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“Dear” Generation Y, We Should Talk


Dear Gen Y,

We should talk. The world has been telling us a lot about you, and we are figuring some things out on our own, too. For instance, we know you are tech savvy. We know you are extremely talented and, well, we may have heard you have some BIG expectations – really BIG. But before we just hand over the reins (or the keys to the C-suite) there are a few things you should know.

I was standing in line at the coffee shop when I overheard a conversation between two professionally dressed young ladies in their mid twenties. They were complaining about how much more money their manager made. One commented, “She is a great worker but I can do what she does. Do I really have to work for twenty or thirty years to make that kind of money?” As they continued to talk, they also giggled over the fact that this manager starts every email with “Dear.”

First, let me say, it is so refreshing to see you enter the workplace with so much energy and a ready to take over the world attitude. Although, I would like to offer some big-sisterly advice when I say it would be in your best interest to learn a little about those that came before you: the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.

I’ve been where you are and I remember what it was like when I was in my 20s. One time I prepared a report for my boss, unsolicited. The report was about me – not just about me, but about my Generation (Gen X) and how his generation (Baby Boomers) could better relate to Xers in the workplace. Looking back on it now, I cringe and I hope you are not thinking, “Great idea! My boss is clueless.”

It would have helped me out tremendously to understand where the Boomers were coming from, but my contemporaries were not talking about them. Just like – most likely – your peers are not talking about the Boomers or Xers. So, here’s a little run down.

Baby Boomers:

  • were raised by a generation that lived through the Great Depression and at least one World War. They were taught to value hard work and the importance of order.

  • believe strongly in “face time” at work. They assume if they don’t see your face behind the desk, you aren’t working.

  • value loyalty – when this generation entered the workforce, they may have thought their first employer would be their last.

  • are one of the hardest working generations, the idea of a standard 35 or 40 hour workweek was obliterated by them.

  • were driven for success in their early careers and success was more money, a bigger title, the corner office and all the perks and bragging rights to go with it.

Boomers are still in the workforce in big numbers, many of whom are the senior executives at our nation’s Fortune 500 companies and are in key federal government positions. Not only because there were so many of them to begin with, but also because they are the healthiest generation in history; they are still able to work. Additionally, a lot of them are working longer then they planned because they are trying to earn back the funds for retirement they lost when the stock market crashed a few years ago. Boomers may expect a lot out of you but they are also amazed at the ease with which you pick up on technology. They look to you to teach them about these things, which is a great way to get on their good side. Just don’t forget about the hierarchy when you take on this teacher role. A 56 year-old senior manager doesn’t like a 23 year-old talking down to them.

Generation Xers:

  • can be very cynical. We were kids during the recession of the 80s, we lived through Reaganomics during our formative years, we were the first generation of “latch key kids” as both of our parents worked – and worked a lot. This resulted in an entire generation that is hugely independent.

  • are interested in work life balance, “work smarter not harder.” We think hard work should be for a purpose and would rather figure out a better way of doing something now and save time later.

  • expect a certain amount of formal protocol in the workplace (as Xers were taught by the very formal Baby Boomers).

  • enjoy technology and gadgets (afterall we were the first ones to grow up with video games and personal computers).

  • have our own definition of success, and success looks like a stable career, a comfortable (maybe not extravagant) lifestyle, and ability to go on family vacations.

Generation Xers sometimes feel like we are being squeezed in between you and the Boomers. With the economic recession landing right on top of us when we should have been hitting our stride, our wait time to “run things” has been extended. And now, you are entering the workforce in increasing numbers and becoming major competition for those promotions we have been waiting for. Given that we feel we have every reason to be resentful, we really are not that bad. We actually enjoy teamwork and taking on the mentor role, so give us the opportunity to show you the ropes.

Now that you have been acquainted with what makes Xers and Boomers tick, I’ll leave you with just one more piece of advice. Slow down and take advantage of the wisdom and experience both Xers and Boomers have to share. In the end, like you, we just want to be valued for what we have to offer. Many of us have made huge sacrifices and delayed gratification for years, to develop our own businesses or, have had to face salary reductions and lack of advancement because of the recession. But we have learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way.

Oh, and your Boomer boss uses “Dear” at the beginning of every email because when they started out, correspondence usually came in the format of a letter – on paper! They continue the habit to be respectful. If there is anything else you’d like to know, just ask, we’d love to share.


Your Gen X Big Sister

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