Sunday, December 2, 2007

X Marks the Spot

I went to hear a lecture by Marilyn Moats Kennedy about generations (you know, Boomers, Busters, GenX, Gen[wh]Y) last month that has been nibbling at the back of my mind. The talk was mostly about all these generations mixing in the workplace, and the well-documented challenges of managing this latest generation of folks in their early twenties to thirty.

It really got my goat. No, I don't have a goat, but if I did, it would be had.

I am a prototypical GenXer -- I'm all space shuttles exploding, Reagan declaring ketchup a vegetable, Madonna with the "boy toy" belt buckle, post-punk, riot grrrrl, I used a typewriter when I started my first job but by the end of the year we all had Macs and the typewriters were gone -- and I've been working for seventeen years now. It's almost accidentally turned into a career path at this point, so I feel like I'm not doing badly.

But the fact that GenX was barely mentioned in this lecture was very strange to me. Ms. Moats Kennedy was waxing rhapsodic about how GenY is so different and how boomers have to figure out how to deal with them. Among her insights (which were truly insightful):

  • GenY doesn't want to go out for happy hour with the crew from work. They want to go home and eat Lean Cuisine and go to the gym, and each drink they might have with you just translates into another hour at the gym. They don't exercise or play outside, also -- they just go to the gym and use devices specifically made for exercising.
  • You have to tell GenY explicitly what you want them to do -- if you want them to show up in a grown-up costume for meetings with clients instead of flip-flops, you must tell them to do so. They're happy to do it, but you need to be terrific - be specific.
  • GenY has been extremely attentively parented -- this is the first generation to have play-dates. You must schedule things with them and follow the schedule. They don't want to blue-sky, they want to follow the agenda, and will cheerfully work through whatever bullsh*t you put on the agenda. But don't expect them to enjoy a freewheeling bull session where you come up with twenty wild new ideas that may or may not pan out. Why don't you just tell them what product you want them to innovate.
Yes yes yes, this is all well and good, but here I am in GenX thinking, What about me? I mean, come on! I know there aren't as many of us, but heck, don't we deserve some kind of special management attention too? We're really utterly ignored now that GenY is proving to be such a pain in the collective behind. And I'm not the only one who's noticed.

Well, it turns out that GenXers are kind of a zelig in the workplace. We are really good at navigating the boomers' expectations, but we are also fully digital so we don't find GenY's focus on technology-mediated socialization that foreign (although we secretly think it's kind of bogus). We lived with self-absorbed boomer parents finding themselves throughout the seventies, we dealt with the absurdity of the eighties, we came into our own in the nineties (and everyone should be grateful to us for ending the era of hair bands and ushering in post-punk grunge), and now we should be running things in the aughts.

But we're not. All those dang boomers are not retiring, leaving us malingering in middle management. And we have to look out because all the self-entitled GenYers might run roughshod over us.

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