Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Politics and Generation X

I read the most fascinating article in The Atlantic recently about Barack Obama and how he's the man who can pull the American political system out of the grips of the Babyboomers. I posted it to this site, because this article was the first that I have ever read that actually changed my mind about a presidential race.

While Obama is a Boomer, he's actually a trailing-edge Boomer (born 1958-1964), which really makes him more of an Xer. 1958 was the first year of declining birth rates in the U.S. and those born in the last years of the boom had a very similar formative cohort experience to Generation X ) - they don't really remember that pre-Kennedy assassination era when "girls were girls and men were men."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Boomer Calling

Recently, I was reading Penelope Trunk's blog and she talked about not choosing a career based on the often recited professorial advice "Do what you love" and it really got me thinking. Where did this idea of your career being your "calling" come from?

When I was in high school and college - and even for the first five or so years of my career - I subscribed to the notion that you are meant to do a specific job - a divine calling, if you will. Although I did not realize it at the time, this idea made me miserable, because at the end of the day, a job is a job, because they pay you to do the work.

So where did I get this idea from? The "follow your bliss" career advice? Teachers, mostly. Babyboomer teachers to be more specific. The same Babyboomers who are the self-proclaimed workaholics (just google "boomer" and "workaholic" and see how many sites pop up).

I was in church a couple weeks ago and our pastor, who is a feminist nun, talked about how our job is not our calling. Our calling is about the people in our life and our relationships with them.

So if that's true (and I believe it is), then what's up with this "job as calling" thing?

First off, boomers love to work. And by work, I mean work at their jobs. The more hours you put in, the better worker you are. My friend, Julie, who is a boomer herself, even says that boomers love Saturdays because there's no one in the office and they can get more work done.

For many Xers, while our boomer parents were off at their jobs (think the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off), we were forging friendships. We were laying the ground work for what I believe is a new mindset - something Xers do not get the credit we deserve for. It's the idea that my job is important, but my life is more important.

Now that I understand that my job is just my job, I can enjoy it a lot more. I'm not expecting it to be a cosmic experience. And I can focus on doing things I really love (like blogging) without make it "work."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Office holiday party - teambuilding or torture?

Last month I was speaking in Orlando to a group of Gen Xers and Millenials and the topic of office holiday parties came up. Basically, there was no one in the audience who wanted to attend them and no one who could figure out how to get out of them. It's a pretty common complaint among the under-40 crowd.

I, myself, spent nine years working at a college and trying to avoid potlucks, cookie exchanges, and the dreaded Christmas party at the boss' house. The Babyboomer women I worked with would get so annoyed with me - I wasn't a team player. And yet, the Babyboomer men just had to show up for such events (no casserole required if you had a Y chromosome.)

The whole thing was so frustrating, because these people were not my friends - they were my co-workers.

Getting back to the presentation in Orlando, we brainstormed for solutions to avoiding the office party, and the best we could come up with is "I'm going to be out of town." And as I researched the topic a bit more, it turns out that "suck it up" is about the only thing you can do without hindering your career.

Earlier this year, I was talking to a meeting planner in Michigan who said he is having trouble getting certain company events off the ground. Specifically, for years there has been a three-day "retreat" at a northern Michigan resort that included some work, and a lot of dinners and activities. The planner said the Xers did not want to come. They wanted to do it in one concentrated day - all work and no play.

I think these situations are both part of the same issue. Generation Xers are looking for a work-life balance. That means work being something separate from life. Not having your life be your work, your colleagues, your company.

So what is the solution? Do we go along with the festivities and hope the Boomers retire soon? Or do we revolt?

Friday, December 14, 2007

The non-linear workday

When I first started telecommuting about six months ago, one of the biggest challenges I had was adjusting to the “non-linear workday.” I often felt, as NGM pointed out in response to my last posting, that I was going to get in trouble for not sitting in my chair.

Granted, there is no way my boss would know if I’m in my chair. We can work whenever and wherever we like – as long as we hit our deadlines. In my case that means emails at 7 a.m. at home, then some putzing, phone calls at 10 a.m. , then I may hop over to the store and get a gallon of milk, writing usually begins around 1 p.m., 4-6 p.m. is with family, then sometime between 6 and 11 p.m. I finish up anything that’s left. I probably am sitting in my chair a lot less hours than when I had my office job – but I also accomplish a lot more. And I have control over my time – and my life.

Studies have found that telecommuting also benefits companies. The reason is that happy workers are better workers. But telecommuting only works when the leadership in your organization are trusting of their staff. Managers who use telecommuting as a way to lure the best talent need to trust their new hires to get the job done. Outcomes need to be judged – not inputs.

I’m not entirely sure telecommuting is a generational issue in terms of who can adjust better. I work with young Xers, older Xers, and Boomers – and we all work from our houses. I can’t say that any of us are particularly better at telecommuting than the rest of us. However, I can say that I’ve talked to a lot more Boomers who say they would never want to telecommute. Most Xers I talk to want me to tell them how they can get a telecommuting job, too. (I wish I had the answer – I still can’t believe that I landed a telecommuting job.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shocker: Gen Y wants to telecommute

A recent article posted to says the members of Gen Y want to telecommute, look for information by searching Google rather than looking in print publications, and prefer to email and text message as a means of communicating at work. Interesting information - but not news.

Anyone who has visited a Starbucks in the last five years knows that Millenials are always wired - whether by cell phone or computer. It's unlikely we will be able to convince them to make a 30 minute commute so that they can get to an office to have access a computer. Shoot, you can't even convince of that (yes, I telecommute).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Build me up buttercup

Are Boomers really re-defining anything? Or, as marketers, are we just telling them what they want to hear in order to sell them something?

I am of the opinion that it’s a little of both.

A Boomer friend of mine jokes – “Didn’t you know that Boomer women are the first to ever go through Menopause?” And she’s right. It seems like Boomers are always claiming to redefine each life stage as if until they reached 30-40-50-60, everyone had lived a cookie-cutter existence.

Are Baby boomers really the only retires to travel? Is there really that much of a difference between a bus tour that plays music from the 1940s while you travel through wine country and a tour bus that plays music from the 1960s?

I’ve noticed that a lot of Gen Xers like myself sit back and listen to the Boomer mantra of redefinition without disagreeing. But I don’t think we’re buying it. We are, however, selling it. At least us marketing Gen Xers.

In some ways, it’s almost as if the Boomers are reaching that stage where the patronizing begins. Kind of like when a young guy flirts with his girlfriend’s grandma to get on her good side. I believe it’s true that life after age 50 is changing – but that’s probably more due to modern medicine than some sort of super culture created by the Boomers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Unsexiest Generation

If you are a Gen Xer - or just wish you were - here is a fantastic article from Marie Claire magazine that declares our generation unsexy. And I do believe they are correct!