As we move out of the first Great Recession of the 21st century and the job market begins to return very slowly, we are faced with an increasingly new dynamic for job seekers – the war of the generations.

War of the Generations: (Re)Entering the Workforce

By Jim Finkelstein. Jim is a student and leader of people in business. With 34+ years of consulting and corporate experience, he has specialized in business and people strategy, motivation and reward, and organizational assessment, development, communications and transformation. Finkelstein has worked for diverse industries, from health care to high tech. He has built programs and provided services to Boards of Directors, senior executives, management and employees.

As we move out of the first Great Recession of the 21st century and the job market begins to return very slowly, we are faced with an increasingly new dynamic for job seekers – the war of the generations.   This is a virtual battlefield from 18-80.  Millennials are seeking to enter for the first time; GenXers to upgrade their positions; Boomers, in many cases, to re-enter the workplace having had their retirement nest eggs seriously whacked; and Seniors to gain additional monetary resources and intellectual stimulation.  In short, everyone is out there slugging it out for jobs that are still limited in existence.

Over the past few years, Mom and Dad were laid off, had their time at work reduced, or took time off to raise the kids and now want to get back in the money making business.  Meanwhile the kids were finishing college and thinking about what they were going to do after their post-graduation vacation and travel, community service or opting to do graduate school right away.   And, to boot, their grandparents realized that their savings weren’t going to take them through the rest of their life and candidly not only needed the money but wanted the chance to trade in the golf clubs for some intellectual stimulation.  The perfect storm.  Generations colliding.

Millennials enter as the most technologically proficient generation in history; Boomers have the wisdom of their most recent leadership experiences… and candidly, Seniors just have the passion to be helpful to anyone!  We are not ignoring the GenXers, but this generation is so small and seems to be a mash-up of both Millennials and Boomers.

So employers have a conundrum.  Do they buy a future star, or someone who has been a star in the past?  Do they seek the customer service orientation of the Seniors?  What skill set are they really seeking?  Technological savvy or business experience?   Intellectual maturity or emotional maturity?

They are checking your Facebook presence, connecting with you on LinkedIn, recruiting you online and seeing if you know how to show up appropriately for their work environment and culture.  Parents in pinstripes may not be as appealing to the hip retail stores as the kids in cut jeans; kids in tattoos may need to cover up when interviewing for a bank teller job.  Yes, there is a new type of discrimination in hiring in the workplace – and it is affecting all generations.   Too old? Too young?  Too hip? Too not with it?

At a minimum, Mom and Dad, you will need to get remedial help from your competitors (your kids) to “get” the bits and bytes necessary to use the tools of today.  Kids, you will need to get emotional coaching from your competitors (the parental units) in order to understand how to survive and thrive in the game known as business.  And Grandma and Grandpa, your enthusiasm to do anything may not be enough.   Get computer coaching from the grandkids and get current on business trends from your kids.

So, a war of the generations is emerging – a new “family feud” for jobs.  Employed, under-employed, and unemployed workers of all generations are colliding in the marketplace.  And no one is going home soon.  Everyone is seeking meaning, motivation and above all, money.

A Final Thought.  Outside of general business and technical skills, the most important and often ignored skill necessary to compete in the 21st century workplace is collaboration.  This new Cogenerational Workplace™ is one of connectivity, creativity, communications and community building.  Competitors for the jobs need to be collaborators at the workplace.   The ability of all people of all generations – whether re-entering, entering, or trying to stay – to play in the same sand box together is critical to success – both as an individual and for organizations.

As the economy improves, maybe the watchwords of the future will move from the War of the Generations to the “We” of the Generations.    Stay tuned.