We have reared a generation of selfish wimps!”  

This huge debate is raging on social media after a business guru said that ‘old-style Boomer managers’ are causing younger staff to leave their jobs. But is it true to say there is a Baby Boomers vs Gen Y Millennials great divide?

I’ve been listening to people calling in to talk-back radio complaining about the ‘lazy’ Millennials, and to young people complaining about Baby Boomer managers because they despise ‘unnecessarily being told what to do by their older bosses.’ 

I feel it sounds like a school-yard brawl with name calling and stomping of feet and it will all end in tears.

generation of selfish wimps, baby boomers, gen y, millennials, leadership

Comments posted on news sites and social media have included Boomer responses to ‘lazy and entitled’ young people’s complaints about ‘toxic old-style managers’ who apparently are making their working lives hell.

As a coach who specialises in career transition coaching, I find this fascinating because of the name-calling and wide sweeping generalisations bandied about in this debate.  Well, it’s not really a debate, is it?  It’s more like a mud-slinging match!

I feel that an open perspective is necessary in order to help resolve this problem.

The Great Resignation

First of all, yes, post Covid there has been much reported on ‘The Great Resignation’ with people seeking greater meaning in their work and a preference for more flexibility in the way they work too.

And yes, there are staff shortages in many of Australia’s crucial industries and many businesses are struggling to recruit staff.

But to blame an entire generation or another for a situation or problem is to behave like a bigot. [The definition of a bigot, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is A person obstinately and unreasonably wedded to a particular religious creed, opinion, or ritual.”]

What I believe is needed, is time out to really LISTEN to what is being said and the meaning behind the words.  Many people are frustrated and tempers are short which inevitably ends in miscommunication, disharmony, and in this case, unnecessary name-calling.

Baby Boomers vs Millennials?

The issue is not Millennials vs Baby Boomers, the issue is communication and the understanding of expectations within the workplace.

Let’s look into a little history first because the spat between generations is not new.

There is a 2,500-year-old history of misunderstandings between the younger and older generations.  [Thanks to Joe Gillard from History Hustle for the following research and quotes.] 

Over the ages, the young were blamed for ruining what the older generation held sacred only to have them say the same thing about the next generation as they themselves grew older.

In the 4th Century BC, Artistotle said, “[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances…. They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.

In 1624, in The Wise-Man’s Forecast against the Evill Time by Thomas Barnes, “Youth were never more sawcie, yea never more savagely saucie … .the ancient are scorned, the honourable are condemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.”

In a Letter in Town and Country magazine republished in Paris Fashion: A Cultural History in 1771, “Whither are the manly vigour and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs?  Surely, no; a race of … self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Potiers and Agincourt …”

In 1926, The Conduct of Young People, in the Hull Daily Mail, “We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude and utterly selfish.

The Portsmouth Evening News printed in 1936, “Probably there is no period in history in which young people have given such emphatic utterance to a tendency to reject that which is old and to wish for that which is new.

In 1984 The Wall Street Journal, Not Ready for Middle Age at 35, “A few [35-year-old friends] just now are leaving their parents’ nest.  Many friends are getting married or having a baby for the first time.  They aren’t switching occupations, because they have finally landed a ‘meaningful’ career – perhaps after a decade of hopscotching jobs in search of an identity.  They’re doing the kinds of things our society used to expect from 25-year-olds.

And more recently, the Washington Post in 1993 published, “What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that it’s the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”

The Financial Times in Meet Generation X in 1995, “The traditional yearning for a benevolent employer who can provide a job for life also seems to be on the wane … In particular, they want to avoid ‘low-level jobs that aren’t keeping them intellectually challenged.

And finally, 21 years ago (2001) Time Magazine published in Proceeding with Caution, “They have trouble making decisions.  They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder.  They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own.  They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.”

Not much has changed, it appears, in over 2,500 years when it comes to what one generation thinks of the other. 

The Generations

And, just for the record, if you don’t know which generation you are considered to be in, here’s a rough guide (there are overlaps as there are no standard definitions for when a generation begins or ends):

Gen Z [iGen]                        1995 – 2012               10 – 27 years old

Gen Y [Millennials]            1980 – 1994              28 – 42 years old

Xennials                                1975 – 1985             37 – 47 years old   

Gen X                                    1965 – 1975              43 – 57 years old

Baby Boomers                    1946 – 1964              58 – 76 years old

Silent Generation               1925 – 1945              77 – 97 years old

** Note: These dates are rough guides based on research from Pew, Harvard, US Census Bureau

THE SOLUTION:  A Matter of Leadership

What can be done to resolve this issue of ‘lazy and entitled’ Millennials and ‘toxic’ old-style management of Boomers?

For over 20 years I have coached professionals who have been discontent with their jobs and wanted a career change, or professionals who have been impacted by organisational change and redundancy. 

I have found that more often than not, when assessing how they felt about their previous roles, problems arose not because there were incapable of technically performing well in their roles; problems occurred due to unrealistic expectations on both sides, a mismatch of values, and an organisational culture that did not provide a positive and productive working environment.

“Lack of appreciation” was mentioned to me more times than I ever expected.

The solution to this ‘generational divide’ is open communication and effective leadership and self-leadership training.

Forget the generations.  Focus on the individuals.  Each individual, whether a staff member, a supervisor, a manager or a leader must understand what it takes to lead another INDIVIDUAL.

Leadership Styles

There are a number of leadership styles that work under different circumstances – there are times when diplomatic leadership is needed, times when laissez faire leadership is preferred, and times when autocratic leadership is demanded.

There are also times when a transformational leadership style will inspire, or a charismatic leadership style is appropriate or even a servant leadership style will engender respect.

The only way to know which leadership style works best with another individual is to observe, to listen and to provide open communication channels to gain understanding both ways.

Never ASSUME what another individual needs or wants because of their generation, gender, culture or demographic.

Take the time to listen to UNDERSTAND rather than to listen to respond.

This reminds me of a song by Cat Stevens called Father and Son (perhaps in today’s world of political correctness the song title should now be Parent and Child?) in which the lyrics go,

How can I try to explain?
When I do, he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way
And I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go”

But my suggestion to Millennials and to Baby Boomers, before jumping to generalisations and conclusions, the lyrics also state,

“All the times that I’ve cried
Keeping all the things I knew inside
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it
If they were right, I’d agree
But it’s them they know, not me …”

A little understanding of where the other is coming from facilitates better communication, fewer frustrations and misunderstandings.

Please feel free to voice your opinion in the comments because everyone deserves to be heard. And if you need support in your career, then reach out for a complimentary career clarity chat – send me a DM!

Or visit www.thecareersacademy.online for a unique blend of on-demand and ‘live’ career development, career transition and leadership development support.

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