Pepper's thoughts on work, inlaws, and life

Monday, December 27, 2004

Baby boomers suck



So the Detroit Freep Press is doing a big series on Baby boomers. Ooooo aren't they fabulous? Aren't they hardworking?
Don't they make you want to puke?

Before this article was written, maybe the writer should have read "The Why Behind Gen X." The only people who think boomers are great are other boomers. Everyone else thinks they're retards.

Most articles that are written about Generation X seem to start with a barrage of negative stereotypes followed with a statement like “But that’s not true.”

Most articles that are written about Generation X appear to be written by Baby boomers who want to “clear things up.”

What I want to do is point out some reasons why there is so much misunderstanding between Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, and Baby boomers, born between 1947 and 1964. This misunderstanding is part of a shift in the contemporary American workplace from an industrial model to an informational model. The proverbial cheese is moving.

A rose by any other name
Oprah Winfrey turned 50 this year. She had some great shows all about her birthday. Yet, the media mogul who epitomizes the successful Baby boomer woman has said on her show that “50 is the new 30.” This woman who teaches us to embrace our spirit and be proud of who we are would rather think of age 50 as age 30. As a woman in her early 30s, this really annoys me. If 50 is 30, then what is 30? Is it 10? Now I realize that “50 is the new 30” is not meant to be taken literally. It’s a metaphor for what it means to be 50 these days. However, what if 70 is the new 50? I know quite a few women in their 50s – mentors, colleagues, relatives, neighbors, my mom – and I can’t think of any of them wanting to compared to 70-year-olds, metaphor or not.

I really like being in my 30s, so I can see the appeal to Oprah. My 20s were good, too, but although I’d like to look like I did at 21, I would never want to go back. I know too much now. Then why would someone in their 50s try to turn back the clock? It seems to me that youth is a significant figure in the self identity of many Baby boomers. In fact, this is a generation that actually has the word “baby” – the youngest human of all – in its name.

In just about every job I’ve had since I got my undergraduate degree, I’ve had a boss who was 13-18 years older than me. Baby boomers. I’ve watched them and I’ve learned. I’ve pretended to like The Beatles. I’ve let them assume I was one of them. I avoided references to music, television, or movies that would give away my age. I’ve pretended to respect authority. What I found annoyed them – more than anything – was that I was the big reminder that 50 can’t be the new 30, because 30 is already taken by 30-year-olds.

Gidget vs The Exorcist
Oddly enough, I would argue that Generation Xers don’t see themselves as particularly young. Their teenage years have already been made into a VH1 special (“I Love the 80s”). This generation has been working since they were 15 years old whether at the mall, McDonalds, or a Dot.com company, which means nearly 20 years in the workforce. They’re married with houses, cars, and children. And their formative years were a lot different than the Baby boomers, which has left a huge gap in perspectives. For instance, when Generation Xers were kids, it wasn’t as “cool” to be a kid as it was for the Baby boomers. Look at it this way – When you think of young people in the movies of the 1950s and 1960s, you might think of someone like Gidget. Kids in the movies of the 1970s were often possessed by the devil, like in The Exorcist or The Omen, or simply potty-mouthed misbehaviors, like in Little Darlings or The Bad News Bears. In the 1980s, Generation Xers didn’t fare much better. Young people were often disgruntled on screen, like in The Breakfast Club, and disorderly in real life, like The Brat Pack. Frankly, young Generation Xers were just not as revered as young Baby boomers.

Now that Generation Xers have entered have entered adulthood, the differences between these groups are becoming even more apparent. Robert McGarvey wrote in a 1999 Entrepreneur magazine article that Xers are more collaborative in the workplace. He also wrote that this is the first generation to truly accept women as managers. Julie Coates wrote in the November-December 2003 issue of Course Trends that Xers are group oriented – like on the television show “Friends.” In my opinion, Gen Xers relate to each other much differently than previous generations, especially in terms of gender roles, because of one thing: Gym class.

When the Baby boomers were growing up, gender roles were highly defined, boys took woodshop, girls took home economics, and gym classes were segregated. Boys played football, girls played, well, I’m not really sure. Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, girls have had all the same educational opportunities as boys – including sports. Gen X girls played soccer, dodge ball, and flag football with the boys. We had sports teams. We did what the boys did. But these were no longer “boys’ activities.” It just was something we had in common. In the end, this has not only resulted in a fabulous U.S. women’s soccer team, it has resulted in the “group.”

A different motivation does not mean unmotivated
The literature is not consistent when it comes to what motivates Generation Xers versus Baby boomers in the workplace. An article called “How Veterans, Baby boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation Nexters Can All Get Along in The Workplace” published on the website Commitment.com says Baby boomers live to work and Generation Xers work to live. But it’s not really a positive statement, because it’s used to explain why you shouldn’t as Generation Xers to work late, because they will resent it. McGarvey’s spin on this characteristic, however, is that Generations Xers are more likely to seek work/life balance. Either way you look at it, Generation Xers don’t seem to attach the same priority to their jobs as do the Baby boomers. But that doesn’t mean Generation Xers don’t see work as important.

McGarvey also points out that Generation Xers tend to be more loyal to their professions than their employers. Given this generation’s priority of balance, it would make sense that they would leave one job for another in the same field that offers them the ability to enjoy both their work life and home life.

What I think really causes the disconnect between Baby boomers and Generation Xers at the workplace is the “meeting.” Boomers love ‘em, Xers hate ‘em. The Baby boomer sees a meeting as an opportunity to get everyone in the same room to discuss the current situation, build consensus on a solution, and create a “team” environment. However, Generation Xers see the same meeting as an opportunity to rehash what everyone already knows to come up with a solution that may have come up through a quick phone call, email, or small group brainstorming session. It’s a time issue. Generation Xers are very interested in streamlining and speeding up processes. Eliminating the middle (wo)man. Given this attitude, it’s easy to see how Generation Xers who are pulled into these meetings would seem aloof, selfish, and self-absorbed. They are annoyed people who think their time is being wasted (rightly or wrongly).

The future is now
Like most articles involving generational differences, this blog is going to offer some tips. The first is to remember that nobody likes to be called names. Calling someone a “slacker” is calling them a name, even you follow up with a phrase such as “but that’s not really true.”

The next tip is to remember that Generation Xers are grown ups. Most don’t live with their folks and work at skateboard shops. They’re parents, homeowners, and professionals. Their perspectives and their view of the world may be different than the Baby boomers, but that’s a good thing. Diversity is a good thing. Like most adults, Generation Xers are interested in serious issues. If you want Generation Xers to take you seriously, you need to take them seriously.

If you want to market your product or service to Generation Xers, you probably won’t be very successful doing it with a staff made up entirely of Baby boomers. It’s not enough to survey and study this generation. You need to get some Generation Xers to help you.

At work, Generation Xers don’t fit well within the industrial model where workers work and managers manage. Generation Xers are more likely to be what Thomas H. Davenport calls “knowledge workers” in his article “Knowledge Work and the Future of Management.” This means that Generation Xers see a worker’s value in terms of what he or she knows. Hierarchy is irrelevant, so they don’t respect the hierarchy. If your subordinate is the only person who knows how to mine the database, it doesn’t really matter what your status is on the organizational chart if you need the subordinate to retrieve your data. Therefore, if you want to have a successful working relationship with a Generation Xer, talk to them as an equal, whether they are your boss or your assistant.

Lastly, remember that no generation is going to reign supreme. Even Billy Joel sings, “Every generation blames the one before.” We can’t take any of this too seriously, because there are no absolutes.

1 Comments:

At October 9, 2005 at 12:54 PM, Blogger boomerssuck said...

Absolutely loved your piece. Exploring starting a boomers suck blog. When i do you will be linked at the top of the list.

 

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