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The Maturity Gap

Saturday, August 01, 2009 | Category :
    • In the News

The war for talent concerns so often cited in just about every business publication in 2007 and 2008 have been rightfully reframed as a skill gap issue today.

With the pre-retirement crowd wondering how long the "pre" will last and a 10 percent unemployment rate looming on the horizon, the challenge of retooling existing talent to meet the demands of the post-recession world is job No. 1 for strategic-minded talent leaders.

Unfortunately, it also may be time to throw yet another challenge into the anxiety closet — the emerging maturity gap.

Actually, the maturity gap is not really emerging. It's just been partially cloaked under a broader, more familiar talent management heading associated with demographic descriptions. You've undoubtedly heard of them: Generations X, Y, etc. Many talent leaders have jumped on generational distinctions and have piled on a wide array of sweeping generalizations related to work ethics and personal values, rather than focus on the developmental side of the equation.

There is interesting and compelling research around the lagging maturity, as in emotional maturation, of 20-somethings in the workplace. The essence of studies I've read is that we are likely to see the maturity gap continue to widen, as there will be a delay in the natural developmental progression to adulthood. In fact, it may be argued that many in the Gen Y demographic simply have not progressed through the required developmental stages generally associated with becoming autonomous adults, stages defined by professor Jeffrey Arnett as "emerging adulthood." Arnett and others found this latent transition into adulthood is likely occurring well after this generation has graduated from college and been hired into full-time positions. It may even extend beyond promotions to supervisory roles within their respective organizations.

While the focus of his research is primarily on males, in his provocative new book Guyland, Michael Kimmel paints a sobering picture of some of the behavioral baggage associated with this postponement of adulthood and details how popular culture continues to perpetuate this phenomenon. According to Kimmel, "Guyland lies between the dependency and lack of autonomy of boyhood, and the sacrifice and responsibility of manhood."
One of the many explanations for the maturity gap lies in the de facto influence and power of popular culture, amplified significantly by rapidly evolving technology. Deferring marriage and having children until later in life is an associated trend.

Most important, talent leaders also must recognize the behavior, attitudes and beliefs we often attribute to young workers may not be a permanent Gen Y state of affairs. The maturity gap theory creates a different explanation for these differences, which should be considered. Some of what we are experiencing can be attributed to the fact that we have young adults entering the world of work who are still in a postadolescent stage of development, trying to understand what it means to be an adult.


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