Thursday, January 7, 2010

**Gen X and Gen Y in the Career Field

Due to our lack of orginizational skillz, we are posting the Ghost Blog on Thursday, rather than Wednesday. Our apologies. Please read our latest Ghost Blog, and let them know what you think on this topic! ~Nomz and Sazaran

I’m Gen X. I like to lead there because it tells you a lot about me. My parents divorced. My mom went to work. I was told to never, ever answer the door or the phone unless she was home. Oh, and I’m really good at navigating the messiness of life. I need a plan. I love plans. So it only makes sense that I’ve mapped out an inter-generational career plan, right?

My parents are Baby Boomers. They certainly were doing better financially when they were my age. They lived on one income, for example. I can’t imagine raising three kids on one income – my income. Yet, my parents did it and were called “middle class” when they did.

My parents are much more understanding of how housing, education and even food costs have exploded since they were my age. My grandparents, members of the GI Generation, are not as able to put it together. They don’t have a real-time understanding that wages haven’t kept up with costs.

A product of the Great Depression, they depress me with all their talk of my multiple address and job changes and lack of thousands of dollars in liquid savings. They claim to understand things cost so much, but fail to realize that my parents, for as well as they were doing, didn’t pay my way through college. Of course, my grandparents paid $300 a semester for my dad’s education. My tuition bills were $1,300 a semester, a bargain in the mid-90s. So I borrowed money for college. I borrowed money to buy a decent car. I paid for stuff on my credit card. And still, I don’t have $10,000 in savings nor do I have any chance of paying off my mortgage before I retire. Or die, probably.

My grandparents’ first home: $5,000. Mine? $52,000. Yep. In just two generations.

I love my grandparents. They know what it is to be financially solvent, believe that is wholly possible, and we all know that comes with sacrifices. I resent my parents’ generation, making me an even more typical Gen X. They recognize how expensive life is today, but don’t seem to adequately appreciate how good they’ve had it for so long, and that even now, in an economic downturn, they get to keep the best paying jobs they’ve ever had to secure an even better retirement for themselves. (And who can blame them? Life isn’t free for retirees, as my grandparents can attest.)

As a result of all that mixing of medical science and economic downshifting, this is the first time all four generations are sharing the work environment. The GI Generation and (their slightly younger counterparts) the Silent Generation aren’t retiring. Work gives them purpose, and they require that. Boomers aren’t retiring because they simply can’t afford to (or because they don’t dream about retirement in the same fun framework Gens X and Y do). That means Boomer values feature prominently in any workplace policy and they might not be so keen on Gens X and Y and their voice in the workplace.

It’s not surprising Gens X and Y might feel entitled to affect policy. After all, we played T-ball. We worked in small groups in elementary school. We voted on lunchroom policy. Our parents assured us we were very, very special kids.

We heard by a generation that wasn’t heard by their parents.

My goals at work aren’t the same as the generations that came before me, and I have little hope of retiring at 65 years old, the “traditional” retirement age. I bring that perspective to work with me every day in my hip pocket, and I realize those differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If I let them creep into my brain, those career-terrorizing thoughts can ruin my day, my workweek, and eventually, work is no place I want to be at all. That’s an even sadder thought considering Gens X and Y need to be part of a community. We just don’t see community the same way older generations do. Some of us use Internet and Community interchangeably, because doesn’t it feel that way?

All of these generational differences and generational togetherness add up to some serious differences in workplace style. In my years in the workforce – 10 in newsrooms and now three in state government –I’ve learned a few things.

-You believe your 2 cents is welcome in any policy or practice discussion. The Others believe you need to work your way up the ladder (Boomers) or stop pestering and just accept the things you cannot change (Silents, GIs).

-You believe information should flow freely, after all, we’re on the same team here. The Others believe you need to appreciate the hierarchy (Boomers, Silents, GIs).

-You believe the way the company shows its appreciation for you is to invest in you, making training your workplace currency in trade. The Others trade in information. Withholding it secures their place on the company ladder, which Gens X and Y can hardly even see because they’re so busy moving from one organization to another in search of more opportunity and better pay and better benefits so they can see their kids’ school plays, act as parent aides in the classroom or coach their kids’ youth soccer team.

Big differences, no?

If you’re to grow in this environment, and I hope you do want to grow your career, here’s what you need to do: Find a way to partner with one of the Others on a project. They’ve got a lot to teach you. They’ve been around a while and have tons of insight into how projects have failed or succeeded in the past in similar or completely different environments. They know how stuff works.

And then remember you have a lot to teach them. Like, voicemail and e-mail aren’t the only way to communicate on work product and Google Docs is a plethora of fantastically free project management tools.

A failure to buy the popular idea that Gens X and Y just might be the “Most Self-involved Generation” is a great first step in launching your own career, no matter how measure success.

**Ghost Blogger


PDS said...

"Generation Me" is a wonderful book that touches on some of these points. It's about how the recent (and current) generations have been given SO much positive reinforcement, and how their parents have told them so many times that they're amazing, wonderful, special people that they come out into society with expectations that usually can't be met. They come out with an inflated sense of entitlement, and then are disappointed when their "dream job" or "dream relationships" or "dream lives" don't measure up. It's an interesting read! said...

I think having multiple generations in a workplace & learning to adjust to the different demands of each is one of the most difficult parts of starting a job. You're prepared for all the job-related aspects on the first day, but I've always found that the roughest part is finding a way to work with and understand all the different personalities/generations. (All of which, I think, you hit spot-on!)

Lover of your BLOG! said...

Yes BIG HUGE differences in the two Generations! I'm amazed at my parents and their parents...wish I could save money and budget like they did. Of course, they didn't have Starbucks, Victoria's Secret, Olive Garden, high heeled shoes, cute jeans..........back then.

GenXpert said...

You know, I'm in a similar boat as you. Come visit my blog, your perspective would be great.

I'm also a former journalist (only lasted 3 years) and have been 13 years in marketing. Love it. Have a great job, great family, great life. Can you even imagine being a Boomer? Having to walk around pontificating all the time and acting like an asshole. It's great to be Gen X. Don't think twice about it. We live great lives and are so strong. We deal with tough circumstances and still have happy lives.

One thing I've noticed is that all my Xer friends are doing just fine. It's like the "poor Xers" are an urban myth. Like the lady who fell asleep in the tanner and fried her organs. It's always someone's aunt who knows her. Are some things tougher for Xers? Sure, but Xers are also tougher.

Look around you. We're doing great.


PS. Love the blog.

Harley Bahama said...

We're products of our own culture. Pensions in the private sector were virtually non-existent for your g-parents.Average home sizes are gargantuan in comparison. Things change, and your generation will lead that change. You'll be the ones that usher in green technologies and wean our culture back away from materialism - among other things. I'm confident of that. Be part of the change. Not part of the past.

- Harley

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