and their expectations vis-à-vis the workplace.

While companies often pay attention to customer segmentation, product development and big marketing budgets, they too often ignore employees, despite the latter's key role in creating a quality experience. At the 5th day-long conference on tourism human resources organized by the Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council (CQRHT), Julie Carignan (vice-president and partner at SPB Organizational Psychology) discussed the work-related values and needs of the various generations. At the same event, André Hétu, executive director of the Association Midi-Quarante, presented information to counter some common misconceptions about workers aged 40 and over.

Workplace realities

Just like the various sectors of the tourism industry, the work world as a whole is being rocked by change and must deal with certain realities:

  • A need for inter-generational harmony: This applies to interpersonal relations and work methods as well as understanding the needs and values of the various generations.
  • Mass retirements: The exodus of retiring boomers will sharply reduce the pool of knowledge and expertise.
  • A labour shortage: According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, as of 2011, the number of workers retiring is expected to exceed the number of workers available on the labour market.
  • New work dynamic for workers aged 55 and over: These workers will ease into pre-retirement and retirement in a variety of ways.
  • Integration of a multi-ethnic population: Canada is increasingly counting on immigrants to populate the country (both new arrivals and first-generation Canadians).
  • Social re-integration: The active population includes large numbers of troubled youth, potential drop-outs, the unemployed, people on welfare and others.

Though generations follow one another, they are very different. It is true that generation gaps often lead to workplace conflict; some common examples are baby boomers criticizing the attitude of Generation Y co-workers or, conversely, a young person annoyed by the archaic methods used by an employer. Although job stability used to inspire respect, in the eyes of the young, it is seen as maintaining the status quo and perceived as a lack of energy. (Get rid of the dinosaurs!)

Although it is necessary to label people to better define and understand them, it is important to remember that human beings are much more complex than these labels would suggest. The following profiles merely list the most common traits of the various generations; the age ranges are approximate and younger workers (Generations X and Y) share many characteristics.

The Silent Generation (60 and over) – Loyalty and a sense of duty

  • A generation marked by the second world war and limited options in life
  • Hardworking with a clear sense of duty
  • Submissive in the face of authority
  • Hard work is its own reward
  • Company loyalty
  • Careful with money and good at saving
  • Less familiar with information and communications technologies

Baby Boomers (ages 40 to 60) – Finding fulfilment through work

  • “Peace and love” generation offered a wide variety of options in life
  • Entered job market at a time of extraordinary opportunities
  • Focused on family values (despite high incidence of divorce)
  • Work-centred lifestyle and career-based social fulfilment
  • Respect for authority and hierarchical organizations
  • Sense of belonging to company; colleagues viewed like family

Generation X (ages 25 to 40) – Seeking challenges and learning opportunities

  • Entered a tight job market, developed an egocentric, sarcastic attitude
  • Work seen as key to personal fulfilment – open to change, seeking challenges, needing to learn, grow and experiment, salary is not the prime motivator
  • Does not want to follow a job description, would rather be assigned responsibilities – wants to participate in making decisions and setting goals
  • Critical of institutions and other generations – calls authority into question, seeing it as the central core of the organization rather than a hierarchical structure
  • A rich source of entrepreneurs and artists because of its resistance to authority and desire to experiment and innovate
  • Wants to work in a collegial, friendly environment
  • Seeks immediate gratification
  • Work-family balance – life is more than just work (flexible work schedules, opportunities for long leaves, etc.)
  • Has grown up with multiculturalism, gender equality and ecology

Generation Y (ages 15 to 25) – Coaching and feedback

  • Individualization and values focussed on material comforts, hyperconsumption and hypersexualization
  • Open to the world
  • Few role models, ill-defined notions of good and bad
  • Balance between work, family and recreation
  • Rebellious in the face of authority – does not understand a need for punctuality, traditional signs of courtesy, wearing appropriate attire, etc., respect for people who know how to become models
  • Generation familiar with technology from birth
  • Independent vis-à-vis employers – companies must have something to offer workers and not the inverse; it is necessary to dazzle such workers
  • Full of ideas, self-sufficient and critical
  • Seeks fun at work, wants quick results and a quick pace, stimulating jobs – dislikes routine
  • Needs constant feedback
  • Wants to climb the ladder quickly
  • Needs coaching – seeks mentors rather than superiors, intends to advance alone and have someone to count on if it doesn't work out
  • Wants to work in a collegial environment or community; values teamwork

Workers 55 and over may be the solution to the anticipated labour shortage

Although workers aged 55 and over can be part of the solution to the impending labour shortage, they are often victims of prejudice. Many employers are biased against hiring them because of the following misconceptions:

  • They require high salaries.
  • It is not worth training them because they resist change, are incapable of mastering new technologies and are too old to learn.
  • Productivity decreases with age and they are only thinking about retirement; they have high rates of absenteeism and work-related accidents.
  • They do not like being teamed with or managed by people younger than they are.
  • Various studies have debunked these myths about this age group of workers. It has been shown that:
  • They are more likely than young people to stay with the same job.
  • They recognize the need for retraining, although their ways of learning differ from those of young people.
  • They are more productive because of their experience.
  • They take a greater interest in product and service quality.

When motivated to remain in the work force, this age group is a good source of workers to offset the impending shortage of workers and expertise. However, work dynamics change at this age; many people want to redirect their careers or take advantage of a progressive retirement. Some want to “slow the pace” and seek more flexible, less strenuous working conditions (with regard to scheduling, stress levels and physical effort). With their wealth of experience, they would like to act as coaches for young people. In this context, it is important to clearly indicate an openness towards these types of workers and modify jobs to fit their needs.

“Inter-generational harmony” is a concept that should be part of all management approaches. The arrival of new generations is an opportunity for companies to embrace positive changes. It is important to be familiar with the profiles of the various age groups that work together, so as to draw out their individual strengths and take advantage of the synergy they can generate together.

– Barcelo, Yan. “Boomers, X, Y! Peuvent-ils travailler en équipe?” Affaires plus, April 2005, p. 20, 22.
– Cousineau, Marie-Ève. “Dossier – Défi Meilleurs Employeurs 2005,” Affaires plus, October 2005, p. 32-56.
– Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council (CQRHT). “5e Journée Ressources Humaines de l'industrie touristique,” conference held September 29, 2005, in Montreal.
– Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council (CQRHT). “Feature no. 1 – A Profile of Young People and What They Expect from a Company,” [
] 2003.
– Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council (CQRHT). “Feature no. 3 – Finding a Solution to the Labour Shortage in the over 55 Age Group,” [
] 2003.
– Quebec Tourism Human Resource Council (CQRHT). “Feature no. 4 – Finding a Solution to the Labour Shortage in the over 55 Age Group (continued),” [
] 2003.
– Verret, Carol. “Generation Y: Motivating and Training a New Generation of Employees,” Hotel Online [], November 2000.

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