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Is the Gen X Mid-life Crisis Upon Us?

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight–everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

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 Barecent “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?

Some speculation:

* 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 ( Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both West 2010). [email protected]. URL:

Are Millennials a Bunch of Indifferent Brats?

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight–everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

Recently I was asked by a reporter to comment on some research studies concluding that Gen Y/Millennials (people approximately 31 and younger now) are much less empathetic to others than the generations coming before them. The studies were done with college students since 1979, and the big change showed up after 2000.

My personal experience with the college students I know and/or mentor is not the same as gs, but my pool is much smaller, so I have no scientific basis upon which to refute the findings. As a workplace inter-generational relations expert, I mostly deal with Gen Yers already out of school. I think many of them get an undeserved negative reputation. I have found them to be eager to learn, open, hardworking, ambitious, and fun, in general.

My speculation concerning the lack of empathy shown would be a sort of numbness from the trauma of 9/11 at an impressionable age and being served a constant menu of violence in media of all sorts. I would say these factors influence the younger Gen Xers, say, under age 35, as well. Also, the pressure in school and to get into schools, and to deal with constant messaging from many sources has left many of them with little time to reflect outside of themselves. Yet, Gen Yers are big into community service and concern for social problems, which indicates empathy.

The study findings lead me to ask these questions:

• What does this lack of empathy finding mean for their relations with colleagues in the workplace?

• Will they be willing to pitch in and compensate for colleagues who need flexible time off (for a fair exchange)?

• Will they continue to collaborate if they don’t get as much recognition as they want and somebody else does get the recognition?

•Will they have the necessary empathy for clients and customers to provide the outstanding service that is demanded in these competitive times to succeed in business?

These are crucial business questions, and we need to instill the importance of empathy. Empathy is a very important quality to have for life and business. And here is a link to a very interesting article on the subject.

BONUS: Bite on empathy and relationships

Charles M. Blow, New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote about whether we know our neighbors or even care in Friends, Neighbors, and Facebook (June 12, 2010). A Pew Research Center report issued in early June found that only 42 percent of U.S. adults know all or most of their neighbors* by name.

Segmented, the greatest percentage of respondents who know all or most of their neighbors are: females, non-Hispanic whites, age 50 or older, college graduates, and annual household income over $75,000. However, most of the demographic differences are not huge.

Blow admits to only knowing one person on his block (a Times colleague). At the same time, he has a very large number of friends and followers on social networking sites, which he actively participates on.

Two thoughts Blow offers speculating on why so few know their neighbors: 1) “Social networks are rewiring our relationships and affecting the attachments to our actual ones;” and 2) “Users of social networking services are 26 percent less likely to use their neighbors as a source of companionship,” according to a Pew report released in November 2009.

Your thoughts? I want to hear them – please share.

*I live in a New York co-op apartment building, and know by name all the neighbors on our floor and many others in the building. My husband, not a dog owner, knows the name of every dog in the building, but only a few of the pet owners’ names. Interpret that as you choose!

Are Boomers Embracing the Always-Connected Attitude of Gen Y?

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight–everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

The technology use gap among the generations is closing rapidly. There may be no better example that hits home than Michael Winerup’s “Generation B” column in The New York Times, “On Vacation and Looking for Wi-Fi.” We all are touched, most of us are trapped by the psychological effect of being accessible 24/7 and the desire to keep on top of the deluge of messages and data coming in unstoppable torrents.

Winerup points out that just a few years ago the middle-aged members of his three-generation, geographically extended family vacationing together left their work and tech gadgets at home. Three years ago, a few made a visit to an Internet café on their vacation, just for the novelty of it. This year some of them stood in a long line in a resort lobby to pay for 25 hours of Internet service, brought laptops, and checked e-mail daily. This way they reduce the e-mail build-up awaiting them the first day back at work. I surely relate to that post-vacation return anxiety even as I resist checking e-mail every day when out of the U.S.

“We expect ourselves to be available,” said Winerup. That’s the Boomers’ mindset. Technology is making us work harder. Gen X and Y have been continuously connected for years, but many of them don’t want to be always available for work.

Winerup says we all are expected to use all the Internet tools for research and client relations. No more depending on secretaries and assistants.

The hit film “Up in the Air” made the point that critical human interactions, like layoffs, still require in-person contact. All the electronic connectedness not only can be a poor substitute for in-person higher touch contact, but it also leaves little time for the high touch. Now the connectedness has even invaded vacation time away with family and friends.

Is it positive or negative that the generations have something else in common?…I guess it depends.

Please share your thoughts.

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 ago, A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners ( Phyllis is the author of “The Rainmaking Machine” and “The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists” (both West 2009). [email protected]. URL:

Has Senior Leadership Resorted to Parenting in the Workplace?

By the time you read this, Monday will be one foot in the bag for most of you. So not to hurt your already-tuned-out minds with, I wanted to report on something that probably comes as no shocker to you: the difference in working attitudes between generations continues to cause grief for company leadership across the country.

The full FINS article can be found here, but here’s the bit I want to discuss:

Another issue that cropped up in the survey is the subtle generational shift evidenced by more Gen Y’ers infiltrating the accounting pool. The survey concludes that members of a younger workforce have different expectations about their careers, insofar as they’re more focused on work-life balance and not bound to a “work is all I am” mantra. When asked about reasons for voluntary turnover, 45% of respondents said a poor work/life balance, including excessive hours, was responsible.

The other 65% 55% listed “working for cranky old farts that have no concept of a balanced life” as the reason for looking for a new job. But really, there is obviously a clash in working styles and expectations between the different generations.

Older generations worked their way through school, and many were the first in their families to attend college. This work ethic carried over into the workforce, as Baby Boomers competed against one another for everything; jobs, money, social and economic status, etc. Boomers were raised on the concept of “you eat what you kill.” Simply put, they were a generation pushed and pushed and pushed to work and work and work; by parents, peers, and society alike.

Fast forward to the Generation Y and Millenials that are currently entering the workforce. The large “complaints” of senior leadership about the new waves of workers are the necessary changes that must be made – flexible work arrangements, work/life balance initiatives, community outreach programs, etc. All of these HR-friendly programs have one thing in common – they cost time and money. Upper management and partners of the accounting firms complain frequently (even here in the comments) that the Y’s and Me’s are a lazier, more high maintenance group of professionals.

Newsflash, Baby Boomers: you’re responsible for this. This was to be expected after years of an upbringing centered around access to things, supply of stuff, and promises of you can do whatever you want to do. Baby Boomers saw an advancement in education and the quality of professional training required in the workplace. Today’s generations are seeing another advancement; this one being the quality of the workplace.

But I digress. Perhaps we should all agree to disagree on the continued generational differences and focus on these lines from the FINS article:

The survey found that praise and attention from managers can have a more positive effect than cash bonuses and increase in base pay, for example. To that end, CFOs are focusing more on gold stars and less on pay stubs.

Sounds like parenting, doesn’t it?

Gen X Accountants, Here Are Four Ways to Cope with Your Millenial Co-workers

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. 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 Wake-up Call for All Gen X Accountants

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.

Hey Big 4, How’s Gen Y Working Out for You?

I read an article awhile back in CFO mag about Generation Y, or more specifically how large firms were preparing for this ‘special’ crop of soon-to-be new grads.
I’m not sure ‘panic’ is the appropriate word but let’s just say these kids had partners freaking out; technologically-inclined, lazy, and pre-programmed with a sense of entitlement normally reserved for royalty and Nobel prize winners, you knew something was up with these kids if management was stressing their arrival. The Big 4 went so far as to hold trainings for partners on how to tame this hyped generation as they prepared to descend on the corporate world.
More, after the Jump

Now that the first wave of Gen Yers have successfully penetrated the corporate fortress, we figured it might be a good time to check in and see how that’s working out.
‘Screw our SEC deadlines’ may not be an exact quote but that was the typical Millennial attitude impressed upon us by one of our sources, a 40-something CPA lucky enough to be stashed away in private accounting out on the East Coast. He also called working with Gen Y ‘horrid’ but private accounting can be horrid in and of itself so we won’t credit that fully to the Under 30 crowd.
Gen Y is driven by… Well we haven’t figured out if they are driven at all. All reports are that they think ‘work ethic’ means avoiding checking their Facebook pages on company time, expect the corner office as soon as the ink dries on their offer letter, and have absolutely no grasp on the concept of performance-driven bonuses.
What’s worse, say sources, is they don’t seem fazed in the least by economic turmoil. Though employers using performance above seniority as a lay off gauge naturally look to their poor performers as first in line to get sliced, the Millennials are so dosed on the illusion of their own greatness that they seem absolutely stunned when the pink slips come.
So why would the Big 4 continue the tradition of recruiting new hires from college campuses, blocking out the 35 year olds who understand that just getting up in the morning is not cause for a gold star?
You’ll have to talk to the hiring managers if you want an answer to that. Perhaps it’s that we’ve got them all wrong and the generalization itself is what’s driving the conflict.
In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing how Gen Y breaks out of the stereotype to impress the pants off of us and inherit the empire. With all that ambition and talent, we’re sincerely hoping they learn to apply that to the Big 4 to shake things up for the better. Hopefully they can also bury the billable hour once and for all while they’re at it. Go, kids, go!