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HBR: GenX versus Baby Boomers

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We keep talking about Gen Y Milennials.  They are after all the next unknown generation of workers, and they are “different.”  However, we can’t ignore the Gen X’ers either.  As the boomer retire, the Gen X population will be the first ones to fill the shoes of leadership and senior talent.  And the fact is that Gen X is quite different from the Boomers.

As hard as it is for Boomers to believe, most members of Generation X are not your biggest fans. To many Xers, Boomers have been a continual thorn, always holding the vast majority of the “good jobs” and seemingly diminishing their limited economic opportunities yet further. Boomers have taken up far too much physical space and mental mindshare, often with an air of decided superiority and self-pre-occupation, for far too long. But despite lofty teenage promises, they have done little to better either corporations or broader world. The workplace that Boomers have managed has not been overly receptive to many Xers’ values and preferences. And, as Xers move into positions of increased authority, resentments related to the results of Boomers’ custodial roles — of the environment, international relationships, the national debt — are already beginning to surface.  ((Erickson, Tammy, June 26, 2007.  “Ouch! The Painful Divide Between Generation X and the Boomers.”  Harvard Business Online.  Retrieved from On July 8, 2007.))

I honestly don’t know about some of the opinions listed above.  In many highly publicized cases, the boomers have failed us, gotten major corporations in trouble, lead us into pits of ethical dilemmas, and hoarded opportunity for themselves.  Not what we expected from the 60’s love children who turned into 80’s money mongers.

There is a definite culture difference between the two groups despite an often small separation in age. Gen Xers are more concerned with finding the right job for them, regardless of which company, instead of sticking with a company and hoping to climb the ladder. I have found many Boomers to be very ambitious and concerned with climbing the ladder. Many are unhappy in their jobs yet don’t consider leaving their organizations. Gen Xers, on the other hand, are often more concerned with a work-life balance where they work to live instead of live to work. Free time is highly valued, probably more so than money for many. We have seen Boomers fill and stay in management/ leadership positions thus resigning us to remain in the rank and file. We tend to job hop more than Boomers since company loyalty is not something we expect, having seen and been affected by the downsizing of the 80’s and 90’s. Boomers are seen by Gen Xers as a “me” generation. It’s all about them. They got the jobs and the houses and we were left with the leftovers.”  ((Ibid))

However, I’m not sure that Gen X is all that different.  They are all too eager to take over, but perhaps to try and right some of the wrongs done before.  The environment is a mess, corporate trust is low, and no matter who has control over government, we don’t like it.  The question is if the core values are truly that different.  Generation X might have tendencies that are more openly displayed in Gen Y, but overall, I believe that the real hope for change will come when there is simply enough money that “getting ahead” isn’t so important anymore.  That’s just my way of saying that Gen Y will see Gen X the same way in 30 years.

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5 responses to “HBR: GenX versus Baby Boomers”

  1. Fred in IT Avatar
    Fred in IT

    I find this to be the typical, myopic, view of the up incomming class has of their parentage.

    While the current excess can be attributed to the boomers, excess has been the hallmark of the power elite for recorded history. The Roman Senate, Roman Catholic Church during the dark ages, reign of Louis XVI of France, the robber barrons of late 19th and early 20th centry and isn’t even confined to western civilization.

    While you gripe and whine about the Boomers (and a portion of it is justified), don’t forget that they also started the current environmental movement, fought for civil rights, equality of justice (can you say Miranda?) among others.

    What do the X and Y’s have to show for yourselves at this stage of the game? Two things 1) Abject consumerism (iPods, crackberrys, expensive cars and (mostly) bad music) and being generally wasteful. 2) A continuous rant against the establishment.

    #1 is the general trend in world economics, and I see no let-up in it. #2 is a role the Boomers played in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. Their parents did it before them and your children will do it to you.

    Take a listen to a song by a 60’s favorite band – The Who. ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ I think sums of the situation nicely.

    I am doing my part to leave the world in a better place for you. Are you?

    So, in colosing, the Gen X’s and Y’s are no different than the generations before (Boomers) or after (Z?). And being a Boomer, You are no different than I am other that I have one thing you have yet, but will, earn. Experience.

    When you get to the other side look me up. Let me know how it went. I have a feeling I already know.

  2. Scot Herrick Avatar

    There are lots of Gen X and Y blogs out there — and HBR articles! — basically saying the same thing as shown here. It’s really interesting, because I think all of them miss the real point: business has totally changed in the last 20-25 years. It’s technology driven, outsourced, downsized, lost loyalty, and much more financially driven than ever before.

    That’s the real story — and how workers react to those changes, regardless of the generation, is the story to be written.

    If baby boomers are holding on to their positions, it may mean they are being defensive in their career management and not be forced to retire at age 59 instead of 65. If Gen X’ers job hop more, perhaps that is a reflection of companies no longer offering the training and skill set improvements needed to keep them interested. If Gen Y is all about now and consumerism, perhaps that’s because our leaders focus on making the monthly numbers, the quarterly prediction, and take the stock options now.

    Generations have been generations a long time. The tactics within the generations of sticking with work has changed because business has changed.

    At least in my humble opinion!

  3. Wally Bock Avatar

    The original book that established the nomenclature that just about everyone is using is Strauss and Howe’s Generations. They outline a generational cycle of four types and trace that cycle forward from Colonial times. They point out that a true cycle is self-generating, in other words type A follows type B without regard to a change in the workplace. So far, sixteen years on, their analysis seems to hold up well. BUT where Scott has a great point is that the generational change is playing out in a world where more things are changing than at almost any other time in history.

    I’m the front end of the Baby Boom. I made my first telephone call by responding when the operator said, “Number, please.” We had one of the first TVs in town, which got two channels that went off the air around midnight. My Gen X offspring include a computer tech and a young man who uses CAD software for construction estimates. My Gen Y offspring have never lived in a home without a computer. Besides technology, the landscape of loyalty and civility has changed and the Gen X and Gen Y people bring their unique generational perspective to bear on that new environment.

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