Generations: Where's the Love?

Maggie McGary went off on a bit of a rant about Generation Y/Millennials on her (spectacular) blog the other day. She watched Penelope Trunk speak about the younger generation and then read a guest post on Trunk's blog by a 23-year-old who had quit a job after just two weeks, partially because she was able to continue living with her parents (something done much more frequently by this generation than generations before). The gist of Maggie's commentary: Gen Y needs to get over themselves and stop thinking that the world is going to constantly cater to them, and for God's sake don't you realize that living with Mom and Dad makes you a loser?!

I'd like to push back a bit. First, on the living at home thing. Here's my take. Living at home after college used to make you a loser. Now it doesn't. The people who need to get over that are the Gen Xers and Boomers who want the Millennials to experience the world the same way we do. What constitutes "loser" will change over time and the aging generations will choose to either roll with that or resist it. I prefer rolling with it. And I'd also add that the world is different now than when we were getting out of college. Student debt is bigger than it used to be and I think in most areas housing might be relatively more expensive than it used to be. I don't have the numbers on this, but it's worth considering before being too judgmental about where Millennials live.

Second, I have a different read on that guest blog post. I thought her points about realizing early on that it wasn't a good fit there and being smart enough to leave are points worth considering. We just don't have enough data in that blog post to know if she was being impetuous or insightful. Recognizing it wasn't the right "fit" might have been because they made her make copies, but it might have been because the culture was not as promised. She might have been giving up too quickly, but she might have been doing everyone a favor by not wasting time and energy trying to make it work.

Third, Maggie suggested that there are "droves" of Gen Xers waiting to take and do jobs if Millennials would rather stay at home with Mom and Dad, and from a demographic view, that's not true. There are millions and millions of Gen Xers–don't get me wrong. But relatively we are a much smaller generation than either the Boomers or Millennials. I agree that I don't think all the Boomers are going to retire en masse as many have been worrying, but there are senior positions opening for Gen X now, so I'm not sure we will be available in droves to fill lower level positions. I think the combination of generational attitudes plus the "hourglass" demographics is going to force some rather significant structural change in organizations.

Oh, and by the way, Strauss and Howe, my favorite theorists on generations, point out that typically every generation has "issues" with the generation immediately below them. Just look at the conversation Eric Lanke had with a Boomer colleague about Generation X's leadership (and the comments too).


  1. 19.03.2009 at 10:25 am

    I just wanted to thank you for looking beyond the popular opinion of my generation. I too left my first job after a couple of weeks – I wasn’t living at home but I got the same sort of feedback.
    Here’s the thing people don’t realize, picking your first job is a huge deal. What you achieve during those critical 3 years after graduation set the tone for your entire career. My generation faces more competition and fewer jobs than people realize and we need to use tactical precision when planning our careers.
    I applaud this person for leaving, if it’s not going to work out then get out. I know that the career path I am now on is far better for making that decision…

  2. 19.03.2009 at 1:00 pm

    Anthony – I’m not so sure about that “3 years sets the tone of your entire career” thing. Right out of college, I worked as a mortgage processor, then in a dress shop, then in a gift shop. Then I went to grad school. Then I became a system administrator in the Windows for Workgroups days. Then I became a webmaster in the “let’s code HTML by hand in vi!” days. Then I started working for associations. Then I started consulting. And I’m not even 40 yet!
    Most people end up working at something that’s totally unrelated to what they studied in college. And most people have more than one major career in their lives.
    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the life is full of way more strange twists than you can possibly imagine at 22 – or 35 – or 50.

  3. 19.03.2009 at 2:33 pm

    I am so flattered to be the subject of your blog post! I haven’t had this much attention since I went on a rant about OBGC in the Gazette and alienated every soccer parent within a 60 mile radius.
    My thing with the leaving after two weeks is that, regardless of the reason for leaving, there is no way you can accurately judge the merit of a job in two weeks. And trust me–people who know me would laugh hysterically if they heard me say this, because I am notorious for being a very impulsive job-hopper. But the thing about the workplace is that you never know where one job can lead you. If you stick it out, at worst you continued to get a paycheck while you found a new job; at best, you end up getting promoted to something you do like doing. I have had a ton of different jobs and never would have predicted I’d end up as a web content developer–two years ago I had no idea what an html tag looked like.
    With regard to the living with parents thing, I just think it’s a very slippery slope. It’s one thing to move back home when you graduate; it’s another to expect your parents to spend their entire adult lives doing jobs they most likely don’t love so that their adult children can hold out for their dream job. Yes, housing is expensive–but it’s also expensive to support kids–especially ones who don’t have heath insurance. It’s one thing to sacrifice for your kids until they’re 18, then pay upwards of $100k to send them to college; it’s another to continue to have to support them until they’re well into their 20s–or beyond.
    I always read about how Gen-Yers refuse to end up like their parents: in dead-end jobs that they hate. Isn’t it kind of ironic that, in order for the Gen-Yer kid to hold out for his/her dream job, mom and dad need to put even more time at the dead-end jobs they hate–but that pay the bills?

  4. 19.03.2009 at 9:19 pm

    Jamie, it’s great to see a gen-xer writing about this stuff. I have to say that in general, gen x is bored by this topic, so few of us weigh in. And, naturally, you seem on target to me đŸ™‚

  5. 23.03.2009 at 6:22 pm

    We’ve all made decisions at 25 that we wouldn’t make at 45. That’s part of growing up.
    And that’s the point. You’ll know a lot more at 45 than you do at 25 – regardless how much you know (or think you know) at 25.
    Maggie’s point is that you shouldn’t blindly support ideas or habits promoted by 25 year olds. Evaluate them just as you’d evaluate any other ideas or habits.

  6. 30.03.2009 at 2:38 am

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