Sunday, November 13, 2005


In one year, 1946, 3.4 million Americans were born and the Washington Post heralded the start of the baby boom, a "fruit of demobilization." Now, the generation that vowed to stay forever young is coming up on a major milestone. They've been hippies and yuppies; and now it's the time of the abbies: aging baby boomers.

There are now 77 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1960. The first are turning 60, including President and Laura Bush, Bill Clinton, and Mick Jagger. The annual spending power of boomers is estimated to be more than $2 trillion, but debt and worry about financial security could lead many (up to 50%) of the baby boomers to postpone their retirement beyond 65.

Still, the boomers tend to be an upbeat group — with nearly three quarters saying they are satisfied with the way things are going for them and their families. But many of the boomers who had rejected religious institutions when they were young are looking for something spiritual now.

Generation X was the name of a British Punk group in the 1970s featuring Billy Idol. A funny sociological book on American class structure (Class) named an "X" category of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often frames modern existence.

Gen X describes the generation following the baby boom, especially Americans born in the 1960s and 1970s. The youth culture of those decades defied many of the socio-political institutions of the time, such as racial segregation, sexual discrimination and the Vietnam War.

Generation X is not synonymous with "slacker," but to many people these words have come to mean the same thing. Once, when the cast of Friends appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she asked the stars what they thought of the term. "I just hate the label in general," replied David Schwimmer (Ross) "because to me it connotes a kind of slacker and all my peers are aggressively pursuing either jobs, relationships, or just trying to come to grips with their identities."

Now we have Generation Y, a force of as many as 70 million in their teens and 20s, and the first wave is just now embarking on their careers. Unlike the generations that have gone before them, Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance.

Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today's workforce. Unlike previous generations who are accustomed to the annual review, Gen Yers have grown up getting constant feedback and recognition from teachers, parents and coaches and can resent it or feel lost if communication from bosses isn't more regular.

Generation Yers don't expect to stay in a job, or even a career, for too long - they've seen the scandals that imploded Enron and other mega-companies, and they're skeptical when it comes to such concepts as employee loyalty. Many may clash with older generations they see as competition or not as skilled. Says one Yer: We're surprised we have to work for our money. We want the corner office right away. It seems like our parents just groomed us. Anything is possible. We had karate class, soccer practice, everything. But they deprived us of social skills.

At my former company, Xerox is using the slogan "Express Yourself" as a way to describe its culture to recruits. The hope is that the slogan will appeal to Gen Y's desire to develop solutions and change. Recruiters also point out the importance of diversity at the company; Gen Y is one of the most diverse demographic groups - one out of three is a minority.

Lee and I belong to the group immediately preceding the baby boomers and our kids Carolynne and John (note the Kennedy names) are first decade Gen Xers born in the 60s. They are definitely NOT slackers. (Thanks to John for the lead to the Gen Y story). I worried a bit about the Gen Y grandkids until Johnny joined the army. Now Christy has started driving and I’m worrying again.


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