Gen X, Gen Y, and Boomers in the Workplace: Exclusive Panel Tells All


Generation Y are lazy slobs. Gen-Xers are too cynical to make a decent contribution to the workplace. Baby Boomers sold out, and they brought the entire economy with them.

Sound familiar?

I hear the discourse all the time. Each successive generation is convinced that those coming after it will infect the planet with life-threatening value deficits. This assumption has marked human behavior since the caveman era. Yet humans continue to thrive, despite the fact that, according to your great-great-aunt, you have about as much work ethic as a three-toed sloth.

I decided to demystify the Generation Thing by randomly selecting and asking three standout bloggers from each generation a few pointed questions. I received astonishingly honest, direct, and eloquent replies, which I recorded in the Q&A below. Some of their answers might surprise you.

Jacqui = Gen Y-er, blogger, businesswoman
Tod = Gen X-er, startup expert, entrepreneur
Ricci = Boomer, consultant, author

Please find complete profiles for the three panelists–Gen Y-er Jacqui Tom, Gen X-er Tod Whipple, and Boomer Ricci Victorio–at the bottom of this interview.

1) What do you most want out of your career at this point in your life? (For example, longevity, prestige, recognition, money…)

Jacqui (Gen Y):
What I’m really looking for is a challenge. I’m ready to take on the world and make my mark. I feel I have a lot to contribute to my job, company, the business world, etc. I’m just waiting for the right opportunities.

Tod (Gen X): If I had to sum it up in a few words, it would be job fulfillment and money. My aspirations are to work on projects that have lasting significance. I don’t want to just swing my feet out of bed in the morning, I want to catapult to work.

Ricci (Baby Boomer): At this point in my life, I feel I am really experiencing my stride in experience, qualifications, maturity and recognition. I am enjoying the respect from my peer group and within our business community. I am grateful to be enjoying the financial rewards of a successful career (took lots of grit, guts and perseverance), recognition by my partners, prestige as a requested speaker and writer for many business forums – and most of all I am healthy enough to sustain all of this. My work is so rewarding that it doesn’t feel like a job most of the time; what I do is more of a “calling” fueled by a passion to want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

2) What about when you got your first job? What did you most want out of your career at that time?

What I wanted most was praise and recognition. I remember being so unsure of myself that I was scared to talk to my other co-workers. I really just wanted to please my boss and do a good job. But at this point, I’m kind of over the whole “climbing the corporate ladder” thing. As long I know I’m doing my best work everyday and I feel good about what I’m doing, that’s enough for me whether I get recognized for it or not.

Tod: I clearly wanted recognition in my younger years. Looking back on such a vain trait is something only wisdom cures with time.

Ricci: Recognition – acknowledgement – doing what I love most and getting paid for it! (Hey – same as now!) I love the creative process – understanding and overcoming the challenges change is always thrusting upon us. I never was interested in just getting a job to pay the bills.

3) In your opinion, what are the three greatest contributions your generation has made to the business world?

Jacqui: My generation made the internet a vital part of business (although working for an internet company myself, I’d have to say I’m a little biased). Being plugged in, maximizing technology to the fullest, that will be Generation-Y’s lasting legacy.

Generation-Y has also forced companies to redefine the way they recruit new hires. There are now company facebook pages, recruitment blogs, Microsoft even pays a person to travel across the country to play videogames with potential young hires and show them how fun it is to work at Microsoft. Young people like fun and companies have adjusted to give it to them.

I can also say that, whether good or bad, young people are responsible for the dressing down of the workplace. It’s impossible to block the overwhelming tide of flip-flops entering the office.

Tod: Creativity, entrepreneurship, and technological advancement.

A more holistic approach to defining ourselves and “success.” Defying stereotyping–women of my generation broke through the numerous “ceilings” and now have reached the highest levels of equality in the workplace. New business paradigms: One example–by transforming the workforce from employees who punch a time clock to associates who are incentivized as a team to work collaboratively, inspiring & challenging others to think in flexible and creative ways, businesses are achieving and exceeding previous standards of success and productivity.

4) What are the three most common workplace stereotypes you’ve heard about your generation?

Jacqui: Lazy, incompetent, and arrogant.

Tod: Apathetic, misunderstood, and difficult to manage.

Ricci: The ones I am aware of are more gender oriented:
1. If you are passionate, ambitious and self-confident woman, you are most often perceived as a “bull in a china shop.”
2. If you are not getting along with a Boomer-aged female manager, it is because she is either pre, mid or post menopausal – and it has nothing to do with you.
3. It is understandable that a wife can stay at home and be supported by her husband once the kids are gone. But not so if the roles are reversed.

5) How would a business organization look if it only included people from your generation?

Jacqui: I think it would look a lot like Google. People coming in at 11, dressed in shorts and flip flops simultaneously holding onto a Starbuck’s latte and their dog’s leash. There’d be a company gym, shower, restaurant and bar. You’d see groups of young, single co-workers heading out to happy hour or to play a game of softball for the company team. In an office full of young people I think you’d find a lot more community building inside the office as well as out. You’d also find less work happening during traditional hours and more of it happening outside the office.

Tod: The business would be extremely successful by offering a challenging and meaningful work environment. The business would probably avoid the typical 9 to 5 grind mentality and instill flexible work hours and/or telecommuting options. The flexible trade-offs would lead to higher productivity because Xers would have a “get-it-done” attitude. This approach would lead to lower employee churn for the business. Employees would also be passionate about the organization’s goals and willingly take on responsibility to succeed personally and professionally.

Ricci: Probably balding and overweight! Seriously, right now I think my generation (and specifically my organization) is fairly diverse in educational backgrounds and experiences to function fairly well on any level, despite the fact that the majority of us are ages 54 – 64. However, we would be doing our organization a great disservice without having younger people coming up through the ranks – sharing what we know, growing and developing the next level of executive and management team leaders.

6) We’re currently in a scary place, economically. Can you think of one or more ways your generation can make a big contribution towards improving the economy again for America?

I think that financial literacy is one of the key ways Americans can combat a sagging economy. Hopefully by being smart with their money, Generation-Y will be able to buy homes they can afford, keep their credit card debt down, invest in their retirement and use the leftovers to boost the economy through reasonable discretionary spending.

Gen-Xers are extremely resilient and can reinvent themselves again and again. Personally, my entrepreneurial drive has allowed me to succeed in multiple industries usually after a hardship or life lesson. Some of the best startups and entrepreneurs are spawned from Generation X. We get knocked down but we rarely get knocked out.

Ricci: Elect officials who will stop sending troops to fight other country’s civil wars. Reinvest in our own country’s infrastructure to stabilize our economy: schools, hospitals, power plants, rehabilitation of our veterans, improved medical coverage (they do it in Sweden, why not the US?), provide more incentives and/or mandates for the development and implementation of alternative renewable energy sources.

7) Any parting comments? Anything you really want people to know about your generation?

Generation-Y has garnered a very poor reputation in the media and with older generations of workers. And it’s unfortunate because I really think that in a few years Generation-Y will grow up, learn the game and be some of the most powerful and influential minds in business.

Tod: Every generation has its place in this world. As for generation X, we tend to be less traditional than boomers and less fickle than generation Y. These traits allow businesses to gain a high quality workforce of go-getters. Generation X is the quintessential knowledge worker, full of entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to bring goals to the finish line.

As we were growing up, we were idealistic, altruistic and dreamt of changing the world one person at a time. Vehemently opposed to war and any kind of violence (flower power), our generation has continuously sought to redefine the way we resolve problems – whether between countries or individuals. Then we went through a period where, as we struggled to support our growing young families, we didn’t have enough money or experience to stand up against “The System”.

Then, we appeared to give up the idealistic fight and conform so we could survive and fit in. Living in a tent or kibbutz wasn’t fun anymore – we wanted a house, two cars and had an insatiable appetite for anything electronic. We became a sleeping giant – no one seemed to know or remember what we stood for anymore.

But ever since 9/11, I have seen the giant awaken. We are remembering what is important to us, taking a stand and finding that now WE are The System and WE can affect change and WE do make a difference. Because of the current economic crisis, we will not be able to even consider retirement as our homes have decreased in value, expenses demand we work until we are 75 and the social security system has broken down. These issues will not go away on their own and it is up to us – our generation – to take the leadership stance and not just demand that someone do something about it, but that we personally do something to contribute to make a difference.

Panelist Profiles
Jacqui Tom, Gen Y-er
Jacqui Tom is a young professional in her mid-twenties working her way up the corporate ladder. Launching her career with a series of internships at America Online (AOL) and, she has fumbled, bumbled and tumbled her way to a position as webmaster extraordinaire for a Seattle nonprofit.

She shares lessons about life, business and everything in between at her blog: You can email Jacqui at officenewb-at-gmail-dot-com

Tod Whipple, Gen X-er
Tod Whipple is a serial entrepreneur, new media maniac, and real estate developer. His most recent passion is founding, a resource designed for budding entrepreneurs. He develops commercial and residential real estate in the New England area and enjoys blogging.

In a former life, Tod produced feature films, television and new media projects. He was a former partner at Scout Productions a film/television production company in Boston Massachusetts. Some of his credits include Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for Bravo / NBC, Session 9 for USA Films, and Deadman’s Curve for Trimark pictures.

Tod Whipple holds the position of Vice President of Real Estate at United Construction and is the principal broker for The Corvus Group. He is involved in a number of startups and enjoys crafting new business ideas.

Ricci M. Victorio, M.A., Baby Boomer
Associated with The Rawls Group since 1994, Ricci has been principally responsible for developing the educational programs for teamwork enhancement, strategic planning facilitation and successor development curriculum.

Ms. Victorio has been providing corporate training programs to Fortune 500 companies across the country since 1984. Her ability to pinpoint challenges, uncover opportunities and teach management groups how to be better teams has created a significant impact on many businesses. The outcome is one of a higher level of productivity and ability for management teams to work together.

As an innovator in her field, Ricci has taught in several universities, as well as within the private business sector. She has written articles for DEALER Magazine, the New York Times, Wines & Vines, WineAmerica, and author of her first novel, Lost and Found. Ricci is a frequently invited speaker to conventions and industry association workshops: Automotive 20 Groups, Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Vistage, WineAmerica, and the 2006, 2007 and 2008 National Automobile Dealers Association Conventions.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.