Boomers, Xers, and Millenials

Originally posted as a comment on Penelope Trunk’s post on Barak Obama as potentially the first post-Boomer president:


Wow, what an incredible response to this post. It’s definitely touched a nerve. Note to self: blog about Barack Obama and generational conflict.

It’s fascinating to me to see the generational divide. Like Penelope, I sit firmly in the baby bust. In fact, as a 1974 baby, I come from the single most sparsely populated birth year in recent memory.

When I first came into the workplace, I worked for baby boomers. My first boss often commented, “What’s wrong with you kids these days? When I was your age, I was busy partying and smoking pot. All you guys do is work.”

Now, standing astride two generations that dwarf my own (Boomer and Y), I can definitely see that a generational divide exists.

I have dealt with boomer managers who were shocked that someone took a week off for paternity leave, because “Hey, when my son was born, I was back in the office that afternoon.”
I have also dealt with teens and 20somethings who swear that they will never have a real job, and are instead building companies that let them live their lives. Loyalty to one’s company is as dead as the dodo, and I can’t say that I miss it.

The younger generations envy the Boomers because they got to enjoy the Austin Powers era (“As long as people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment, I’ll be sound as a pound!”) as well as the unprecedented global domination of the US economy and military.

The Boomers envy the younger generations because they have freedoms and possibilities that the Boomers never had, thanks to the Internet, and because, well, they’re YOUNGER (aging well has never been a Boomer trait).

And because they have such different expectations of the workplace, Gen Y employees think Boomers are boring martinets, while Boomers think Gen Y employees are impertinent know-it-alls (ponder the irony of that for a second–Boomers resenting the young for believing that they know more than the old).

And don’t forget to shed a tear for the poor Gen-Xers, who grew up being punished for the sins of their parents (thanks AIDS and the Cold War), then had the good fortune to enter the workforce during a gut-wrenching recession, and get tabbed as “slackers” to boot. No wonder Nirvana albums sold so well in the 90s.

But while the generations are different, and conflict exists, we as individuals don’t have to fall into it. Avoid the “us versus them” mentality, and concentrate on working with people you enjoy and admire, regardless of their age. Find a company that respects your values (because as Bob Sutton points out, when you work with assholes, you don’t change them for the better, they change you into an asshole).

Above all, do work that you can be proud of, and that makes you happy.

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