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Generation Y: Why we need to play nice with Gen X

December 7, 2009

On a recent episode of The Businessmakers Overtime Show, Katie and I discussed an article that showed up on titled “Generation X Is Increasingly ‘Whatever’ at Work.” The premise is that the Gen X folks, once considered the up-and-coming forward-thinking must-hires are now sandwiched between the baby boomers who can’t (or won’t) retire and the Gen Yer’s, who will work harder and longer for less money. The Gen Xer’s (32-44 year olds) feel they are the redheaded stepchildren of the work force, and they’re becoming more and more disgruntled about it.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of the article that I really got heated up:

“Jon Anne Willow, co-publisher of, an online arts and culture site in Milwaukee, is among employers who’ve recently been able to hire more experienced candidates for jobs traditionally filled by 20-somethings.

They’re hungry to work, she says. And as she sees it, that gives her fellow Gen Xers and the baby boomers she’s hired a distinct advantage over a lot of the Gen Yers she’s come across.

“When the dust settles, they’ll be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food,” she quips.

Spoken like a truly jaded Gen Xer.”

Are you Gen Y? If you aren’t, do you know plenty of bright, hard-working Gen Yer’s who are just as capable (though maybe not as seasoned)? I mostly choose not to step into this debate; those who think all people of my generation are selfish, lazy, and less intelligent probably won’t change their minds. The bottom line is this: The people who embrace the differences between generations will be the most successful, no matter what generation they come from.

We’re working smarter, not longer. Networking IS working. Many Millenials spend their time at quick lunches, happy hours, young adult non-profit meetups, and coffee houses, fully realizing the value of relationships, relationships that are not built on swanky dinner parties or what’s-in-it-for-me. The relationships we build are based on a desire to share our knowledge and learn from peers smarter than we are. By building networks like this, we make ourselves (and the companies we work for) stronger and more clued-in. We’re leaving the office before 11 p.m., but staying that late to get things done if we have to.

We’re chastised for trying to achieve work-life balance, even though we’ve seen what can happen without it. Divorce, exhaustion, working without passion. We’re using a few more vacation days, spending more time with family and friends, and coming in to work more productive and vibrant because of our positive involvement outside of the office.

We’re working for less money. Who ISN’T working for less money? This is not generational. Many Gen Yers coming out of college looking for entry level positions in their chosen fields were/are forced to start working for much lower salaries than their predecessors. Signing bonus? Cut in half, or non-existent. I know several people who worked as unpaid interns to get a foot in the door post-college. Maybe Gen Yer’s are willing to work for less money, but what other choice do we have? You’re working for less, we’re working for less.

We really need Generation X. We need mentors. It is not lost on us that many Gen Xer’s survived the Dot-Com bust and landed back on their feet to grow just as strong, if not stronger companies. It is not lost on us that “the Google guys are Gen Xer’s,” as the article states. We are not working to undo what the generation just ahead of us has done, and couldn’t if we tried. In fact, we’re trying to build on it. Are we crazy for wanting to do business differently, in a more open and creative way?

It remains to be seen how the world will remember us, but I can bet that the people who champion and collaborate with Gen Y will be vocal enough to drown out the naysayers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009 10:28 am

    You sound exactly like I did…10 or 15 years ago. There are very good reasons why Gen Xers are sounding so jaded these days, and I saw it coming. Anybody who studied the generations could have seen this coming, it’s sheer numbers…the number of GenXers in the workplace are less than half the number of Boomers or Millenials. Yes, we are skeptical individualists…but I think we understand networking and relationships pretty well. No loyalty, that’s for sure, but as we have families and settle down we certainly have become less mobile. It is frustrating that people aren’t retiring anymore, leaving less and less opportunities for promotion. It is all very interesting. Glad you’re willing to place nice.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      December 8, 2009 1:47 pm

      Thanks for the comment. There’s no question that this is a generalization, and many Gen Xer’s are not jaded and judgmental of Gen Y, just like many Gen Yer aren’t lazy, selfish, and stupid (though some are!). It’s definitely interesting to watch it unfold, especially in industries where the hours are longer and usually more demanding like law and medicine.


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