What Obama means for the workplace

flagmedium-border.jpgBarack Obama is dissing the baby boomers. But he’s doing it tactfully. So he’s got a wide range of people talking about generational issues in politics, and I’m eagerly anticipating spillover into the workplace, which also needs this frank discussion.

One of the companies I founded was an online marketplace for city governments. My business partner was a fiftysomething guy who had been dealing with city governments forever.

Our investors in the first round were all his friends, most were over 50, and some assumed I was dating my partner because why else would he start a company with someone so young.

Investors treated me like it was an impossibility that I could have learned things fast enough to get into a room with them. And one investor asked me to leave a meeting at such an inappropriate moment that even my partner was shocked.

Then, about a year later, when I was looking for a job, the guy I interviewed with said, “Kids now think they can learn on the job and they don’t need an MBA. What do you think of that?”

I couldn’t believe it: He was calling me a kid in my job interview, even though I had already launched two companies.

He did this because he thinks it’s culturally acceptable to treat someone like they don’t know anything just because they’re young.

I’ve been holding off writing about Obama because the first (and last) time I took a leap into politics with my column was when I campaigned for Howard Dean, the week before he imploded. I told myself I learned my lesson: Politics is too volatile for a workplace writer to forge a path through.

But here I am again. Writing about politics. Writing about Obama and hoping he doesn’t implode next week. I have to write about him because while this is not an official endorsement, when he talks about leading a new generation I get giddy over the idea that we could be wrestling ourselves out from under the clutch of the baby boomers.

Obama talks about teamwork and community and the end of the me-me-me in-fighting that has characterized the recent history of baby boomer politics. A report in Newsday says:

“Obama represents the transition from the Baby Boom to Generation X… He spoke of a post-boomer sensibility, of moving beyond the divisions exacerbated by undue self-focus.”

I have this conversation with my (baby boomer) agent, and she says, “Everything to you is about generations.” And okay, there’s truth to that, but there’s also some hot air, because the baby-boomer generation is so huge that everything has been about them by default.

I am from a generation that had very limited power to do anything, anywhere, except live in the wake of the boomers. Even when it came to the Internet revolution in the 90’s, most of the people who got rich were the baby boomers who invested in companies that Gen-Xers operated.

This is why I get excited about Generation Y. It’s amazing to see this group, with all their demographic power, open up the world to change.

For the most part, I focus on change in the workplace. There were a lot of things that my generation wanted at work — for example, flexible hours, personal growth and the abandonment of competitive, ego-focused hierarchy in favor of team work. But we had trouble pushing through these workplace values because there were too few of us. The baby boomers could always just say no.

But generation Y wants so many of those gen-X things, and generation Y has the demographic power to make it real. It excites me to see this happen at work.

Obama is the political corollary. Finally there are enough voters, maybe, to vote for someone who is not a baby boomer. I don’t know if it will happen. But just that we’re talking about it is exciting. Because once we talk about baby boomers giving up control of politics, the talk of baby boomers giving up control of corporate life cannot be far behind.

But there’s a workplace lesson from Obama as well. He’s very tactful as he disses the boomers. He makes it clear that he is a bridge builder. That he is respectful of the fact that everyone has a place in history. And he is, above all, someone who has empathy for diverse backgrounds. These are all the same kinds of skills we need in the workplace today.

We are all engaging in a generational discussion at work, even if it is not as overt as an interviewer calling you a kid. We all come to the table with preconceptions and biases, but we all have to work together. So, in the near future, at lest, it’s the people who are best at building generational bridges who will succeed. This is something I personally work on every day, and Obama is a great role model.

44 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    To get us on the right path, it’s going to take someone that can say “No” to the “give me, give me, give me” attitude that so many baby boomers now have (and some younger folks have inherited). I don’t see a politician (yes, Obama is a politician) saying “No” to ever increasing entitlements.

    If Obama came out and said “It’s time to be responsible for yourselves. It’s time to take your lives into your own hands. It’s time to be self reliant.” and then follow that with matching policy, he might then be able to truly affect change.

    I’m afraid there are just too many people out there that aren’t ready to take responsibility for their own lives. And I’m afraid even if the majority were ready, Obama wouldn’t be the candidate to spread this message. No candidate I’ve heard of seems up to the challenge.

    I love your stuff on this blog, Penelope. It’s all about taking life and making what YOU want out of it. I want a president that can help spread those values. Maybe Obama will prove me wrong, you never know.

  2. Matt Maupin
    Matt Maupin says:

    Penelope: I appreciate your sentiment – As a 26 year old Nursing Home Administrator I have faced this battle many times. It still sounds, though, like we are defining ourselves primarily by these “generations” of workers as we talk about building bridges between them.

    I finally realized that it was I who had to work through this age/generation stereotype, rather than inflict a new cultural attitude on those around me. If I don’t think in those terms, then I cannot let other people’s surface judgments affect my abilities or outcomes.

    Thanks for the Obama post!

  3. James
    James says:

    The workplaces changes you want are also wanted by countles boomers. The real problem lies in how the past several generations have been poorly educated, especially about creativity, innovation, and intergenerational relations. To blame one generation for workplace problems is faulty, as more several generations have built our culture of work. What we really need is a different sensibility around work and life: that we need more time for life and ourselves and a shorter work-week with healthcare and time off independent of the workplace.

    * * * * *
    James, I agree with your sense that the workplace we have today is a result of hundreds and hundreds of small, contributing factors. But I want to also point out that, in the 1950s, right before the baby boomers starting working, people worked 40-hour weeks and could count on sufficient health care coverage from their employer.


  4. Jane Weitz
    Jane Weitz says:

    I’m astounded that you could indulge in such stereotypes. I’m a baby boomer who has worked for social justice all my life. Most parents that I know of my generation have tried to make life better for their children–apparently some have come too far from the lives that our forbears lived, carrying water, growing their own food, etc. They feel entitled to iPods, huge televisions, and XBoxes instead.

    I would suggest that you look at the intergenerational influences that keep us from social progress, such as our system of economy and the priorities that our corporate-driven politicians establish once they’ve hoodwinked us citizens once again that they are voting in our interests. Expose these fallacies, and the forces that have been fighting them for decades, and then tell me that all of us baby boomers are to blame.

    * * * * * *

    Hi, Jane. Thank you for your comment. I understand what you are saying about social justice. When I think of the baby boomers, I do think about social justice. I think of the 60s, and how the baby boomers taught this country about civil rights, and then the baby boomers paved the way for women in my generation to have a much easier time at work.

    Today the workplace follows rules that the baby boomers made, but the people who came after the boomers want different rules. We don’t want the same things from work that the baby boomers wanted. I get excited thinking that there are finally enough post-boomers in the workplace that we can starting doing work the way we want to do it.

    Social justice isn’t the only place for a generation to make a mark. My generation is making it’s mark on how we deal with the intersection of work and life.


  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    There is a shift in society that needs to happen. Many corporations run by baby boomers who could care less about their customers. Its all about corporate profit and greed. They were the educators and are to blame for the poor state of this country. Its their mistakes that we are paying for. So before you go spouting about how the young are no good look at your own track records.

  6. Brad Maier
    Brad Maier says:

    I think the generational progression that’s occurring is a typical one. Typical of almost every generation since we began acknowledging that generations existed. However, it becomes magnified because we are experiencing it rather than learning about it. Our parents had differences with their parent’s generation (hence the events of the 60’s and 70’s). The one thing that the current generation has to its advantage is the huge leap that has taken place along the curve of technological advancement. This becomes our leverage point against the older generation and it has been the speed at which technology has advanced at critical times in generational development that has allowed generation Y to break out of the system established by older generations faster than any had done previously.

    * * * * * *

    This is a great comment, Brian. You bring up an essential part of the conversation that is surpsingly missing until now: Technology. The baby boomers like to say that they want the same things that young people want. This might be true. But young people have a world available to them, via technology, that baby boomers don’t. So the strategies for changing the workplace to suit young people is independent of what baby boomers are doing. Example: Baby boomers don’t know how to start a wiki so they don’t have to go to the office for a meeting.


  7. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    I believe that there were profound differences between college aged boomers and their parents about sex and drugs and career.

    But most adults usually think much the same. They’re concerned about money, fights with their spouses and managing their kids.

    And, as the Brazen Careerist appears to be a mother over 30 years of age, I suspect that most of the differences she sees between herself and other generations is an illusion.

    Those guys treated you with disrespect when you were young. But, that had nothing to do with boomers and Gen Y. All older people think younger people don’t know anything.

  8. Jane Weitz
    Jane Weitz says:

    Penelope, I would sincerely like to know what conditions etc. you would like to see in the workplace. From what I’ve witnessed, more humane working conditions would be good for everyone. Time for one’s self, family, and friends, as well as work. That kind of thing.

    So I’m wondering, what are the means you are advocating for doing work the way your generation wants to? Are they so different from mine–wanting to work and contribute to society, but not at a cost to my own life? Just asking, because I want to understand.

    And thank you for your reply, much appreciated.

    * * * * * *

    Jane,This topic – what young people want from work and how to wrestle it from the baby boomers — is what I write about 25% of the time, maybe more. So it’s hard to summarize it in a little comment. But here are two examples:

    1. Jop hopping is good for the employee. Builds a good skill set fast, buids a network, maintains passion. There is good research to show that it’s the best way to find work you love. But the current workplace penalizes people for incessant job hopping.

    2. Generation Y is much better at relationship building and networking (both in person and via the Internet) than baby boomers. So young people have much less need to be in an office working than an older person. But the workplace parameters for who can work offsite are based on what baby boomers are capable of accomplishing, not what young people are.

    You write that you want the same things that young people want. That might be true. But you are not at the same point in your career, in your life, as post-boomers. I am not talking about changing the rules that apply to people with 25 years of experience under their belt and a retirement account. I’m talking about the rules that apply to people with no savings, no experience, two young kids at home, etc.


  9. Esteban
    Esteban says:

    Thanks for your timely and insightful column, Penelope! I’m a Gen-Yer (24 yrs. old), and I can’t even begin to relay the electrifying effect that Mr. Obama is having on our generation. (Compare his popularity on Facebook to that of Hillary Clinton, for starters.) It’s time for my cohorts and I to claim a piece of the American political and social scene… I think that Mr. Obama can help us be heard, on a number of workplace and non-workplace issues.

  10. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    You have an interesting perspective on Obama’s position in the campaign. I think if he disses the boomers he will not go very far. I frankly never saw that side of it. It brings up his biggest weakness and I am afraid the biggest weakness in your points on the workplace. Being a boomer myself (tail end) I marvel at the attitiude of many on Gen X or Y in a professional setting. I work in profession where when you reach the top, you had better perform 99% or better each day or you will fail. Mistakes are not tolerated. 1 mistake can ruin your career. I realize that is self imposed pressure as all we deal with is money, but think of it in the context of a surgeon or a President. I often find myself working late while the younger set is off at the gym or taking cooking class etc. to “explore” other interests. The only people who work harder than the boomers in my firm are the first/second generation immigrants, who are hungry to succeed. Getting back to Obama, if the world is on the line as it may be in the next few years I want Hilary at the controls, she had been there and done that. If I need an operation, I want the person who has been doing it for 20 years, not the one who is trying it because it is interesting.

    * * * * * * *

    Jeff, You might be right about the perils of dissing the boomers.

    However I think we know enough about work to know that everyone makes mistakes. No matter what generation they are. And that one’s rate of mistake-making does not necessarily correlate to how hard one works.


  11. James
    James says:

    It appears that you have a firm belief that what boomers want is so different from what younger generations want. As a boomer, I want a flexible work week, meaningful work, a non-hierarchical work culture (it won’t happen in a stridently capitalist society, probably), for people to work together successfully, and more time for my own life and needs. In other countries, this has translated into portable benefits independent of the workplace and an entire host of social options that capitalist America simply refuses to consider. Resistance to new ideas is shaped by a refusal to embrace new ways of thinking and new tools for working. This has nothing to do with boomers, but everything to do with a society based on profits over virtually everything else. While I respect your position, I believe it is flawed through an “us versus them” mentality of everyone versus the boomers. Seeing the world in such a polarized fashion perpetuates the problem and does not move beyond the present dysfunctional nature of the workplace.
    For example, in the last 30 years, we have had nothing but extremely conservative political leaders and systems that have squelched innovation, isolated our country from the rest of the civil world, and brought either-or/good-bad thinking to a new level of implementation. I recognize that people of all ages are reluctant to embrace change, but I think it is an error to believe that boomers do not want a better quality of life and less intrusiveness of work into one’s personal life. Although flexible scheduling, job-sharing, etc., options are around, the excessive focus on profits has impeded any structural changes to the American workplace for all of us. This means that everyone suffers from the lack of evolution of the workplace, not just younger workers. As well, having lived in San Francisco before, during, and after the dot-com boom and bust, the unbridled lust for money and privilege of younger generations clearly mirrored those of other generations. This is why I believe the situation you are describing is not generational, but is, instead, a systems failure.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, James. Thank you for taking the time to talk about these issues. And thank you for all the passion you bring to it. I answered a lot of your issues in my answer to Jane – just before you in the cue.

    It’s very hard to separate systems and generations when at any given point, it’s a safe bet that one generation is maintaining the system. But I see your point.

    You might be intrested to know that in poll after poll, baby boomers put money as the most important factor at work, and younger people (even those with mortgages and families) put it as number three. So maybe the systems you write about will start changing soon.


  12. Mark
    Mark says:

    The connection between Obama, Dean, or any other politician on people’s careers and everyday problems at the office is tenuous. This transparent article was simply an excuse to write about liberal politicians. Ms. Trunk, I doubt that your average reader cares to know who you vote for.

  13. Janniel
    Janniel says:

    It’s good to discuss subjects like this.
    I do think that you sound a little resentful towards towards the ‘baby boomers’. Please remember that there are many different outlooks, contributions, and experiences in any demographic group.
    My generation doesn’t deserve any more or any less respect then yours.
    Oh, and by the way, there are much worse things then being called a kid. Don’t be so sensitive. Before you know it you will be complaining about being called a geezer.

  14. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Penelope; I am afraid you are making my point.

    I may not have been clear in that I do not believe working hard prevents one from making mistakes at that point in time. In fact the opposite is likely true.

    I strongly believe (well, in fact I know) working hard to learn your profession prevents you from making mistakes in the future. I am still learning today and I constantly seek advice form those who are more specialized than me. The only way they have that knowledge is by working in the same area for 10, 15, 20 years. That’s what I see missing in the young workers today. If everyone dabbles in a new career every 5 years or so what are they going to bring to the party in the last years of their working life? They won’t know any more than the person who just graduated.

  15. James
    James says:

    I’m not sure where you got your poll, but in nursing (which is my primary profession), work satisfaction and quality of life are the primary drivers for job satisfaction in multiple surveys (Nursing 2007, etc.), not money. The bulk of nurses are boomers and this contradicts the poll you mentioned. As for one generation maintaining the workplace system, that is erroneous: while one generation may have one kind of power in maintaining these workplace structures, the other generations are complicit in supporting, maintaining, and perpetuating faulty workplace systems and structures.
    Those younger than boomers are not all motivated by a desire for change any more than boomers are not all motivated by maintaining abusive and faulty systems, which we inherited, work in, and many of us don’t like and also want to change. Again, “us versus them” thinking is failing to broaden a vision of a nourishing, values-driven workplace and society, which boomers want just as much as anyone else.

  16. Brian
    Brian says:

    Wonderful blog. I appreciate the dialog it’s generated, and the thought you’ve put into it.I’m a “boomer”, and I never experienced the age prejudice you speak of when I was younger, so I can’t speak to that. The problem as I see it, is that very very few people see the real problems, let alone have any understanding of what’s needed. This is clearly not a generational issue. Obama means well, but he doesn’t have the experience, or understanding to deal with the real issues. In my workplace, most managers( from any generation ) do not see physical objects in their path, let alone the most basic issues of the operation. It is unfortunately the state of the world right now. We are in WWIII. It isn’t going to end for many many years. We need people who understand world affairs, and who can implement policy to deal with the global conflicts. Until people recognize the real issues, there can be no lasting resolutions, or progress. I think of myself as very liberal, but I hope to vote for John McCain because he seems like the only one with a clue. All the best, Brian

  17. woody
    woody says:

    If Obama is going to get the minority vote he wants and he does want it as he just left SCSC in Orangeburg,SC Then he has to ensure that those who fit none of the above types (who actually learn, work and are productive in our society) will be confident he will support programs that give entitlements for the non-productive in our society.

  18. Kim
    Kim says:

    Excited to read this article, being a Generation X Supervisor of baby boomers in my office. This is the second career that I have supervised ‘Boomers’. What Obama is discussing is the truth, there is room for us all. In such a diverse culture you think that things will change. I have made the comment in this office to those that are less accepting of change, that after myself and other Gen X supervisors are gone, we are likely to be replaced by Generation Y. They haven’t quite learned of the power they have.

  19. Phil
    Phil says:

    The baby boom didn’t drop off until 1964.

    By that time, Obama was 2-1/2 years old. He’s a boomer too.

    Curses. I’d admit that I also am a boomer, but then I’d have to kill myself.

  20. Rachelle
    Rachelle says:

    One of the memories I have of growing up at the tail end of the boomer generation was the rebellion against stereotyping, judging others according to an arbitrary yardstick. I also remember that we then turned around & stereotyped the “older” generation–(no media-inspired cutesy names for them until recently), much as you’re doing now. I also remember the excitement of thinking we had power of one sort or another, to change the world for the better. My point, every generation builds on those that came before. The circumstances that surround a generation may be different; the technology may cause the differences to appear greater, but basic ‘humaness” changes slowly & the exuberance of youth is balanced by the conservatism of age. It’s a remarkable set up and has been in place forever. I would suggest you question the propanda you are fed on a daily basis, a propaganda that thrives on the principle of divide and conquer.

    * * * * *

    Rachelle. What I really like about your comment is how you paint a picture of how natural it is for the younger generation to want to make it’s own rules. This happens in every generation, just like you say. And, just like you say, the young generation builds on the work of the older generation.

    The post-boomer generations are focusing on how to establish a path in life that creates synergy between work and personal life. Baby boomers largely failed at this — inventing terms like “juggling” and “work-life balance” which belie a competition of two lives instead of a synergy. Young people are revolutionizing work so they don’t have to live like the baby boomers did.


  21. Pax2U
    Pax2U says:

    I was saddened by your experience with “Boomers” in the workplace and ironically, as a boomer myself, I also have received similar treatment from those older than I. My impression is that the underlying reason has more to do with the *perpetrators own sense of inadequacies than anything else. It’s bully tactics to intimidate and of course, unwarranted. However, I’m confident that it is not a pervasive “Boomer” trait as many of us would not agree with that treatment.

    See yourself from the bully’s perspective. You’re young, lovely, bright, capable, skilled and not only that, accomplished. Is this not a potential threat to someone who is perhaps thinking they are seen as old, cognitively slower, out-of-touch and unattractive?

    The older worker may fear losing his/her job, status or value because of age. Health insurance is more expensive, and years of experience in a position with promotions/raises may have resulted in a higher pay scale. Employers do not admit to the practice of age discrimination, but we know it occurs. What would happen when an older worker is thrusted into a job market focused on production and demanding cheaper, skilled labor? That person may feel s/he cannot compete or sustain themselves (save for retirement) at lower wages. Some might even resent having to put themselves at a further disadvantage by “giving away” (mentoring) the one thing they perceive as having an advantage –knowledge & experience. It’s an unfortunate attitude based on fear of unemployment and loss of esteem.

    EG., Early this century, I worked nonprofit as Director of Volunteer services. I instigated, staffed and managed youth volunteer programs (college & high school students) while building upon what was already in place. For one such nonprofit, it was their first experience working with people under the age of 55 (I was the ‘kid’ in the organization at age 49). Can you imagine the resentment and retaliation I received from “the established deciders” on the board? The intense pressure came predominately from the men; six out of nine were stubbornly against youth involvement. Of the three women on the board of twelve, only one woman was supportive. The term,” youth”, conjured a much differently image in their minds than in my own. Defining and illustrating the gifts and talents young people can bring to an organization was my first and easiest task. The challenge was convincing the “deciders” that it was in the best interest for the organization and community as well as nonthreatening to their position. I took a weaning approach (this was just common sense) and finally after 6 months or so, was able to break-up the exclusive seniors-only-club. Certain individuals never got over it and a few quit.

    Lots of us “Boomers” agree with your values here: “flexible hours, personal growth and the abandonment of competitive, ego-focused hierarchy in favor of team work”. It was my approach as well as many “Boomers” and find it a very rewarding practice.

    I hope you will redefine “Boomers”. We are a diverse group and all do not approve of the way this country or our society has evolved. We too are looking out for your interests because we share the same world as you do. We have children that we want to see grow up in a more benevolent society; free from the burdens that previous generations can create. Specifically, I have two budding young women finishing their education and hope they will not have to fight against sexism, ageism, racism etc., in the work place (idealistic, perhaps). Our interests are also your interests because some day you too will be “older than then now”.

    Wishing you much success.

  22. august
    august says:

    I am looking forward to the Obama implosion next week.
    It will be a refreshing change from the recent barrage of women behaving (or dying) badly.

    Obama is just the new pretty boy on the block. All I hear are platitudes. Obama is Jimmy Carter, only sexier. Did you know he smokes? I bet that’s a turn on for some people too, because it’s so bad…

    Obama won’t last the primaries. He can’t even take insults about his big ears and Hilary hasn’t even started her war machine yet.

  23. James
    James says:

    I guess it strikes me that a lot of energy is being invested in the present publicity mill around the wannabe-candidates for the Presidency. I don’t have much faith in any of them and neither Clinton or Obama are progressive enough for me. It does not help to hear that Obama smokes, which is a very poor health habit and sets an incredibly negative example…..

  24. grennels
    grennels says:

    It should be recognized that it was those
    now loathed baby boomers who, through their
    civil rights activism, made it possible for
    a black man to run for President.

  25. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Everyone else here has been so articulate, let me just toss in a few things:

    * the notion of hard and fast generational divisions is a fiction. For instance, is someone born in 1964 , techically the end of the Baby Boomers, so very different from someone born in 1965? As a 1964er, I get grief from the likes of you, and yet I wrestle with the same demographic pig in the python.
    * I mark generational differences by media use, not by age. There are gamers, there are bloggers, and then there are those who post every waking moment of their lives on FaceBook, YouTube, Flickr.
    * You say the culture we live in was created by boomers, but that’s not entirely true. Our longer hours and sparser benefits are more the result of increased globalization and market forces more powerful than a single generation.

    * * * * * *

    Margaret, thank you so much for taking the time to lay out this way of thinking. I love the idea of marking generational differences by media use. This changes the way I think. Really. And I clicked on your web site, which I recommend others do as well:http://www.margaretweigel.com


  26. Randy Moser
    Randy Moser says:

    Excellent post, Penelope.

    The worse thing you can tell a boomer is that he or she is irrelevant. A lot of the backlash in the replies to your post shows exactly what happens when they feel stung. Marketers learned this last year when poll after poll suggested boomers were not only angry when companies catered to younger consumers – €“ they were pissed off.

    You might expect this of Gen Xers – €“ since we've been told how brand disloyal we are – €“ but boomers are supposed to be committed consumers. That they're this self-centered even as they're ending their peak earning years says something about them as a generation.

    Many social scientists put the 1960-65 camp in with Gen X and some isolate them as their own phenomenon, calling them shadow boomers or Generation Jones. Whatever you want to call that group sandwiched in the middle, they don't often identify themselves as boomers and distinguish themselves in terms of their consuming and voting habits.

    (Though distinguish might be stretching it – )

    Generation X numbers have been heavily skewed in the media and in popular books. According to the Census there were around 67 million people born from 1965 to 1982. This brings us a lot nearer to the boomer number of 78 million. If you include those sandwiched from 1960 to 1064, we actually outnumber boomers.

    And whatever else you can say about that group, many do not think of themselves as boomers and will not support the generational elite – €“ at work or in politics.

    America is aging, but this is due to all elderly generations living longer, not because of a spike in the number of baby boomers passing the gray line.

    All generations are turning hostile towards baby boomers, and this is because they've acted as children for most of their adult lives. From the tax payers' revolt to de-funding education, tampering with real estate and raising neo-cons as public officials – €“ baby boomers have left a lasting scar on this country.

    It's funny to hear the outcry from boomers when you characterize them by their behavior, as though you're libeling them, when they have repeatedly identified Generation X as slackers and loser, blank and soulless. There's even a Web site called Ihategenx.com which lays all the blame for the neocons on us, even though they are uniformly boomers.

    Um, if the baby boomers were so just and powerful, shouldn't they bear some responsibility for electing these people from their own flock? And doesn't it make sense that Gen X stayed away from politics when liberals boomers like Clinton cut aid to unwed mothers and college aid? Or when boomers like Bush send young people to war?

    Sorry for the rant.

    Randy Moser

  27. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    Are you sure that “in the 1950s, right before the baby boomers starting working, people worked 40-hour weeks and could count on sufficient health care coverage from their employer.” My dad was a school teacher and had a summer job at the local steel mill. He laughed when I asked him if he had a 40 hour week at school or the mill.

    I also Googled health care in the 1950s got a story with quotes from David Culter, PhD, of Harvard University in Boston. “In 1950, Cutler says the cost of treating a heart attack was virtually nothing because the only available treatment was bed rest for six months, and as a result the outlook for heart attack survivors was bleak. Today, the cost of treating a heart attack with drugs to restore blood flow and surgery to repair clogged arteries is nearly $30,000 for a 45-year-old.” Did companies in the 50s give employees with heart attacks 6 months paid leave?

  28. Randy Moser
    Randy Moser says:

    BTW, in response to Jim's comments above – €“ Civil Rights didn't begin or end in the 1960s and you do a disservice to earlier generations of activists who sometimes died for the cause when you ignore their contribution.

    As a matter of fact, nearly every Civil Rights leader in the 1960s belonged to the Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation. When they passed the torch to boomers things got ugly – €“ Black Panther style.

    This was more or less the situation with the Yippies under the leadership of Silent Generation Abbie Hoffman, the drug culture under Silent Kesey and Greatest Generation Leary, the art scene under Silent Allen Ginsberg –

    Boomers provided the bodies for public demonstrations, but very rarely the leadership. And when they did events invariably turned ugly as with the Weathermen or the Panthers.

    Randy Moser

  29. Dave
    Dave says:

    I don’t agree that there is a generational divide that is easily identified by age. There are plenty of young people who think like your stereotype of boomers and many older people who are the opposite of the stereotype. There is also a huge cohort of people for whom this discussion only serves to remind them of how they are not a part of the creative class who can sit at their desk jobs complaining about the trifling inconveniences that frustrate their lives.

    I like what Obama is saying, but I don’t see a relationship to any generational divide. If anything his argument is that we all need to come together and recognize that our differences are not that great and are inflated by media exaggeration. It’s not just that we need to find our similarities, it is to recognize that the “culture war” and by implication, a “generational war” are mainly being fought between elites. Most ordinary people don’t use the term “boomer”; many don’t even know what it means.

  30. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    As a youth I watched as a generation fell in love with the Kennedy’s. I was much too young to vote and therefore my opinion did not matter. That "love affair" continues today, I wonder why the American people today want so much to have a "King" (or Queen) when our founding fathers worked so hard to separate us from one and provide us with democracy and autonomy.

    I am by definition a boomer, although born on the cuff of this generational group I still lie within their boundaries. I agree with many things you have stated about boomers but I also believe that the problems we see today, whether in the political arena or the work place were not put there by one generation – €“ it takes time to build a culture such as ours and all those who came before have had an impact on that culture.

    I now see a generation approaching Obama in the same fashion and I feel I have to warn you – €“ politicians are politicians and Obama is no better or worse than those who came before him or who will follow after him. As president he can have an impact but if you really want to be heard then you will HAVE to do what no other generation has done since the founding father – €“ take back congress and the federal government by making those politicians who do not do what is right for the people go home and elect someone who will do the right thing. Obama will never be the savior of our nation – €“ neither was John F. Kennedy. The savior of our nation is – US — the people – €“ read your constitution and take to heart those words – €“ WE the PEOPLE!!!!

  31. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Great Blog! I am 22 years old and I am tired of having “seasoned politicians” running our country with their own agendas. I believe that my voting demographic will have a huge impact on the coming election. We want change. We seem to be the generation that is more loving and open-minded to diversity which is something that has been poorly reflected in our past choices for President. We are falling behind in comparison to the rest of the world when it comes to our leaders. We have yet to have a woman or a person of color to lead our country. The baby boomer generation did see us through the Civil Rights movement and I do recognize that. However, if that generation was truly fighting for equality and truly wanting to break down the barrier of racism and “color”, then that message would have been strongly conveyed a long time ago in the choices and votes they casted for the American Presidency. They have been the largest voting demographic until now, as Penelope pointed out. Through their votes in the past, their generation has voiced that they prefer conservative, white male, seasoned politicians and anything outside of that comfort zone would not have a prayer.

    Our generation prefers someone that can get the job done regardless of sex, color, or political party. Obama is the ONLY ONE RUNNING who voted “No” against the war in Iraq and here is a quote he made 6 years ago that proves his competency above the rest:

    “I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

    Others have commented that they would prefer someone who had more experience in dealing with “wars and foreign policy”, but let me pose this question: Wouldn’t you prefer a candidate who made a sound decision the FIRST time around as opposed to the others who voted “yes” and, (due to their current campaign for the Presidency), are now retracting their choice just to have more “appeal” to the voting block?

    Voting in a person of color would, in my opinion, help to GAIN more credibility and respect from the rest of the world and help heal the wounds of poor conduct from our past leaders. America claims to stand for “Diversity” and I feel that the rest of the world would stop viewing us as hypocrites if diversity was reflected in our leadership.

    I am excited for this next election because I believe there will be some defining moments in history. People assume that the younger generations don’t vote because they don’t care. I disagree. I think it’s safe to predict that there will be a record-setting number of people at the polls in 2008 — and my generation’s voice for change will be heard! Thanks Penelope!

  32. Ann
    Ann says:

    I have been reading your blog for some time and really enjoy it, and felt compelled to share a comment and a bit of information in response to your discussion of generational differences. I am a boomer and I accept, to a degree, your point about our lack of interest in this topic being at least partially attributable to our being a member of the dominant generation. I have to also say that I find the sweeping generalizations about the characteristics of boomers verus X and Y to be off the mark most of the time — and I do give some credence to the notion that the concept of generational differences in the workplace may hold as much myth as it does reality. Take a look at this post http://compforce.typepad.com/compensation_force/2007/02/generational_co.html to learn more about one researcher’s conclusions following an in-depth review of available studies and literature.
    Thanks for a good discussion!

  33. cindy@staged4more
    cindy@staged4more says:

    Hey Penelope

    I really appreciate your words of wisdom and what you have pointed out with the new hope that Obama brings to us younger generation — it is to be respected in work place by the older generation.

    This is so very true in my industry– staging, where most stagers I know are well in their 30s, 40s, 50s who are obviously much older than me (I am 26) and many don’t believe in technology. Most of them don’t even have a website or hsa a pretty poor one. Let along blogging! Sometimes I feel a little bit frustrated, because I feel that there is a resistence to change and to propel the industry forward. Even though we are technically competitors with each other, but I want the industry to move forward and bigger instead of bickering at each other to see who is better and has a bigger part of the market share.

    Additionally I certainly face the age discrimination constantly in the real estate industry itself since it is a men dominated industry (and older men & women might I add.)



  34. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    I think it’s a pipe dream, for two reasons. A) All politicians are evil. They might not have been evil children (though I bet some of them were), but power corrupts and money makes blind. B)Ageism is not a new thing. really, it’s a sort of ‘power’ that corrupts situation. When we are young we want things our own way, and adults want things their way, and usually they win. The only problem is, sometimes the kids are right. Then we grow up, and we think “FINALLY, when I’m right I’ll be able to make it stick”, but here comes the geezer, who’s been there for 20 years, and who is absolutely POSITIVE that he is right, based on nothing more substantial than having faced the problem a dozen times before in a half a dozen different forms. And you know what, sometimes the fresh eye is what it takes, and once again, we are right. But maybe not often enough to edge out all that experience.

    The fresh eyes get dim, and the noobs get some experience, and we do it all again. Face it, your only hope out of this cycle is to be one of those rare geniuses who can circumvent the whole process. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, i am eagerly anticipating middle age.

  35. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    Wow, what an incredible response to this post. It’s definitely touched a nerve. Note to self: blog about Barack Obama and generational conflict.

    It’s fascinating to me to see the generational divide. Like Penelope, I sit firmly in the baby bust. In fact, as a 1974 baby, I come from the single most sparsely populated birth year in recent memory.

    When I first came into the workplace, I worked for baby boomers. My first boss often commented, “What’s wrong with you kids these days? When I was your age, I was busy partying and smoking pot. All you guys do is work.”

    Now, standing astride two generations that dwarf my own (Boomer and Y), I can definitely see that a generational divide exists.

    I have dealt with boomer managers who were shocked that someone took a week off for paternity leave, because “Hey, when my son was born, I was back in the office that afternoon.”

    I have also dealt with teens and 20somethings who swear that they will never have a real job, and are instead building companies that let them live their lives. Loyalty to one’s company is as dead as the dodo, and I can’t say that I miss it.

    The younger generations envy the Boomers because they got to enjoy the Austin Powers era (“As long as people are still having promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners without protection while at the same time experimenting with mind-expanding drugs in a consequence-free environment, I’ll be sound as a pound!”) as well as the unprecedented global domination of the US economy and military.

    The Boomers envy the younger generations because they have freedoms and possibilities that the Boomers never had, thanks to the Internet, and because, well, they’re YOUNGER (aging well has never been a Boomer trait).

    And because they have such different expectations of the workplace, Gen Y employees think Boomers are boring martinets, while Boomers think Gen Y employees are impertinent know-it-alls (ponder the irony of that for a second–Boomers resenting the young for believing that they know more than the old).

    And don’t forget to shed a tear for the poor Gen-Xers, who grew up being punished for the sins of their parents (thanks AIDS and the Cold War), then had the good fortune to enter the workforce during a gut-wrenching recession, and get tabbed as “slackers” to boot. No wonder Nirvana albums sold so well in the 90s.

    But while the generations are different, and conflict exists, we as individuals don’t have to fall into it. Avoid the “us versus them” mentality, and concentrate on working with people you enjoy and admire, regardless of their age. Find a company that respects your values (because as Bob Sutton points out, when you work with assholes, you don’t change them for the better, they change you into an asshole). Above all, do work that you can be proud of, and that makes you happy.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks, Chris, for working so hard to lay out both perspectives. In this string of almost forty comments, it’s clear that the most important contributions to the conversation are from people who can see multiple perspectives at once. This is true in life, too. We should all look inside ourselves and answer, truly, if we are trying to understand the people we disagree with.

    I am not a fan of squashing arguments. I like a good argument, but you can’t argue well unless you can see both sides and this comment from Chris is a great model for this.


  36. Mike
    Mike says:

    I am a Boomer.

    I am so disappointed, another person that dislikes me for something that I can do nothing about – Sigh

  37. Jaerid
    Jaerid says:

    Thank you for this interesting post. I am an early Gen Yer (1980) and since entering the work force have been fascinated with workplace antics.

    Generational changes in attitudes, values, and interests is only natural and can be viewed as a form (if not THE form) of social progress/reform. Baby boomers implemented tremendous change from their parent's generation which has resulted in much progress for the betterment of society.

    However, boomers need to remember this – generation Y is a direct result of being raised by THEM. Is it any wonder that kids growing up watching their parents work 60-80 work weeks, being stressed out, dying young, and (most importantly) spending less time at home would want something different from a job? We watched our parents define themselves through their work by constantly trying to "succeed" by spending more and more time at work.

    I can only speak for myself but, I want to be judged by the quality of my work and not the number of hours I work. I want a job that encourages collaboration and rewards teamwork (after all, one of us in not nearly as smart or creative as all of us). I was deeply distraught by a previous post which stated that making one mistake in their line of work could "ruin" their lives. Well, we all make mistakes. As I see it, as long as no one got hurt, we learn from our mistakes, and don't repeat them – €“ success is inevitable.

    The bottom line is this – €“ change happens and history has shown that those who embrace it, encourage it, and learn to harness it will be successful. I fully expect that my children will want to do things differently than I do and I am excited to see what they come up with.

    * * * * *

    This is an amazing comment. Thank you, Jaerid.Please, everyone read this comment. It is thoughtful, balanced and optimistic. And Jaerid is a great example of how each one of us can learn so much from the youngest workers. We just need to pay attention.


  38. Dave
    Dave says:

    I think that Obama is not so much dissing the boomers (and I am one) as he is dissing the Washington ‘politics as usual’ crowd. While most of the elected officials in that crowd are boomers, many of the others (in the media for example) are early Gen X-ers.

    Remember that being a boomer also coincided with a period of tremendous upheaval in the workplace and it’s implied social contract. We went fom an era in which there was a lot of bidirectional loyaty in the workplace (The Company was loyal to its employees and employees were loyal to the company. We stuck with each other through thick and thin for the common good.)

    Today I see award-winning middle-aged managers with 30 years experience and great skills shown the door without as much as a ‘thank-you’. The social contract has changed beneath our feet. The rules changed in the middle of the game. The smart and the quick adapt and survive. The rest are casualties. This has been true of any era with tremendous workplace upheaval, even the Industrial Revolution.

    In short, I think it is unfair to blame us boomers. When we reached adulthood, we were given a copy of the social contract. We arranged our lives so that we could live by it. If there is any anger it is because the contract changed. It is as if, after paying 4.5 years on a 5-year auto loan, you are told that at the end of the five years you won’t own the car after all. You’d be angry too.

    Thank you for the invitation to LinkedIn. As you know, I’m a big fan of the service. I am pretty careful, though, to only link with people who I know personally, or at least know their work well. Otherwise,  I can’t really recommend them to anyone. So, I’m going to take a pass on this invitation, but maybe we’ll get to know each other better in the future, and then LinkedIn will make more sense.

    * * * * * *

    I like this comment a lot, Dave. Because there is a lot of anger in this comment section, coming from the baby boomers. And there is not a lot of analysis about the core cause of this anger. Your post is a great explanation about why baby boomers feel ripped off. Your analysis rings true to me and it helps me see the preceeding posts in another light. Thanks.


  39. Pam Bockman
    Pam Bockman says:

    Wow..I never realized that there were so many of you who dislike us baby boomers. I applaud you for your openness. I am proud to say that I am one of those boomers who manages several Gen X and Gen Y’s. I can tell you for sure, they are NOT GOING to work past their 40 hours, want everything NOW right from college, and have little or no interest in teamwork. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t have two of them in my office fighting over one issue or another. Several of my staff have college degrees and have designer EVERYTHING…handbags, shoes, cars, clothes, and many still live at home. Yes..that’s still live at home after college and spend everything on designer items. Of course, us baby boomers are to blame for that too because we worked the 60+ hours so that our kids could have a good education and then a rewarding career. We felt so guilty having “duel income families” that we overcompensated by showered our kids with “stuff” to help justify our working so much. We wanted them to have what we did not just like you will do with your children. You say “you are not going to work the 60 plus hours”, you want better teamwork, and want to be appreciated for your work instead of the hours you put in”???? Let me know what your manager and team say to you when you are the only one on the “team” who leaves at 5:00 everyday and don’t check your blackberry or laptop over the weekend or after 5pm. Let me know when you get that promotion you want too.

    So…I say to you…gen X and gen Yers…here you go. Its your turn…I’m just about ready to take it easy now. As my mom always told me…”take a page from them to learn” not a book. Good luck with the “teamwork in the workplace”, balancing work with parenthood, and managing the expectation of profits versus the good of the people nightmare.

  40. Bert Dell
    Bert Dell says:

    You are very interesting!

    You state in this piece that you can’t believe that someone would think you were a certain way because you are young, then you later rule out the possibility that ANY baby boomer could be a good president in the eyes of Gen Y!!

    Do you ever “listen” to what you write??

    You close with the comment:

    “We all come to the table with preconceptions and biases, but we all have to work together. So, in the near future, at lest, it's the people who are best at building generational bridges who will succeed. This is something I personally work on every day, and Obama is a great role model.”

    So, besides the poor spelling (“lest”), it seems you really need to work harder on building those bridges!

  41. russ eckel
    russ eckel says:

    There are two interesting narratives woven into this post. Generationally speaking, there are folks out there who have been privileging the idea of inter-generational conflict. The second, and more interesting narrative speaks to the need to move beyond this type of discourse, the main point of the post. The solution to this either/or dilemma seems to be subtlety. Mr. Obama subtly disses boomers while simultaneously calling for a new politics that transcends difference while embracing inclusion.

    As someone who writes about generations in the workplace, I am very sensitive to generational talk. How do we talk about difference without relying on negative portraits of the “other”? A raft of academics and consultants for years now have been emphasizing the shortcomings of Millennnials, something I have spoken against for some time. On Tuesday Feb 27th the Globe ran a story about yet another “study” purporting to “prove” that young people are more narcissistic than previous generations. The lead author, Jean Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me,” is a leading proponent of the Millennials are “defective” school of thought. Not very subtle.

    To the extent that many of us construct our social identities as the “NOT” (I am not one of those), it will be hard to move away from the first narrative of inter-generational conflict. When one builds a bridge it is not just towards someplace, it is also away from another place. Perhaps subtlety is enough. But I’m not sure this is the real solution.

  42. Randy Moser
    Randy Moser says:

    I think Bert makes a good point: We do need to find new ways to interact and get along, both in the work place and in culture in general. There are bound to be a lot of festering wounds from past interactions – €“ particularly between boomers and Gen Xers – €“ but we need to think of the future and not dwell on the past.

    That said, I'll be very surprised if my generation treats young people as badly as the baby boomers treated us. And I think it is important to look at the errors made in the last 30 years so we do not duplicate them. In public policy this means determining an equitable division of tax dollars for the elderly and the young – €“ from college aid relief to accessible transportation options for the elderly.

    The persistent negative attitudes about young people says more about this culture than it does them. I'm pretty sure they're not the squeaky-clean superheroes Howe and Strauss make them out to be, but they are not the vacant blocks of negativity and narcissism that the media often presents, either.

    How do we learn about this new generation? Here's a novel idea. Let's listen to them

    Randy Moser

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