Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Greatest-Generation, Baby-Boomers, Gen-X’ers, Gen-Y’ers and Gen-Me: Who Are These People?

There is an interesting, and possibly apocryphal, story concerning Pompeii that was buried during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is reported that graffiti on a bathhouse wall said, “What is happening to the younger generation?” Whether this story is true or not, every generation seems puzzled and bemused by subsequent generations.

Newer generations are equally critical of the previous generation. This reminds me of the old bromide, “The grandson wants to remember what the son wants to forget.” Suffice it to say, generations are different and they approach life and work differently.

Tom Brokaw wrote several books on the “Greatest Generation.” This is the generation that grew up during the Depression, won World War Two, developed the suburbs and spawned the “Baby-Boomer” generation. Mr. Brokaw drew so much attention to that generation and did so many interviews that one wag was inspired to quip, “The Greatest Generation has just delivered a cease-and-desist order to Tom Brokaw!”

Now it is the Baby-Boomer generation that is retiring from the workplace to be replaced by Gen X, Gen Y, and/or Gen Me. It is these generations that are receiving much attention from HR experts.

Gen X was born in the 1960s and 1970s, Gen Y was born between 1980 and 1995. Gen-Me tends to be a more pejorative term and overlaps Gen X and Gen Y, and they were born after 1970.

In an article entitled “Generation Y: They’ve Arrived at Work With a New Attitude” appearing in “USA Today”, columnist Stephanie Armour describes a 22 year old young lady in flip-flops at her desk listening to her i-pod and saying that she doesn’t want work to be her life. “This is Generation Y, a force of as many as 70 million, and the first wave now embarking on their careers –taking their place in an increasingly multigenerational workplace.” Armour goes on to describe Gen Y as having been pampered, nurtured and provided with a multitude of diverting activities. Since toddlers they are both high performance and high maintenance.

Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaking Thinking, who co-authored Managing Generation Y with Carolyn Martin states “If you thought you saw a clash when Generation X came into the workplace, that was a fake punch. The haymaker is coming now.” Tulgan gave a recent example of a young woman who just started a job at a cereal company, “She showed up on the first day with a recipe for a new cereal she’d invented.” Conflict?

Jean M. Twenge wrote a book whose title seems to say it all, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Would I be too cynical to ask, if they are going to make the rest of us miserable it’s only fair that they’re a little miserable themselves?

K. Henderson wrote a book review of Generation Me (mentioned above) and called her review “The Self-Esteem Movement is Setting Our Kids up For Failure.” Not one to mince words, she says, “Instead of creating well-adjusted, happy children, the self-esteem movement has created an army of little narcissists. Narcissism is a very negative personality trait linked to aggression and poor relations with others.”

Oh boy. Here are a few more. Mike Kraus, offers strategies to retail store managers who are faced with the statement, “Pay me more or I’m quitting.”

Rebecca Mazin authored an article called “How Many Employees Will Have the Flu on Monday?” This refers to likely absences after the Super Bowl. She suggests that employers track absences after weekends and three day holidays. http://allbusiness/medicine-health/deseases-disorders-infectious/6611264-1.html.

In the latest (Dec 2007) Junior Achievement/Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey, “Thirty-eight percent of the teenagers surveyed believe that it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed.” No wonder Tom Brokaw misses the Greatest Generation.

Well which is it? Is that graffiti on the Pompeii wall accurate in that older generations will always disparage younger generations, or are Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Me really going to hell in a hand basket?

Referring back to Aristotle’s Golden Mean, I think that the answer is a decisive yes and no. The point is that all generational labels are generalities. Useful if they are correct more than 50% of the time. But the problem that I am concerned with is whether the next person I hire will be disruptive in the work place. Who is to say which generation has the most jerks or turkeys? Maybe the proportions are different. Therefore, I recommend that you assess everyone as an individual. You might even want to consider using the Workplace Attitudes Test.


Mike said...

These are some great resources...especially the USA Today article which offers some insight into the attitudes of Gen-Me. As someone who helps small businesses become more profitable and sets them up for growth, I preach to my clients that employees are their number one asset. Understanding how to effectively work with Gen-Me will only help them achieve their long-terms goals.

Ann Fry, Head Boomer said...

I agree with your coment: "I recommend you assess everyone as an individual." As someone who works to helps to create Great workplace cultures, with a focus on retaining boomers, I think the trick is to embrace the differences. Our responsibility as boomers is to teach our work ethic to the next generations while at the same time, learn to accept theirs. This will keep us in greater harmony as we drive the bottom line.