Archive for the ‘Generation X’ Category

The Key to Understanding Gen Y Employees? Helicopter Parents

Everybody’s Fine. Robert DeNiro, playing a recently widowed father of four, discovers that his children have been telling him only what he wants to hear because he held each of them to his expectations, not theirs.

But most poignant was his advice to his most troubled son. As a kid, David wanted to paint. I’m paraphrasing here but DeNiro’s character told David, “don’t be just a painter, become an artist.” David did become an artist. But he also became a troubled soul and unfortunately died a tragic death. In reflecting back, DeNiro talks to David sorrowfully tells him “to paint.”

When I returned home, I quickly “googled” an article I read recently in Time magazine about  the “insanity” of “overparenting.” In it Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, recalled his son’s reaction to learning he was getting an art tutor to help him draw better. “He look[ed] at me like I [was] from outer space,” Honoré said. “‘I just wanna draw,’ he [told] me. ‘Why do grownups have to take over everything?’”

The Time article diagnosed the scenario as a classic case of helicopter parenting. I’ve written and spoken about it for several years. I even devoted a chapter to it in my book:

…we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old’s “pencil-holding deficiency,” hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field — “helicopter parents,” teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions.

Stores began marketing stove-knob covers and “Kinderkords” (also known as leashes; they allow “three full feet of freedom for both you and your child”) and Baby Kneepads (as if babies don’t come prepadded)…

Overparenting’s been around a long time. Douglas MacArthur’s mom Pinky reportedly moved with him to West Point in 1899 and took an apartment near the campus, supposedly so she could watch him with a telescope to be sure he was studying. In the 1960s and 1970s the pendulum swung the other way. With Baby Boomers reprioritizing careers over kids, the term latch-key kid was coined to denote a generation of kids fending for themselves while their parents climbed the ladder. When these kids entered the workforce as Generation X, free agency and work-life balance hit the proverbial work ethic fan.

But in the 1990s the needle shifted again, but this time it went way past the red line. Parents stopped letting kids out of their sight. Welcome to a generation raised by helicopter parents. Parents who were raised walking alone to school, riding mass transit, trick-or-treating, and selling Girl Scout cookies door to door forbid their kids to do the same. The percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Parents lobbied to take the jungle gyms out of playgrounds, and strollers suddenly needed the warning label “Remove Child Before Folding.” Among 6-to-8-year-olds, free playtime dropped 25% from 1981 to ’97, and homework more than doubled.

Parents became so obsessed with their kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development. The competition to get your child enrolled into top-flight nursery schools became more fierce than getting an academic scholarship into an Ivy League school. High school teachers began to receive irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as “crispies,” who arrived at college already burned out, and “teacups,” who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.

Some elementary schools had to institute a “no rescue” policy to prevent the daily onslaught of parents dropping in to deliver forgotten lunch boxes and notebooks. Many colleges have a “director of parent programs” to run regional groups so moms and dads can meet fellow college parents or attend special classes where they learn school cheers. Others employ “parent cops” so that during orientation, course registration and Parent Days, the faculty and administration isn’t attacked by parents demanding to know why their child isn’t at the top of the class.

What should come as a welcome relief to teachers and employers, a backlash against overparenting has been building for years (although the teachers and parents who seem to be doing the most griping are the most offensive helicopter parents). The shift is no less prominent than what’s printed these days on toddler tees. We’ve gone from “Baby on Board” to selling baby T-shirts that say “I’ll walk when I’m good and ready.” This helicopter parent insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful.

Grounding the hovering helicopter parent won’t be easy. Parental advice from “experts” has been shaping the parenting style for years: from D.H. Lawrence (who said in 1918: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”) to Dr Benjamin Spock, Dear Abby, Oprah and Dr.Phil. But the lag time between the change in child-rearing philosophy and mature offspring takes a generation. And for those adult-age children raised by the not-so-perfect parent, there is no instant replay to reverse the decisions.

By the time parents recognize the error of their ways, the children have already been molded and shaped. While the shift away from overparenting is obviously well underway, it will take years to shift the attitudes and behaviors of the children. Generation X latch-key kids, the offspring of Baby Boomers, shaped recruiting, retention and business strategies for the past two decades. Their attitudes toward work ethic, communication, career planning and more lingered long after they were out from under the short reach of their parents. Generation Y, nearly double the size of Gen X, is now entering the workforce.

Even if their hovering parents are grounded, the “kids are out of the bag” and standing at employers’ doorsteps. 

Previously posted on

CEOs: Be Careful Who Owns Your Facebook Page

One of the biggest bonehead blunders taking place in business today has to do with CEOs delegating the set-up of their Facebook business page to the intern or youngest employee.  Why?

First of all, it trivializes the critical role social media plays in managing your brand and reputation.  While Facebook and MySpace might be second nature to a 20-something, that doesn’t mean they have the ability to put social media in its proper context.  By that I mean – social media will only be effective if it supports and enhances your strategic objectives.

Understanding how to set up an account on Facebook, doesn’t automatically infer they understand strategy, marketing, messaging, and branding. Just because I’m a frequent user of Word, doesn’t qualify me for a Pulitzer Prize.

Read more at Workplace Trends

Book Review: Alliterative title generates generational talk

The following book review was printed in The Courier, November 18, 2009. The reviewer was Elaine VanderClute.

The subtitle of the book “Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization” by Dr. Ira S.Wolfe, “How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace,” is as clever as its alliterative title.  A closer look reveals that the geeks are wired, the geezers are tired and googlization is a fancy word for technology, but Wolfe’s prescriptions for success in the workplace are much more comprehensive than his titles suggest.

Wolfe tackles a phenomenon that many might not even realize exists: the convergence in the workplace of four generations with very different ideas of how to work, when to work, where to work and why to work.  First, he identifies these four generations. The Veterans, born before 1946, are sometimes known as the Silent or Greatest Generation. They remember Pearl Harbor, Mickey Mouse, the McCarthy Era and Joe DiMaggio.  Next up are the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, whose memories are of the Cold War, civil rights demonstrations, American Bandstand and the Beatles. Generation X, or Baby Busters, born between 1965 and 1979, recall the Challenger disaster, the Cosby Show, Cabbage Patch dolls and Kurt Cobain.  Finally is Generation Y, or the Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. Wolfe predicts that they will remember September 11, Facebook, Wikipedia and Bill Clinton.

Mix the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y together and put them in the same work environment and there is the potential for some interesting results.  Wolfe stresses that knowing the differences about how the workers in each of these generational groups approach the workplace can put a positive spin on those results.  He is quick to point out however, that the defining characteristics in each group may be typical but are by no means universal.  Using himself as an example, Wolfe describes himself as a “Gen Y trapped in a Baby Boomer body.”

Readers might wonder why the convergence of these particular generations should be any different from say, the generations that worked together in the 1940s or 1950s.  One of the reasons is that in the past, it would have been rare to have people from four generations working side by side.

However, people today have a longer life expectancy and more Veterans and Baby Boomers are opting to put off retirement or go back to work after retirement.  Another reason, according to Wolfe, is technology, hence the “googlization” in his title.  In a particularly succinct take on what is happening in the workplace, Wolfe asserts that “technology is the air that young people breathe and it is beginning to leave more experienced workers gasping.”

Lest readers think that this means that Wolfe is minimizing the contribution that the older generations can make at work, the author makes it perfectly clear that workers from all four groups bring valuable assets to work and these should be recognized and cultivated by managers.  The trick he says, to approaching a multigenerational workforce, is to use the right management style for each generation:  a supporting style for the Veterans, an empowering style for Baby Boomers and older Gen Xs, a steering style for the younger Gen Xs and a building style for the youngest workers, the Gen Ys.

 “Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization” focuses on the mix of generations in the business world, but the application to other parts of living is clear:  people would do well to take the time to learn what distinguishes the members of one generation from another.  As Ira Wolfe says, “Bridging the generational gap is like controlling traffic at a four-way stop sign.  To avoid collisions, drivers must give-and-take from each generation to keep the productivity flowing, creating a more cordial and hopefully collaborative environment.”

Age Does Matter on the Job

Age does matter. Different ages, and therefore different generations, don’t create conflicts in their own right. It’s just that each generation is influenced by different events that shape attitudes, values, and even music tastes. What I remember as a child is mere history for my children and today’s youth. Sure, they can listen to the music but they can never experience the feeling of watching the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan or hearing the news that JFK was shot.

Continue reading

What events, images, and influences shaped each generation?

I found this great video about the events, images and influences that shaped the ways each generations think.  What’s missing?  How do you relate?  What did you feel watching this?

Gen-Blending Relieves Stress of Generational Crowding

Juggling multigenerational workforces is nothing new for many organizations.  What’s changed however is that the Baby Boomers aren’t retiring as expected and it’s capping career growth and stalling job openings for younger workers. This new phenomena is creating a state of generational crowding.

This workplace crowding  is forcing managers to do what my colleague and friend Bette Price calls “gen-blending,” a practice where different generations of workers representing multiple ranks of personnel come together as equals to solve company issues.

Cross-generational teams, according to a just published article in the Financial Times, “are about more than young people imparting technical skills to older workers; they give senior employees the opportunity to learn more about the ideals, behaviors and values of the younger generation,” according to Dan Woodward, senior vice-president at BakBone Software, who was interviewed for the article. “Young people have a different way of thinking and [to use that effectively] creates a real competitive advantage.”

Price believes “The goal is to collectively brainstorm in order to identify problems and get a broader vision of the company.”

One practice that I recommend as a key strategy for getting different generations to collaborate is for young workers to tutor management and older workers how to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter for recruitment, business development, customer support, and employee engagement. Time Warner is using what they call “digital reverse mentoring” to blend different generations in strategic discussions.

Gen-blending has improved company morale, according to several companies interviewed for the article.. They get better buy-in for change and avoid what one manager called “warm seat attrition,” when workers just stay around because they have no better options.

Are Generational Differences Turning from a Gap into a Chasm?

Samuel  J. Scott is a “pissed-off Gen Y.”  At first blush, you might just write him off as a young, whining, immature, and unindustrious kid.  But after a brief look at his bio, you will likely take pause at what he has accomplished to date in his young life.  So why is he so angry?

Scott, like many Gen Y and Gen X, are frustrated by the lies they’ve been sold and the economic plight they’ve been delivered.  A recent Pew Research Center report suggested that the generational gap, despite being the widest in 40 years, is more subdued than the rift that the Baby Boomers experienced with their parents.  But “more subdued” infers a sense of unwarranted complacency.  “Subdued” doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the feelings of resentment are less intense.  In fact, the longer this recession drags on and Baby Boomers hang on to their jobs, inter-generational differences will likely widen from a bridgeable gap to a disruptive chasm.

If Scott’s resentment offers even a glimpse of how other Gen X and Gen Y feel, employers (and politicians) are in for the biggest challenge of their lives.   After reading a few of Scott’s comments (below), I can’t help feeling some empathy with Scott and his cohorts.  

We were told that everyone needed to go to college to have a good life, so we gladly took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to get a bachelor’s degree. When we saw that we had no competitive advantage because everyone else had a bachelor’s degree as well, we took out tens of thousands of dollars in additional loans for a master’s degree. Now, we have tens upon tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time we are thirty, but we see that plumbers and mechanics are earning more money than we do.

We are dismayed that people who stupidly took out mortgages that they could not afford are getting assistance from the government, but no one will ever help us with our student loan payments. In fact, the government even amended bankruptcy laws so that student loans are now prevented from being erased in bankruptcy proceedings.

We have jobs for which we probably didn’t even need the college degrees in the first place.

We work for companies that are cutting our health insurance, no longer offering pensions or retirement plans, and constantly thinking about shipping our jobs to India or China, and we will probably never have Social Security because the program will be bankrupt.

We see that Baby Boomers are refusing to retire and allow us to obtain higher-level positions in companies so we can now afford homes, families, and student-loan payments.

We are disheartened that government officials are always criticizing violence and sex in movies, television and video games when the most immoral actions are always occurring in the White House and the halls of Congress.

Baby Boomers – what do you think? Is Scott whining or just speaking the truth? 

Gen X and Gen Y – does Scott speak for you?  Are Baby Boomers the villains or the scapegoat of Scott’s wrath?

Surprising Things You Should Know about GEN Ys

Unless you’re the doting parent (or grandparent) of a Gen Y (in which case he or she is the world’s best kid), this youngest generation (born between 1980 and 2000)  is often described as narcissitic, self-absorbed, digitally addicted, and more.  A few authors have even labeled them as the “the dumbest generation.”  

I’m not sure I believed all the bad hype was owned exclusively by these Gen Ys.  I’ve known plenty of narcissistic, self-absorbed, addicted Baby Boomers and Gen X too.   But in a post I just read, a Gen X writer penned a list of 5 things you should know about Gen Y.  For me, what makes this article so poignant is that one of the biggest generation rifts in the workplace is occurring between Gen X and Gen Y.  So in a demonstration of some light at the end of the generational tunnel, you can read her list of 5 Surprising Things You Should Know about Gen Y.

They are desperate for mentors
These are kids who were friends with their parents in ways that we (Gen X and older) never were.  They’re used to having an adult they like helping them navigate the world.  But now that they’re out of school and choosing careers – about which their parents may know nothing and therefore can’t help – they’re kind of lost for guidance.  We aren’t reaching out to them because they seem so confident that we think they don’t need (or want) us.  But they do.

They’re scared to fail
These are kids whose every word, step, poop and dance recital was applauded, announced, videographed and trumpeted as the Second Coming.  Now that they’re adults, they’re beginning to realize – and accept – that the world isn’t going to congratulate them for successfully wearing matching socks.  But they have so little experience of failure that they’re scared to death of it.

The peer pressure is brutal
For those of us who graduated in, say, 1991 with an English degree, just getting a job was enough.  The recession had been going on seemingly for ages, we were all working for peanuts at crap jobs, and we really only knew what our own circle of friends was doing, so peer pressure was minimal.

These kids have been hearing stories from older siblings about getting $80k-a-year jobs (which did exist a couple of years ago), the internet gives them access to a huge network of people at their lifestage (some of whom are still snagging great jobs or making huge salaries), and the media has filled their heads with stories of other 22-year-olds who invent some social networking site that they sell 3 years later for $1.9 billion.  So when all they see in front of them is a $40k-a-year job as an Assistant-Something, they begin to think that they’re the only one their age who’s ‘sucking’.

They don’t realize that the marketplace has negative stereotypes about them
When I mentioned that recruiters and employers often think that Gen Ys have a sense of entitlement, don’t work beyond 9-to-5, and come into a job expecting to be running the company within a year, there was shocked – and nervous – laughter around the table.   

Not only do they not think of themselves this way, they were surprised to learn that potential employers might see them this way.  They think of themselves as hard workers who are just waiting for the opportunity to prove themselves – in other words, they think of themselves the way every new-to-the-workforce generation has thought of themselves since the dawn of time. 

In some ways, they’re just as green as we ever were
We tend to believe that this internet generation is more savvy than we were – that they’re entering the workforce with more knowledge and confidence or something.  And sure, they have more access to information than we ever did:  They can find and apply to more jobs (via the internet), they can better prepare for interviews by Googling a potential employer, and the internet is awash in resume templates.

But in some very basic ways, they’re still as ignorant as we were:  Remember when you didn’t know how ‘headhunters’ worked, or who paid them?  Remember when you didn’t have a ‘network’?  Remember thinking, in the first year of your first job, that you hated it but now you were ‘stuck’ in this career forever?  Gen Ys may have a superficial confidence and swagger, but it’s often masking #2 and #3, above.

Which brings us right back to #1.

Read the full article

Gen X asks: “So Why Don’t Boomers Retire Already?”

Several days ago I wrote a post titled, “Are Baby Boomers Overstaying Their Welcome?”  Since then I keep reading and hearing most instances of resentment from Gen Xers.  And just a few minutes ago, I read this post by Kim Luisi, a Gen X report for  Her comments were sharp and critical but not unlike those I’m hearing consistently from other Gen X:

So why don’t they retire already and leave the rest of us alone? Think of Bill Clinton and his embarrassment to Hillary’s campaign. He just didn’t know when to quit. The whole boomer generation is my Bill Clinton. Thanks guys, you’ve been a great help. Now step aside.

It’s no wonder that the boomers have spawned the millennials, or Generation Y.  If boomers want to constantly remind others of their accomplishments and the stages of their lives, millennials, in their eagerness to learn from their elders,  want praise and fast promotion for theirs. The complementarity of the two generations is unparalleled. Where does all this leave Gen X? Stuck right in the middle. Clowns to the left us, jokers to the right.

So what do you think?  Am I just hanging out with the  ultra-skeptical Gen X…or is resentment increasing?

Social Media and the Multi-Generational Workforce

September Webinars about Social Media and Managing the Multi-Generational Workforce

Link Me, Tweet Me, Friend Me

September 15, 2009 at 2:00 PM EDT

Wondering if your business needs to be on Facebook or Twitter?  Confused about LinkedIn and blogging? Then you don’t want to miss this 60 minute introductory webinar. Register here.

 Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization

September 16, 2009 at 2:00 PM EDT

Join author Ira S Wolfe for the official release of his new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization with a webinar and discussion led by author Ira S Wolfe.  Learn how four generations and technology will change business and how to manage the four major clashpoints that are dividing the multi-generational workforce.  Register here.

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