rss.shrm.org | Theresa Agovino
Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” It’s a line from a U.S. Army ballad famously quoted by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his farewell address to the U.S. Congress in 1951. MacArthur’s leadership helped the Allies win World War II, and it was the conflict’s veterans who shaped the workplace in the years following SHRM’s founding.
The GIs based their organizations’ structures on their military experience. The result was largely rigid, hierarchical systems that demanded a respect for authority and strictly dictated working styles, hours and promotional structures. The model those old soldiers created has been fading with them—though it hasn’t been completely dismantled—as new generations march into leadership. Few members of the Silent Generation (those born between the mid-1920s and 1945) remain in the workplace, and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)—at least the older ones, who also embraced the formula—are increasingly scarce.
That former system worked well for those storied generations, in part because their employment coincided with a long period of economic growth. Their loyalty was rewarded with lifelong employment, steady promotions and pensions. But newer generations have brought different expectations to the workplace, and rigid rules have softened in recent years as a result.
The tenets of the postwar arrangement began to fray in the 1970s, as globalization devastated many U.S. businesses and the…
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