Baby On Board and Maybe in Your Boardroom

After last month’s article on Sanjaya and Generation Y, the emails started hitting my inbox asking for more. Then I noticed the cover of Fortune Magazine this month features two good looking twenty-some-things saying, “Manage US? PUH-LEEZE…” The Generations are a Hot Topic! Do you remember back in the mid-eighties seeing those “Baby on Board” yellow and black signs? The ones that hung from suction cups in the rear windows of cars and minivans? The message to other drivers was, “BE CAREFUL because in this car is precious cargo.” Well, that precious cargo is now on your payroll.


The Generation Y, Millennials, Echo Boomers, Nexters- whatever you choose to call the generation born between 1980 and 2000- are entering your workplace at an accelerating rate. Out of the 150 million American workers, about 22.5% are in the category called Generation Y and that number will increase every year for the next 10 years. If you haven’t noticed, as this new generation shows up for work they are causing a bit of a ruckus. Probably because they seem to have whole new perspective on life, a new set of values, a different work ethic, and they are a bit needy.

This generation, like none before, needs praise and wants recognition for things that most managers feel are simply part of a day’s work. I just heard on NPR that companies are now hiring consultants to teach their managers how to praise these new young workers. They are creating employee recognition programs and systems that will recognize and reward routine accomplishments, not necessarily outstanding behavior. For example: kudos for being at work on time and awards for getting a report in. Forget about Employee of the Month-How about Employee of the Day!

Now you may be thinking, “yeah, right,” especially if you are from Generation X. Generation X, sometimes called the “latch-key” kids, were born between 1965-1979. This independent generation, for the most part, was left to take care of themselves as their moms entered the workforce. When Generation X entered the job market the economy was struggling. It was a buyers market. They were out there competing for jobs with the Baby Boomers, and the Boomers had the edge.

Today, Generation X is sandwiched between two self absorbed generations; the Boomers and the Generation Y. No wonder they are cynical, saying the only praise they ever got was a paycheck! Well, you say, blame it on their parents who just happen to be the “Late” Boomers. These are the younger batch of Baby Boomer parents; you know the ones who challenged teachers and the coaches when their kids were growing up. Today they are even challenging employers. Barbara Rose of the Chicago Tribune recently wrote that some Boomer parents do not hesitate to cross the line between behind-the-scenes supporter and overzealous advocate. They’re known as “helicopter parents” for their tendency to hover even after their offspring leave home. Some parents worry their rising stars are getting shortchanged, overlooked and not valued for their uniqueness and talent. One mother called a private-equity banker to complain about her son’s assignments and the long hours he was expected to work.

So where does all of this discussion get us? Actually, it’s great information. The more we know and understand about each generation the better we can grow, adapt and achieve. As we begin to understand what events and circumstances formed each generation we being opening our minds and our hearts to the positive lesson we can learn as we navigate through the modern day workplace. We are in a time of constant change, advancing technology and are competing in a highly competitive global business arena. Attracting and keeping the best talent is crucial for success. We are moving from a buyer’s market in talent to a seller’s market. Today’s talent refuses to do business with companies who do not meet their needs. So who doesn’t want a pat on the back? Who doesn’t want to be praised for their good work? Who doesn’t want to be noticed? Maybe this new generation will change the way employees are treated and valued. You see, the Baby Boomer is turning 61 and will soon be retiring and leaving the workplace. Half of all the certified school teachers plan to retire in the next few years. The average age for a nurse is 50, and sixty percent of all Federal workers are Baby Boomers who say that they are on the edge of retirement.

No matter what business you are in, this trend of younger workers is affecting you. To keep your workplace moving forward as you replace your mature employees, look to talent in the well-trained, tech oriented Generation X employees. The Generation X is your ticket to bridging the gap as you hire in the younger generation. You will need patience as you invest time in learning, understanding, and changing some of your ideas and policies.



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