THE BLOG
05/07/2013 09:03 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Imaginary Wars Between Generations at Work

The brilliant writer, journalist and business man HG Wells knew that snappy titles had their uses. His novel "War of the Worlds" was an example, not just of an imaginative mind creating unlikely but convincing futuristic scenarios but the power of the catchy headline in selling the thing. It may not have actually frightened his readers but it certainly sold his books.

Now, it seems that barely a month passes without a new survey appearing focusing on war between the generations. Is this another example of the hack's adage to, 'Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,' I wonder?

Whatever - it is certainly disturbing to find KPMG dabbling in such sensationalism. Their recent press release of a survey by OnePoll runs the title, 'Generational tensions may surface in the workplace as employees postpone retirement...'

By the time it was picked up by the website of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development this had become 'Age warfare, the new threat to workforce productivity.' Who is making the most mischief here, I wonder?

In my respectful (and fallible) view, the survey once we see it in full (it is not actually published as such, don't you know?) will show nothing of the sort.

But note the transmission of the mundane into the bizarrely worrying. What starts out as a comment on observable intergenerational differences or some measure of intergenerational inequity, quickly becomes depicted as 'age warfare' when it is in reality nothing of the sort.

Why do they do this?

I should expect no less, I suppose. After all, we have been getting such comments from all and sundry for some time from more or less anyone who who wishes to jump on the bandwagon.

In the recent past we have had headlines such as "Greedy geezers stealing kids jobs"... and plenty more where this comes from. (With regard to the 'stealing of jobs' point, In fact nothing could be further from the truth, as most economists agree.)

Even Cabinet Minister David Willets in his book The Pinch, has described the differences in life chances between the generations in terms of 'How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give it Back.'

I don't think any of us now in our sixties or older thought we were stealing our children's futures when we took the (considerably more limited) chances that were available to us as we left school and progressed through life.

Certainly I didn't, when I started out at 17 in job that lead nowhere, doing evening classes and the rest, paying my own way through three degrees part time and earning a living. I won't go on.

But that was my generation's reality. I don't blame anyone for it - it was a different time and place in history and my fate that I was born with it - so what? You take the rough and the smooth of history - what choice have you?

But the way these generational warmongers write, it is as though older people are somehow morally implicated in this collective theft their children's birth rights - a risible notion to say the least.

Of course our attitudes are moulded in some measure by our collective generational experiences. And equally naturally, our economic expectations and life chances are too, but this does not imply the generations are at war with one another.

In my experience, there are few instances of workplaces where younger people in any sense wage war on older employees. I certainly don't often see actions recognisable as intergenerational disaffection in the way that KPMG's report implies, though I have heard of people feeling under pressure to retire to make way for the new brooms to come after them. Subtle, moral, guilt tripping persuasion perhaps - but that's about it.

That said, some of KPMG's survey information seems unexceptionable - though hardly a revelation. Generation Y workers for example, are said to be more comfortable than those in generation X and 'baby boomers' about earning 'enough' rather than constantly striving for more. This is not hard to imagine if they have seen their parents suffering burn out and failing to get a life as they put careers and material gains above all else.

Similarly, their point that, 'driven and self-confident, younger generations are less likely to be attached to a single employer and their objectives,' is of interest. Apparently, one in four Generation Y respondents believe that 'individuals will increasingly challenge and question their organisation's purpose', compared to a mere one in ten of Baby Boomers.'

This should hardly surprise us - given the rise of zero hours and short term contracts that have made hopes of permanent jobs seem to many like cloud-cuckoo land - what else could we expect?

This is hardly the stuff of conflict, though when the real survey report is published it might turn out to be more interesting than the headlines suggest.

That said, it can hardly escape notice that there are companies who believe that it is worth spending money to overcome their so called problems of 'generational conflict.' If they believe they have a problem, who am I to say they haven't?

But could it possibly be that KPMG having constructed a gory image of the coming war of the workplace will present its own undoubtedly clever and prescient people to deal with the problem?

What wild imagination could conjure up such thoughts? It almost smacks of science fiction!