Does everyone remember Barry Salzberg's article in Forbes that finally shed light on the elusive wants and needs of the Gen Y digital ninjas? I know everyone was probably thrilled to finally understand what it is Millennials want since we've all been sitting here scratching our balding gray heads trying to figure it out. Anyone […]
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A.O. Scott, currently movie critic for The New York Times, wrote a column in the Times‘ Week in Review (May 9. 2010) titled. “Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis.” He used film references such as “The Big Chill” for Ba recent “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Greenberg” for Gen X (his generation). He also references “The Ask,” a novel relating to Gen Xers as fodder for his view.
Scott characterizes Gen X as over-educated, insecure, coming of age in the late 80s and early 90s. He also ascribes to Gen Xers the phrases: “consumerist banality,” “the attempt to camouflage sincere confusion with winking insouciance,” “the obsession with generalizing a personal experience,” “we did what we could: the slogan of the underachiever, the excuse maker, the loser.” (Is his language off-putting to you too?)
I think it is unfair to characterize a whole generation this way, Further, there are big differences between the older and younger halves of the Gen X cohort (1962-1978) as there are with the Boomer generation, and my guess is that Scott is referring mostly to the Xers on the older end.
Yet the arts reflect the culture the artists are observing, so what do the patterns and kernels of truth in the films, books, etc, tell us? What will engage members of that generation to be the leaders and achievers they need to be?
* More than other generations, Gen X may blame Boomers for blocking their opportunity and their underachieving. Unlike Gen Y/Millennials, they are not typically optimistic about their future at times of economic setbacks, and they don’t expect help.
* Gen Xers don’t look to others (older or younger) to explain their confusion or uncertainty.
* Gen Xers have a harder time trusting than other generations, having seen how the workplace social contract broke down for their parents and has never been particularly welcoming to them. In the workplace, they typically do not and will not place a premium on helping others and “making your fellow players look great” (as stated in the most important rule of improv performance).
* Materialism is evident. They outdo the Boomers in pursuit of luxury brands and symbols.
* Gen Xers (and Gen Y too) want freedom as represented by time, rewards in money and time, and to decide how to spend their time. The aspiration is “The Four-Hour Work-Week.” They were the first generation to see technology enable that. They work hard to create flexibility at an early age rather than waiting to achieve seniority and retirement. Gen Y is even more adamant about flexibility.
* Xers are resourceful personally (though not necessarily in groups), yet often feel like losers.
* Gen Y trusts group consensus or group determined “truth.” They expect help and resent Gen Xers who don’t specify expectations and don’t give them guidance, and call them spoiled, entitled, and over-protected. If not addressed in an enlightened way, this tension doesn’t portend well for long-tern engagement and productivity in the workplace as we know it.
Since Gen Xers, for a short time at least, are the next generation of leaders we all must look to, how can they capitalize on the strengths of their generation – which are often overlooked? And how can all the generations support them in using those strengths such as: self-sufficiency, desire for flexibility, results-orientation, entrepreneurial attitude, getting the job done wherever and however they choose, and belief in merit-based rewards to change deficient and debilitating business models for the better in a global context?
This is an important topic for future discussion and needs to start with a sincere expression of respect and candid dialogue in a non-threatening environment.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2010. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years, with a special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners (www.nextgeneration-nextdestination.com). Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both West 2010). firstname.lastname@example.org. URL: www.pdcounsel.com.
Judging by the timing of the comments, it looks like many of you were burning the oil on Sunday; sorry to see that. As always, thank you for your discussion. Picking up where I left off with Generation X, my advice is simple:
Know your competition – With the job market consisting of 80 million Baby Boomers and 78 million Millennials, the 46 million Generation X’ers out there need to realize the statistical battle that lies ahead. Accept the inevitable – you will be working side-by-side with Generations MY regardless of their competency. Sure, they might be “whiny, work-dodging, self-satisfied wimps” as GC commenter champmonkey expressed so eloquently; but it’s only a matter of time before these wimps are pawning work off on to you, Gen X.
Roll up your sleeves – And grab a shovel, community service is here to stay. Entrepreneur.com recently cited a Harvard poll that “found that 61 percent of Millennials feel personally obligated to make a difference in the world, and a full 78 percent believe that companies have a responsibility to join them in this effort.” Your firm’s recent (past five years) attention to community service issues and providing tangible options to employees is not because Scrooge suddenly had a heart – these were direct and purposeful recruiting strategies clothed in heartfelt intentions. I’m not saying this is a negative, quite the opposite. Nonetheless, be prepared for programs like Ernst & Young’s corporate responsibility and KPMG’s Build-a-Bear event to become staples.
Attention to detail – As another commenter on last Thursday’s post noted, multitasking has a primary downside – tasks simply take longer to complete. Although the MY generations are becoming increasingly efficient at multitasking (have you seen them text?!) not enough can be said for being responsible for one’s work and seeing tasks through to their completion. Your bosses know this; your clients know this; you thrive on this. Use this to your advantage and, by all means, beat this habit into the minds of your tweeting/Facebooking subordinates. On the flip side you need to understand that Generation MY is not going to wake up one morning able to burrow through a day’s work without staying connected to the outside world. It is an engrained part of their daily lives that needs to be accepted, not smothered out like a fire.
Get used to hand holding – It’s going to take time for Generations MY to comprehend the essential need for better work, honest ownership of one’s responsibilities, and understanding that “me” in team is a crock. There will have to be acceptance and understanding from both parties. Drop the bogus mindset that “it is what it is” and begin to actively try to get along.
That means you too, Millennials.
A potential client of mine was presenting its case to my firm a while back. The presenting team consisted of senior leadership, management, and staff members; all of which were professional and polished in their demeanor.
The presentation was divvied up between members, with much of the discussion being led by the management and staff. When it came time for the closer – the make or break – a fresh-out-of-college kid stood up and delivered one of the best deal closers I’ve ever experienced.
At the conclusion of the meeting I took a moment to catch up with the young professional who delivered the knock-out. I asked, “Why were you the teammate to deliver the final pitch?”
“Easy,” she responded, “I volunteered to do it, and no one objected.”
Generation X’ers — those of you born in the 60’s and 70’s — are in a tough position, and it’s you that I’d like to address today. Above you are the Baby Boomers; sucking the well and its resources dry for every last drop. Sure, they’re holding on too long but who is kicking them out? Who is applying the professional pressure for them to move on? Look down.
Below you (but quickly rising) is the Future – Generations Millenial and Y (MY, for short) are ready, willing and capable of busting through the corporate door and crossing the finish line ahead of you. They multitask, network, and socialize better than ever thought was possible. Their collegiate education went beyond debits and credits – group projects, public speaking tasks, and teamwork were the norm. And they’re connected!
They are maturing in a digital age that makes them comfortable with who they are. They are “friends” with a 1,000+, sharing photos, comments, and personal tidbits about their daily lives; something Generation X is used to sharing with buddies over beers or at home with the family. Most significantly, Gen’s MY are opportunistic. Their college and job applications were filled with Habitat trips in Guam, hospital philanthropies, and more part-time, non-paid work than you can imagine. Why? Because not only do they care about traveling the extra mile – they see the personal gain that comes with it. This is exactly why the 20-something year old staff member delivered the closing speech to my firm.
The problem is not whether the staff member had the right or the talent to be trusted with the responsibility. The question is – why didn’t one of the three senior managers step up? They obviously didn’t see the opportunity in front of them.
Let this simmer over the weekend, Gen X’ers. Next week I’ll be addressing what you can do to speak up and be seen from valley between the Boomers and Gens MY; otherwise known as where you currently sit.