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Bookending the GenXers

June 23, 2014

There was a very interesting, unsurprising, but still fairly disconcerting article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago entitled, Millennial Disconnect: Kids want money but not hard work.

There have been others like it in recent months and years, but for some reason this one got me thinking.

But first of all, a reminder for those who might not be students of generational naming. The Millennials are the kids born after Generation X, whose birth years ended in the early 80s.  They’re in high school now and the oldest are pushing (OMG!!) their early thirties. In any case, the WSJ article focused on the high school aged group.

It notes that these kids are “…marked bu two opposing economic characteristics that have caused an eye-opening gap; they’re highly materialistic and not necessarily willing to work for the money they need to buy the items they so highly value…”.  The article goes on to report similarly disturbing things, such as the fact they the Millennials themselves report that they expect to own more stuff than their parents had, including things like vacation homes and boats, but that they also “…didn’t anticipate work to be a central part of their lives.”

Perhaps they believe in Santa Claus.

In any case, this all got me thinking about my own generation , the overly ballyhooed (or so we’re told) Baby Boomers. Say what you will about us–and many have–but we expected to work hard, the vast majority of us have done so, and we’ve built an enormously rich and vibrant economy. (There have been more than a few accomplishments on the societal/arts side of the ledger, too, but I’ll leave those aside for now.) More or less the same goes for Generation X, those who came after the Boomers and before the Millennials, though they tend to be a bit more serious-minded than us.

For the most part, the members of these two cohorts did not consider themselves particularly entitled and knew, whether we liked it or not, that we’d have to bust our whatevers if we wanted to really make it. We worked overtime, we knew we’d have to slave for years to become a partner at a law of accounting firm, and if we started our own businesses we realized we might have to do things like sleep on a cot in the office we could not really afford for a year or more (as a friend of mine who started a later-successful electronics business in the 90s did) for the chance to make it, or to lose it all.

The WSJ article goes on to note that (again, as self-reported by these kids), “They’re not particularly willing to work overtime and…one of their obstacles to getting a job was that they didn’t want to work hard enough.”


For what it’s worth, in the couple of years preceding my retirement from Ernst & Young, study groups and such were formed, and a good deal of upper management time was spent, dealing with the characteristics of the younger people entering the firm. Lots of other companies are doing the same. The perceived problem was that these folks did not seem willing to accept the very hard work, long hours and high stress that has always been necessary to ensure success at such a firm, or at a big company.  The question was what changes needed to be made–to the firm, to some degree, and to these peoples’ expectations–in order to see that the firm continued to succeed in the future as the numbers of Boomers and Xers our ranks dwindled.

Lest you’re beginning to think that this is merely a rant against Millennials, please bear with me and allow me to explain the other end of the “bookending” part of my title to this post.

I have, for some years, been resisting joining AARP, which many seem to have forgotten once stood for the American Association of Retired Persons. Before I retired it just seemed clear that this was not up my alley; a tax-exempt group providing discounted excursions for old folks and such. But even since my retirement nearly five years ago (!!), I’ve resisted, as I saw the organization rapidly moving away from its supposed mission of supporting the needs of older, retired persons to looking for any possible way to make a buck by providing discounts and other offers on nearly everything to as many people as possible, old or not, retired or not.

This was brought up again to me recently at dinner with good friends, both of whom are working professionals. One happily told Laura and me that she had just joined AARP because of a terrific hotel discount that she wanted to take advantage of. She’s 52, by the way, and as I alluded to, still very much working in an active medical practice.  While I don’t blame her for wanting to utilize this benefit, I was also more than a bit put off by the fact of its existence. The AARP, I thought, by waving this sort of thing in front of anyone 50 or older, working or not, was encouraging every Boomer and more and more of those high-achiever Gen Xers to develop some of that entitled, I deserve it outlook of the Millennials.

So, what we might be moving toward is an entire generation of Americans who want it all but aren’t willing to work for it and an older generation (or generations) who worked like hell for it but are now being seduced into an arguably similar mindset–that is, there’s a lot of gravy out there, why shouldn’t I get some of it, whether I “deserve” it or not!

Hence my bookending title.

All of this–if you agree with my thesis, of course–would seem to leave those hard-working, high-achieving Gen Xers to carry the freight for the whole country as more and more Boomers actually leave the workforce (and perhaps come to expect more stuff to be shoveled their way, courtesy of AARP-type thinking) and the Millennials don’t keep up their end of what everyone used to understand was “the bargain.”

Not good, I think.




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  1. cyclespinwinterpark permalink

    There is nothing more frustrating than employing the what I call the ‘It’s All About Me’ Millennial. You know the type; the ‘it’s my god given right to talk and text whenever and where ever I please’ type.
    But, It’s the nature of my business that a particular job description is best suited for people of that age bracket. Over the last 7 or so years I’ve noticed some things about that group and have modified my hiring practices to my weed out those ‘me’ types that also carry many other undesirable traits..
    In my office’s initial resume and interview screenings I/they eliminate all candidates from anything close to a privileged background. I have found that Millennials from solid blue collar families or slightly less still largely possess the qualities I need for this position. A graph describing Millennials of increasing privilege with increasing bad work habits would spike like a steep sigmoid curve.
    I write this more as a reflection on parenting. We, the overachieving Baby Boom generation had to answer to parents who suffered through a depression, a world war and a war they lost. Would that family take any Millennial crap? Despite being fairly affluent, not in my boyhood home. And, is a hard working to put food on the table type of today going to take that Millennial crap? It’s been my experience they don’t.
    That’s how I deal with this generational malaise.

  2. Jennifer Williams permalink

    Nice post. As a high achieving Gen Xer…not only do we need to carry the freight but we need to contend with a stagnent political enviroment where government is not allowed to provide (or supposed to provide based on your idealogy) for the common good nor do private citizens donate enough to provide for the common good… I’m considering expatriation to a nice island :).

  3. I’ll take that comment as tongue in cheek . There are different squatters’ rights and government leases on land you build on, etc. in play in more affordable Caribbean and Central American countries. I looked at that for other than Millennial reasons.
    The Millennials will come and go, That is the beauty of America.
    I read a statistic, Please don’t take this literally, but 70% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by first generation Americans. Today’s immigrants will pick up the slack to support you Gen-Xers, just as you will be egregiously taxed to support the Baby Boomers who plan on living 30 years post retirement off their $500,000.00 in savings.
    Why do my generation of achievers only have social security plus to live on? In our day 1/2 million was money. College has become a poor ROI and we want to help our children. And, well, in the past we didn’t plan on living to 90+.
    The rich get richer and the poor poorer but there is the American safety valve of immigration. When my DAR wife, as an adult, with a serviceable degree, went back to university to change careers, and immigrant students were aggressive and self serving, and she objected from our luxury next, I told her, ‘Don’t f with immigrants; you don’t understand.’
    All will be well, but plan on trades people and doctors whose names you will work to pronounce.

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