By Ryan Healy People often ask why I decided to get into this whole career blogging world that I have come to love. Usually my answer is something about giving my generation a voice in the corporate discussion, or standing up for all of my peers and friends who openly discuss their bitterness towards work. These are true statements and they are some of the reasons I decided to make my voice heard. However, this is not actually why I started blogging.

One evening last fall my dad called. We often discuss random topics and potential business ideas. But this call was different because he was unusually excited. He went on a tangent about baby boomers retiring and Gen X being too small to fill their shoes. He told me about the shortage of experienced workers in the non-profit community, and the need for baby boomers like him to begin passing the torch to the younger generations.

I said, “I’m sure this is all true, but what can we do about it?”

My father said, “You and Dan (my brother and a budding entrepreneur) should write a book with Mom (a talent development expert in the banking industry) about the passing of leadership from today’s managers to generation Y.”

It was an interesting idea, and given my initial experience in the working world, I could see how bridging the gap in leadership is necessary. The book never happened. Who knows, maybe it could have worked. But what has transpired from that original idea has been pretty cool.

I studied the topic like crazy. I turned every happy hour conversation with a random peer into a learning experience, and I started writing. I probably spent five to six hours a day reading, writing and studying the topic on top of my 9-to-5 job. Then I started a blog to get some more insight and to make my voice heard. All of a sudden a famous columnist and author asked me to write a weekly column for her. I jumped at the chance.

For months now I have been writing about what I look for in a job, how I like to work, changes I would like to see. Many things I write seem to resonate with young and old alike, and of course, many people disagree with my posts, from all generations. I do not represent the views of an entire generation; it would be ridiculous to pretend I do. But that is why a blog is the perfect forum for this discussion; we can all have our say.

Sometimes the comments turn into a generational argument, and I will admit to getting a little heated and protective of my generation. Then I read comments like this one from Pirate Jo:

“The fact that today’s 20-somethings have all these options and don’t have to waste their youth on multiple, crappy jobs is a GOOD thing. I’d never want to stick them in the same situation I was in. In fact, I’m thankful for them. They’re saying the same things Gen X has been saying for ten years, but none of those damn old-school bureaucrats would listen to us because there were too few of us to matter. Now that Gen Y is joining our ranks, it’s going to make things better for ALL of us.”

After reading a comment like that, I remember that my goal was to create a dialogue, and in fact the whole idea came from a baby boomer father. I remember that I created Employee Evolution as an open forum for people to communicate with each other regardless of whether or not I agree with them.

The point of all of this is not to start an argument or to say that generation Y is better than others. We have been lucky enough to enter the job market at a time where we do indeed have the upper hand and we have the technology and means to speak freely about the topic. Some of the ideas I discuss can help us all, some will not work for everyone. If we all drop our protective guards and listen, including me, we can continue this great discussion. We can create some changes for the better; we can influence baby boomer managers to share their knowledge with generation Y and we can engage my generation enough to slow down and learn from the managers who want to help. Or we can just keep arguing.

Ryan Healy's blog is Employee Evolution.

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17 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hello Ryan: I’ve been following this blog for a couple of months now, and I think this is your best post yet. I think you’ve hit just the right tone of trying to move forward in a positive way, dropping our generational guards (whatever generation we happen to come from). I’ll admit, I’ve cringed at some of your earlier posts (though I’ve never commented on them), and I think you’ve moved ahead with this post.

    One comment, though: as a Gen X-er, I sometimes feel that both Boomers and Gen Y forget we’re here. Yes, there are fewer of us in sheer numbers, and we had the misfortune of graduating from college during a recession and a dismal job market. So regarding your dad’s comments about “Gen X being too small to fill [the Boomers’] shoes” and a lack of experienced people in the nonprofit biz, I don’t entirely buy it — I think there are a lot of X-ers out there chomping at the bit for the plum job opportunities that were not available when WE were the fresh crop of new college grads. Just a thought, Ryan — and something I’d be interested in seeing addressed on this blog, either by you or Penelope.

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for the comment and the kind words. The comment of Gen X being to small is simply referring to the numbers. There were approximately 76 million baby boomers born between 1945 and 1964 and approximately 51 million Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1976. Obviously the numbers differ depending on what years you define as “Gen X,” but it’s pretty obvious that there aren’t enough Xers to fill the shoes of the boomers. It has nothing to do with work ethic or motivation, somebody needs to fill these roles.


  2. christin
    christin says:

    beautifully written, and a good reminder to all who read and freely comment here – to remember WHY we’re talking about all of this in the first place.

  3. Terry
    Terry says:

    I really hope you guys/girls influence the old corporate model. I’ve been trying for years.

    I see lights at the end of the tunnel…


  4. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    I’m famous! I’ve been quoted! (The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!) :-)

    I agree with Jennifer’s point, but want to ask about something Penelope said a couple days ago, too. She said Gen X’ers want to be left alone to figure out how to do things. Like many other observations she has made about Generation X, this particular one fit me to an almost creepy tee. But how is this a generational thing?

    Personally, I like to be given an end result to accomplish and then be left alone to figure out my own way to do it. In fact, I can’t really work any other way. If you want to drive me crazy, put me in a bunch of unnecessary meetings with too many people. It doesn’t take me any time at all to start thinking there are “too many fingers in the cookie jar,” and I will sit there fuming the entire time, thinking that with all these people wasting their time in this meeting they could have the freakin’ project finished by now.

    Or try to delegate the parts of your job that you don’t like to someone else. That also really annoys me. Do your own grunt work and quit trying to weasel out of things you think are “beneath you.” In the time it takes you to explain what to do to someone else, you could send out that e-mail yourself and be done with it. Don’t expect me to delegate my grunt work, either. I’ll either delegate an entire project from top to bottom to someone else, or I’ll do the whole project myself. If I have ownership of it, I want to see the whole picture. (I guess I have a pretty strong sense of boundaries.)

    Or, if you are my boss, micromanage me. Nitpick me over what hours I keep, don’t trust me to get things done correctly or on time, and make me spend a lot of time giving you detailed “status reports.” I’ve only had one boss like that, but it was the only time in my life I’ve ever felt myself to be truly capable of violence. He once commented that he would feel a lot better if I seemed a lot more worried about meeting a deadline. The truth is, I WASN’T worried about the deadline. But I’m supposed to LOOK worried? Outta my hair, dude!

    Anyway, those are some examples of my desire to work independently. Are other Gen X’ers the same way? How is Generation Y different? And why? I do sometimes wonder why they want so much “feedback,” why they don’t feel grateful when they are left alone. Are there any links on this topic? Thanks …

  5. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hi Ryan, Couldn’t resist commenting again. I completely get it about the numbers–I know that there are simply more Boomers and Gen Y than we Gen X-ers. What I’m trying to say is that, while many Boomers talk about how there aren’t enough X-ers to replace them, I don’t think they fully tapped into the Gen X labor pool. Feeding into this, I think many of them (Boomers) are simply more comfortable relating to Gen Y, since many of them have Gen Y kids. They’ve never been sure what to make of Gen X-ers, and I suppose the reverse is also true. As a result, sometimes Gen X gets passed over.

    This post (from the incoming blog posts related to yours) sums it up pretty well, in a way that felt true to my experience: “I guess it is with some resentment that I see GenY getting this boomer approval for the same things they dissed GenX about back in the day” (from the Creative Tech Writer blog). I know we don’t want to get into generational warfare–it’s nasty and unproductive–but this is some food for thought.

  6. wayne
    wayne says:

    Ditto Pirate Jo and Jennifer. As Gen X ( and at the front end of that gen), I too feel like I’m just forgotten. To the boomers we were just good-for-very-little, trouble making non conformists. We spent years fighting against the old school mentality, crying out that there is more to life than workaholism, and we were readily dismissed. We waited and waited for them to retire so we could reshape the work environment, and they STILL haven’t retired. Now it appears the boomers are ready to accept this new mentality, Gen Y is going to get credit for it, and Gen x isn’t even going to get credit for laying the groundwork. We had to protest from within the system; the options available to Gen Y didn’t even exist for us. I am TRULY glad that the work environment is finally changing, it has gotten way out of balance. But I still feel like the unwanted stepchild while Gen Y is heralded as the gifted prodigy.

    Pirate Jo, everything you said about being given an objective and then just let me do it describes me EXACTLY.

  7. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Jennifer, I loved that post, too. Here’s a thought, though – maybe we don’t NEED 76 million Xers or Yers to replace the Boomers who are retiring. Advances in technology and increases in productivity might mean there is not a need for one-to-one replacement. Like the comment about process improvement from that blog post you linked to – THANK YOU!!! I’m glad someone said that.

  8. wayne
    wayne says:

    I can’t help but feel that the boomers will forever marginalize me and my peeps, so I guess I’m just hoping that Gen Y doesn’t do the same once they get the boomers bequeathment. I want to be happy and free too.

  9. Maureen Rogers
    Maureen Rogers says:

    Ryan – Thanks for your post – and your call for a truce among the generations. When I read some of the sweeping generational generalizations – Boomers are rapacious, greedy, ladder climbing, kid-ignoring workaholics who’ve ruined the work world (and the world in general) for everyone else and just refuse to get the hell out of Dodge, well, maybe I’m too dense for the shock of recognition. I just react with a big, “Huh? Who are they talking about?” I’m a bona fide, lifetime Boomer, and as far as I can tell, at the fundamental level we’re looking for the same things from our jobs that everyone else is: interesting work, opportunities to learn, decent pay, good colleagues, and balance with their non-work life. This is based on having worked with people who have been everything from 20 years older than I am down to 30 years younger. A few years ago, I was managing a group that had people ranging from 22 up to 60. Yes, people may have wanted different things given their circumstances – a 28 year old new mom needs something different than a 60 year old handling his parents’ move to assisted living – but these differences strike me more as stage-in-life rather than particular to a generation.

    What differs, of course, are the environments in which we come of age. Gen-Xers may have come of age during a recession, but many Boomers did, too. When I got out of B-School in 1981, I think the unemployment rate in Massachusetts was over 10%. Finding a job – even with a decent MBA – was tough. During my career in high tech, there have been colossal shakeouts and ups and downs. Maybe some folks in my generation have had job security and are looking at nice fat pensions, but for most of us in high tech, our careers have been categorized by lay-offs (I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been laid off at least once) and options that never materialized. Everyone may want to see our backs, but we’re only in our 50’s and 40’s – not ready to hang it up, and not able to afford it, either. So we’re all going to be sharing the workplace for a while longer.

    What’s also different is the technology, which has created enormous new opportunities for people. It’s also created plenty of downside, in terms of outsourcing, etc. Things also move faster these days, so younger folks probably need to be more flexible than the Boomers ever had to be – even though with outsouring, downsizing, m&a’s, etc, we had to be more flexible than our parents ever did.

    I think it’s great that the Gen-Y’s have all these opportunities: take advantage of whatever you can. I feel bad for Gen-X’ers who feel they were lost in the shuffle, even if I don’t fully understand it.

    Again, thanks for your post. Let’s hope you get something started here.

  10. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I love that your column is a conversation starter. It’s so valuable to have people from all generations talking about these issues. Keep it up!

  11. wayne
    wayne says:

    are you seriously going to tell an entire generation of people who rarely saw their fathers because they worked 60+ hours per week and then needed some ‘me’ time because they work hard all week, that we are confused about what a workaholic, kid ignoring parent is? Or that the person I just described isn’t actually a workaholic, kid ignoring parent? Why does everyone at the (fortune 500) company that I work for who makes over 55k work 60 hour weeks? I’m sure their kids are getting some real quality time with their parents. I’m not suggesting that all boomers agree with this mentality, but it was boomers that instituted it, and it is boomers that have imposed it on the rest of us. If you aren’t one of ‘them’, then I want you as an ally. We need to bring balance back to the work/non-work life equation.

  12. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I don’t know if you are aware of this, Penelope, but when I conduct searches, names of pharmaceutical drugs pop up in the results. The drug names blend in with the content, but when you actually click through, they’re nowhere to be found. Never seen anything like it! Weird. Just wanted to let you know in case it is some kind of hacking.

  13. HTGillis
    HTGillis says:

    Dear Penelope and Ryan, what a terrific post about getting your voice out there and getting it heard through technology.  Its so true, none of this could have happened 10 – 15 years ago.
    I am trying to get my voice heard as I write my web blog about a topic that needs to be in the Social Media, Alcoholism, we have all had some one we love go too soon due to drinking and substance abuse.  I want to try like you have to get my voice in the discussion. Thanks for your Blog!
    Warmest regards,
    Thomas Gillis
    founder / nonprofit

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