Tuesday, May 27, 2008

“Don’t dump on the old people” and other survival lessons I learned from a 9 x 9 cubicle

Recently, I almost got into a pissing match with a guy named Mike who ridiculed a comment I made on the Brazen Careerist website. But then I decided why waste my energy on Mike when I could waste my energy on my own blog.

Basically, here’s how it went down: Ryan Healy, who I would go as far as to call a blogging rock star, posted the 10 things that Gen Y is going to do to change the workforce. Here they are:

1. Hold Only Productive Meetings 2. Shorten the Work Day 3. Bring Back the Administrative Assistants 4. Redefine Retirement 5. Find Real Mentors 6. Restore Respect to the HR Department 7. Promote Based on Emotional Intelligence 8. Continue to Value What Our Parents Have to Offer 9. Enjoy Higher Starting Salaries 10. Re-invent the Performance Review

So I’m reading this and thinking, “Hmmm. That’s kind of insulting to anyone who is not part of Gen Y (mainly, me).” Seriously, how much bravado does it take to announce that your generation will be the one to hold only meaningful meetings?

I decided to make a little fun of Ryan. I like him. I hold him to a higher standard. I think he can write good things about Gen Y without slapping the rest of us in the face by omission.

Here’s what I wrote:
#11: At the end of each fiscal year, everyone will get a medal and a certificate of appreciation signed by their direct supervisor!

#12: On their birthdays, each employee will get a CD with a birthday song written just for them!

#13: Each September, the company will round up all the Gen Xers and ridicule them for their sarcasm and negativity.

#14: Each October, the company will round up all the Boomers and force them to participate in Amigo races.

#15: And each November, the company will round up all the Millennials and give everyone a star on their forhead for being such great team players!

That’s funny, right? Well, apparently “Mike” doesn’t think so. Here’s what he wrote:

“The Generation X/Generation Y divide that GenerationXpert illuminates with her/his sarcasm troubles me. Is it really so vast and really so accurate? Ryan identifies legitimate points in his post, and “Xpert” marginalizes them unfairly. Sure, propping up such a divide between generations benefits some of the folks (perhaps GenerationXpert?) who are trying to make a career out of being a Gen X or Gen Y expert, but it’s a lot of heat and no light for the rest of us. There are more things that unify us than divide us.”

First off, I’m sure you will agree that Mike needs to lighten up a bit. After that, I’d like to tell him that the biggest lesson I learned from having only boomer bosses and at least 75% boomer co-workers over the past 15 years is that you should never – I’m serious, NEVER – pump yourself up as the next hot, young, new thing by announcing how you and your generation are going to fix everything everyone before you has screwed up.

The reason is not that it hurts peoples’ feelings or that it’s an inaccurate account of what you can actually accomplish. It’s because with age comes patience. And that older person will wait for the opportunity to take you down a notch – or 10.

For real. That old dude who you insulted may not even seem to register what you said - or wrote. But when the time comes. The time you are not expecting it. BAM! Knife in the back.

So that’s why I needled Ryan for his post. He’s right, Gen Y will benefit from all the changes he mentioned. But will they drive them? Probably not. These ideas have been around since the members of Gen Y were singing “I love you, you love me” with Barney.


Anonymous said...

Remember the old quote. "Old age and treachery will youth and skill every time."

Anonymous said...

Also, don't forget "Revenge is a dish best served cold." "Payback is a mother." "Diplomacy is saying 'good boy' while looking for a big rock."

Unknown said...

My favorite Gen Y mantra is, "Everyone's a winner!"

(Also said by Ralph Wiggum.)

Mo Morrissey said...

The fact is - and you note this - you don't get to make those pronouncements and not think someone will call you on it.

I look at it thus: he was the one who highlighted the generational differences, not you - you simply called him on it.

Anonymous said...

The baby boomers had fax machines and mainframe email.

Gen X had the beginning of the internet.

Gen Y insta-messages, text messages, everything needs a button and they, unfortunately, think they invented it all and know it all.

Each generation needs to feed and learn from their processors, not compete, condescend and out-do. This applies not only to technology but to life experience.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I thought it was funny. And I'm in Gen Y.

It was clear to me that you regularly read BC which means you don't hate Gen Y. Why would someone read the voices of a generation they hate? And it was also clear you wouldn't tease someone like that online unless you liked them.

People need to lighten up. Fo shizzle.

And I agree most with your very last comment - Gen Y isn't causing the change, just benefiting from it.

Jamie Notter said...

Hmmm. I agree with the ultimate point: Millennials at best will be co-creating those things with their Xer and Boomer colleagues (and for the most part it will be the Xers and Boomers who have the authority to make the changes). So presenting it as what Gen Y is going to to change things isn't accurate and can annoy the rest of us (I'm an Xer).

On the other hand, when I read your #11-15, I hear them as bitter. You may not have meant them that way, but that's how I heard it. I thought Mike didn't help things by throwing a dart at you by implying you are benefiting from a cross-generational war (also bitter!). Or maybe he was being sarcastic and trying to be funny? Without the tone, I can't tell.

This is why it's difficult to have conflict using only text. Which is too bad, because the original points--promoting based on emotional intelligence, productive meetings, reinventing performance review--those are cool things that I hope we can talk more about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting! I can see your point, but the fact is a lot of Gen Xers (not all of course) including me have gotten in trouble over the years for being just a little too glib. Bitter? I don't know. Sarcastic? Definitely. There are a lot of bloggers out there who are very serious and disagree in very polite ways. That's cool. That's just not me. I go for the joke every time!

Mike said...

Hey everybody – Small world. I am the Mike in question. A couple thoughts…

#1 I want to clarify that I didn't intend to ridicule your comment, Suzanne, and I apologize for not managing my communication better. The irony is that I felt your comment on Ryan's blog was itself ridicule that, as I noted, unfairly marginalized what were good, if not perfect, points. However, my goal and responsibility was to be productive in dialogue on the topic, not throw gasoline on the fire. Again, I apologize.

#2 I feel like a pretty light-hearted guy, but I agree that the comment taken on its face didn’t sound so. I was pricklier about the Gen X/Gen Y divide at the time because I had just read Robert Lanham's Radar essay. It sure feels like a generational broadside, which I recognize was part of point, and it put me in a bit of a defensive stance. My responsibility, not yours, but perhaps it helps clarify.

#3 The point I should have emphasized and it seems instead undermined is that all of us that get to be here blogging, thinking, speaking, and working are so privileged, so lucky, that is sometimes feels absurd for us to prop up huge distinctions between each other. There is no limit to the number of (accurate) barbs generations can trade about our particular music, culture, characteristics, etc. But there also is no limit to the number of things we can learn from each other.

On that co-creating point, Suzanne, it sounds like we might agree. Perhaps this can be the start of a beautiful co-creating, intergenerational moment.  Without lightening up too much, however, I want to reemphasize that without knowing you I made a snide comment about cashing in on generational conflict. I apologize for that and will make a similar apology on Ryan’s comment board. However, I do not regret the point – one Jamie articulates better than I did – that Ryan had some important insights that we shouldn’t lose, either through their imperfection or this process.

Many thanks - Mike

Anonymous said...

Your additions to Ryan’s Top 10 list are very funny. And I applaud you for continuing to engage in the blogs at Brazen Careerist. I will label myself as an EX-reader. As much as I love Penelope’s blog I find that the entries at BC lack a sense of context and in my opinion try to drum up controversy rather than encourage a dialogue.

For example, Ryan’s list doesn’t even include the ways that (based on what I’ve seen in my slice of the world) Gen Y has ALREADY changed the workplace – namely the expansion of how we think about “diversity” and the emphasis on service/community.

As another example, as I was reading another blog on the site (summary in my own words = young woman makes the argument that she’s a freak of nature because she had an epiphany that she doesn’t think she wants to be a mother) I thought about a colleague, a friend and a relative who are each childless by choice. They are in no way outside the mainstream of society. So I realize blogging is very personal but talking about this type of issue as if it's extremely rare just strikes me as showing tunnel vision.

Penelope says the site is about amplifying Gen Y’s voice. But if she could just get them to be quiet for 5 minutes and listen to the stories of those who came before they would then have so much MORE to say.

Carla S. said...

I think Connie got it right at the end of her comment:

"But if she could just get them to be quiet for 5 minutes and listen to the stories of those who came before they would then have so much MORE to say."

That is the point, and I believe the one you were trying to make. Every young generation will change the world, but for that to be true, you also have to realize that the generation before yours did so too.


Kristen Longfield said...

The thing is, those stories... don't exist, and aren't findable.

What I mean to say is that we'd LOVE to benefit from someone else's experiences. Seriously, we thrive on it. But there's no Gen X blog talking about how they dealt with work and career in their twenties.

There also aren't many good books (I can't think of any). Most of that is all consultant-like advice, and not the genuine stories. If you want the net generation to acknowledged what you changed, and what you were up against in your twenties, etc, etc, go dig up your diary from when you were 25. It would help us alot more to know what actually happened, and what you were actually concerned about, than this fictionalized version we're always getting from people.

BC can occasionally be obvious and stupid... that's how I know its genuine.

But what I'm saying is: if you've got some wisdom tucked away somewhere, don't get mad we don't already know about it... Join the narrative.

GenXpert said...


Thanks for your post. Two things: 1) A couple Gen X books of interest are Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind Generation X & another is X saves the World.

2)I am on the road this week, but when I get home I will do a couple retrospectives on what it was like when Xers entered the workforce. Thanks for giving me that idea!

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