My Letter to Gen X & Boomers: The Debate is about Expectations, not Respect

I’ve been writing, blogging and speaking on Gen Y issues since 2006 when ERE gave me a blog called Gen Y’d (See my 1st post). As one of the “old” Gen Y’ers – I have watched the evolution of “us” in the workplace from the eager recent college grads entering the workforce as our nation was reeling from it first major terrorist attack, the mini-boom of “the talent war” and the current state of record breaking unemployment. I have seen the reality of the “why” we are distrusting of corporate America, less loyal than the boomers to a corporate setting and the reason so many of us strive to be entrepreneurs.

To a degree – the debate shouldn’t even really exist – we are a lot like our counterparts were when they were in their 20’s – we want the same types of thing of out life, have the same goals and dream the same dreams they did.

The difference lies in Expectations.

Our generation has been raised in a “me” culture, a world full of immediate gratification, instant access and always being told we can do (and be) anything. We’ve had computers in our homes since elementary school, cell phones & internet access since early in our high school years and only know about punch cards because of what Gen X’ers tell us.

Our reality and immediate need for gratification has shaped the way we do business, interact with our friends and live our lives. It has built amazing social networks, changed the history of news and impacted the way companies market, interact and work. Gen Y’s expectations are changing our culture (or are a subset of the culture we live in one can argue).

We want it all, and we want it now. And we see nothing wrong with that.

The vision that we all had of “having it all” when we grew up was built out of the defining moments we watched on television, read about on the internet and heard about via friends we may never meet. We want to have what our parents have (or more) by the time we hit 30 – not 50.

Prior generations would wait their turn. Be patient. Accepted that life doesn’t move as fast as we want. In the workplace they accepted (and understood) the idea of promotion and compensation based on tenure not performance. That you have to “earn” the right to have an opinion.

Our generation wants to learn – everything – now. We want to prove ourselves and be promoted and compensated based on our success and value – not how long we sat in our cube in a week. We want to show you a different way to look at things.

We want you to understand that our expectations don’t take any value out of what you have done in the workforce. We don’t want you to look down or discourage us. We want to learn from you and evolve (Rapidly). We don’t think we are better, faster, stronger, smarter than the generations before us. We don’t think we are “entitled” to it. We just aren’t afraid of expectations.

We want YOU to have expectations of US to do something AMAZING!

Cross posted from my blog -

On Thursday – I’ll be in London speaking alongside Lucian Tarnowski the founder of Brave New Talentand a noted Gen Y’er (1 of UK’s top 5 up & coming entrepreneurs, StridingOut’s Future 100, Courvoisier Future 500) at the TRULondon event - Sponsored in part by and my company We are going to be talking about how companies can harness what differences there are to make amazing teams and success stories in the workplace.

Views: 219

Comment by Kristen Thane Clark on February 15, 2010 at 1:33pm
I wish that our lack of patience could be seen as an asset to GenY/Boomers. We need to market ourselves more in that light: not entitled/expectant but eager to move forward.

Thanks for another great post!
Comment by Meghan Mulhearn on February 16, 2010 at 10:39am
I think we really want to work cooperatively as well. This comes off to older workers as being needy of approval and not being respectful of leadership, but in reality we are looking to have everyone on board. So instead of waiting to earn an opinion, we speak right up, to the surprise of our elders. This shouldn't be seen as precociousness, cockiness, or dissatisfaction but an attempt at building consensus. This is one of the major differences that I see between the generations in the workplace.
Comment by Mat von Kroeker on February 16, 2010 at 11:45am
Being Gen-X - I'd have to say this is just another post of a Gen-Y'er talking alot-- but having very little substance. Sh*t or get off the pot, weenies--- you've proved nothing but being a bunch of untalented, selfish boobs so far-- and if you've learned anything from past generations it is talking a bunch of smack and doing nothing to back it up!
Comment by Valentino Martinez on February 16, 2010 at 11:45am

I like your post for its grasp of the situation between generations from your perspective. I also hope that you don’t think just because I’m a Boomer that us old people didn’t have the same intensity of disconnect with the generation that came before us regarding WORK. Those poor souls who worked in the factories and on the farms and other places--and often did mindless repetitive work that should have driven them (anyone) crazy (which it did). I highly recommend that you read Studs Terkel’s book, Working. In it Terkel literally conducted recorded interviews with workers at work—not his words, their words on how they loved or appreciated, but mostly dreaded WORK. I mention this because from your post it seems you feel we of the older generations accepted dumb work and want Gen X’ers, Gen Y’ers and Millennials to do the same. We actually get it about you of the younger generation—in our youth we carried the same disconnect with work, employers, evil business and politicians, etc. Yet we worked, suffered and scraped so that we could have a better job, a better opportunity--a better life—so that our children could have it better as well.

What's missing is not a question of giving us respect. What is missing in this post, particularly if it is representative of what all, or most Gen-Y’ers think and feel--is the concept of WORK itself. And DOING THE WORK that needs to be done to get paid, to then pay for those things that need to be possessed—or not. What I’m saying is someone has to pay the piper. Shortcuts don’t ever really work and this seems to be a related dynamic of wanting anything/everything NOW. I ask, “Where and how is the work that needs to be done get done?” Wanting something now seems somewhat infantile. Babies want everything now—or they don’t want anything now because they’re babies. They depend on others—later they’ll have to depend on themselves. And depending on your capability to fend for yourself, to get what you want now doesn’t always work. The exception would be the criminal. They are the ultimate shortcut artist and the personification of getting what they want NOW, but not working for it. They’d rather not sit in a cubicle, or get an education/training to get a better job. No, they want what they want now and TAKE IT NOW.

What’s missing in your post is no mention that each generation has a lot in common. We all want what’s best of us and for all those we care about. Didn’t your parents, and their parents want this? Didn’t they all work hard and sacrifice so that your burden would be lessened? We all have to make a living. Some are born rich or win the lottery—they’re lucky. I won the lottery—the one that drafted me into the military for Vietnam. I didn’t feel so luck then, but it positioned me to make the best of it and I survived that experience and many others by doing the best I could in the work I had and now have.

So Sarah, there’s nothing new about what Gen Y’ers want—we all want what you want. What is important is making the best of those opportunities that come our way, and those opportunities we ourselves can generate. As a Boomer I don’t want your respect or for you to following in my tracks. As a Boomer I’d like to know you at least appreciate what those who came before you had to endure to try to make life better for you. We all stand on the shoulders of those brave souls who paid the price to get you here. And like it or not—you’ll be doing the same for those who will follow you.
Comment by Heidi on February 16, 2010 at 12:10pm
As usual another great thought provoking piece. Thanks for the sharing and providing great insight.

A couple of values that I teach my children (Gen Y) is perseverance, hard word, dedication, determination, applying yourself and having patience.

I also teach my kids that you have to fight with everything inside of them for what they want out of life. In addition, I teach them that they must have faith to pursue the impossible even when others doubt them. Hence stop falling for the trick of the” magical button”. Finally, I teach them that a job is not their source and that they should not be bound by titles, because titles do not define who they are.

I believe that each of us possesses greatness but, we must have the courage and faith to pursue our dreams. Holding onto a dead end job is worthless rather creating a life worth living is far more important.

I am from Gen X... and we believe in taking the limits can't hold down because we refuse to be bound by rules. We will tear down the rules, if it does not make sense and we will start over!!!! And if we are told we can't do something, watch us. There is a cost to this… but it is what it is.

We have a mind to think on our own and we will ask questions...We make mistakes (SO what); we get back up... that's who we are... Somewhere between Gen Y and the Boomers lies Gen X

Gen X
Accept diversity
Reject rules
Killer life
Mistrust institutions
Use technology
Latch-key kids

BTW loved the two post above..great conversation. Heidi
Comment by ryan morphett on February 17, 2010 at 7:41pm
I personally do not like the whole Generation spin. That is what it is spin
There are some incredibly motivated, some that are lazy, some that dream, some that acheive etc etc in every Generation. So I think you will find aspects are more individual that generational.
That being said.
Remember the people who paved the way, when growing up I was told to do it this way or that way. In school I was told to tow the line to not question my teachers, not challange their views, in work I was told this is hows its done, this is the way we want you to act. This is the order you will do things in.
But I did not agree, I wanted to challange, I wanted to strive, I wanted to see for myself if there was a better way. I wanted kids in school to challange the teachers thoughts, wanted them to ask why?
I went to a private school in Brisbane australia last week and found that is exactly what is happening, a teacher actually teaches not just instructs.
It is my generation and the ones before who paved that way. It is the younger generations that will benifet. That is how it evolves. So please do not blame previous generations for shortcomings as they are the ones who helped change the world, as you will with the next one
Comment by Alisa Tazioli on February 17, 2010 at 8:13pm
Valentino's remarks certainly hit home with me, I agree wholeheartedly. Sarah as I read through your post again I am not sure how you draw the conclusion that Gen Y is somehow different in expecting to change culture. As I reflect on boomers (my generation) and those that came before us, I see nothing but the desire to change culture and the expectation that they could do so. The civil rights movement and women's suffrage are just two examples that come to mind of generations of people who were far from complacent and expected they could foster change even faced with significant challenges. Younger generations will always be tasked with building on the progress of those who went before them. If anything, as a boomer I expect those of the younger generation to be just as restless and work just as hard to make this world a better place as those of my generation and the generations before. I certainly hope the younger generations are not expecting to have the world handed to them in the way they want it and when they want it, the world doesn't work like that. And I would be sorely disappointed if the younger generations coming up behind me have so little expectations of putting in their own hard work that they don't set an example or leave the world a better place for those who follow their generation. Personally I have very high expecations of the generations after me; they are the leaders of tomorrow. I only hope they have at least as high an expectation of themselves.
Comment by Gregory Caldwell on February 17, 2010 at 9:26pm
Wow, I wish we could sit down with a good bottle of single malt and some Camel-nons and debate this!
I really don't see any difference in the BEHAVIOR of current Gen-Yers and the generation of James Dean! (before me). "I just wanna be ME and nobody understands!" Ya, I'm in between a boomer and an X'er and in my comparison we were much more interested in EXPERIENCING than OWNING in our 20's. The insatiable need the have the new car, the latest electronics, the mcmansion, a "phat" title, and a 56" flat screen is AMAZING the me!
But, do you know who I blame? ME, in the 80's, and 90's, and everyone like me who was living the life of "Bud" in "Wall Street". And it lasted right up to the dot-com bubble burst. Right when the Y'er were starting to graduate from college. Those were amazing times and times that layed the foundation for all the technology we have now in the 2010's. But, that can't be duplicated in the same way. Anymore than we could have "redid" what Henry Ford accomplished.
Do you really what to piss off a gen Y'er? Just say, "Don't worry, your only 28, you've got plenty of time." or "Been there-done that."
There's alway going to be a new frontier and new places to go. What I'm seeing now, and what I fear is that there is a whole generation that is about to crash and burn. The expectations are SO high and there are so many resources available to the Y generation that I almost believe that the current receession was created to slow things down! Well, that's may conspiracy theory anyway.

Ya know, when we participated in sports and other group programs in school, only the WINNERS got trophies. Not the whole team.

Well, that's my last dram. And I don't mean Dynamic Random Access Memory.
Comment by Gregory Caldwell on February 17, 2010 at 9:30pm
oops, forgot to spellcheck.
Comment by Travis Furlow on February 18, 2010 at 1:14pm
Sarah- good post. I am Gen X'r and most X'rs will share that we, too, had the same inpatient, hurry up and go attitudes for many of the same reasons as your generation does. One thing I have realized as I get "older" (I'm only 37, but to some of my Gen Y friends, I'm the old guy now) is the power of experience and accomplishment. I read a quote from Sam Walton that I found appropriate: Q: Mr. Walton, what makes an executive effective? A: Two words- right decisions. Q: Mr. Walton, how do you learn how to make right decisions? A: One word- experience. Q: How do you get that experience? A: Two words- wrong decisions.

In short, continue to be respectful, inquisitive and more than anything, keep trying different'll continue to gain valuable experience and in 10 years you'll be coaching and consulting to a new and younger generation, probably offering similar guidance.

All my best,


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