Talkin’ Bout My Generation

My name is Andy and I’m a Gen Xer.

I’m 38 years old which means I “grew up” in the late 80s and early 90s. Which also means I have fond (and not so fond) memories of things like watching actual videos on MTV, having a boom-box, having birthday parties at McDonalds, having a mullet (with a flat-top I might add), and thinking Back to the Future was the coolest movie of all time. And I can still “rap” all the words to LL Cool J’s Around the Way Girl. Go ahead, test me….

So here’s my problem. I’m not old and I’m not young but I found myself getting really annoyed last week at SHRM listening to presentations on Gen Y and how we’d (meaning Boomers and Xers) better get ready and completely change how we run our businesses if we have any hope of employing Gen Yers.

I’m calling B.S. I’ve heard this story before about Gen Xers about 15 years ago.

I was especially annoyed after attending Dan Schawbel’s session. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all and he’s certainly found a good way to make himself some money (at least for a few more years). His presentation went something like this:

Gen Yers grew up using technology and are really attached to it. And so are most people who work in the modern workplace.

Gen Yers really seek out and want to work in collaborative environments. Well, most organizations are team-based so I guess that’s the same for everyone.

And it went on just like this for over an hour.

I’m not disputing that people are shaped by the era in which they grew up. Of course we are. But Dan’s presentation pointed out (unintentionally) that these differences tend to get blurred once you enter the workforce. Why? Because interacting with a diverse group of people (diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) tends to result the adoption of behaviors from each group and a new identity is formed. Yes, there’s an initial culture shock (like when you get off a plane in a different country) but within a few days you start to understand and appreciate the same things you used to find “weird”.

In my opinion, having guys like Dan running around making broad characterizations about a whole generation is actually working against them. I experienced the same thing myself when people were running around saying Gen Xers were only out for themselves, blah, blah, blah.

To me it’s simple. If you’re new to the workforce the first thing you need to learn is that things (and success) can take longer than you think (and want). There’s a value to taking the time to understand the context of your business and learn from others who’ve gone before you. You’ve got a loooong career in front of you. It doesn’t all have to come together in the first 2 years.

If you’re more established in the workforce you need to realize that embracing and learning from new, eager talent is beneficial for you in the long run as well. You’ve been in the thick of it for years now and getting some perspective from newbies is good for you. Yeah, maybe you’re more risk averse now that you have life responsibilities but hunkering down is going to be why you get replaced by the younger worker.

Bottom line – everyone just needs to chill out!

FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. kd says:

    first up, long live Gen X. The best generation, one that felt like there should be more but didn’t say anyone owed them anything.

    LONG LIVE GENERATION X. 2nd Best generation, after the generation that got us through WW2 and the rebuild that continued the American dream.

    Best workplace coaching path – everyone’s got a sweet spot to be coached by, and the best coaches adjust to the individual – not by generation.

    LONG LIVE Xers.


  2. Tom Miller says:

    Thoughtful post and caused a few things to fall in place for me (maybe!). The pace of change now is faster than at any time in history. True in family life, society, business, etc… Vast majority of peeps really reject change and scan for something on which to blame their horrid new reality. For those of us that play in workforce cultures, maybe the easy culprits are the newer generations (being new, they don’t have much power yet and can’t fight back).

    The real issue is the pace of change… Global wealth, a shrinking globe, ease of communication, relative low cost of travel, etc… All these current realities are largely a product of technology which is a dumb tool at the mercy of anyone with a great idea. More massive then the Industrial Revolution because one doesn’t need money/time to create change.

    Really complex to understand/explain all the sociology behind the movement, so let’s just blame the new kids that seem to have brought all this new fangled magic stuff to our lives.

    I think you’re right that, ultimately, we all learn to play in the sandbox – but the size/complexity/texture of the sandbox has changed over night (historically speaking) and many of us have a tough time dealing with it.

  3. Jorge Ramirez says:

    The subject around new generational workforces comes down to couple of organization sustainability items, first how the organization and from where is going to replace its members (retirement, turnover, etc) so from that end it is relevant to understand the particular characteristics of the pool that is available.

    The second one is related to the practices for internal talent management in order to engage employees to deliver their best performance.

    The organizational dilema is to adopt or not to adopt new practices for recruitment and talent management considering the social and technological changes in the workforce.

    There are several studies around these subjects from the generations point of view, at the end of the day it will be our job (HR Professionals) to make sense out of all information available.

  4. Rob Gilligan says:


    This (Dan Schawbel’s seminar) is more of the pop culture’s “Baby on Board” coddling by someone from that age cadre; as part of some generational validation, of being “unique and special snowflakes” that need to be treated as fragile beings that will suffer delirium tremens by merely reducing their texting and Facebooking to breaks rather than part of their continuous ad nauseum tech-dependency arglebargle.

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