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Is Gen Y the Next Baby Boomer Generation?

August 14, 2011

Updated June 10, 2013

Poor Gen Y.

They’ve become the center of attention – big time – on two contrasting fronts over the past decade.

Gen Y (between late teens and 32) were the focus of attention by demographers and the like a decade ago. I well recall listening to (as well as reading countless reports from) so-called experts on how Gen Y would have its way with employers, that Baby Boomer bosses would have to kiss Gen Y’s collective butt. Baby Boomers no longer ruled: they were ageing steadily, weren’t hip with emerging technologies, were too consumed on the distant (but looming horizon) of retirement land, and were self-centered bosses.

Just think of all the TV shows that Gens X and Y have been subjected to over the years. Nostalgia reigned. It was all feel good stuff for Boomers. Ageing musicians on stage, their arthritic hands painfully plucking at guitar strings, their faces plastered in makeup, corsets restraining their spare tires whose only aim is to seek relief from oppression.

As much as it’s a compliment to groups and musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Miller that young people enjoy their music, I’m actually much happier that new alternative groups are making a mark. Arcade Fire (from Montreal) is but one example.

Is Gen Y falling prey to the Baby Boomer self-absorption. This young generation, just starting careers in what has been absolute chaos in the labor market since 2008, is the center of attention. I’m just as guilty as the next pseudo expert. I’ve written a dozen posts on inter-generational leadership over the past two years.

If there’s one theme that pervades the blogosphere and more formal journalistic writings on Gen Y issues is the tendency to play to their plight. Canadian Don Tapscott, as brilliant a visionary and writer he is on technology and youth, sucks up to Gen Y. Placing Gen Y on a pedestal does them little service.

Each generation has its issues.

My late dad was born in 1917 in Glasgow, immigrating to Canada in 1920. He grew up during the Great Depression in Winnipeg. Luckily his dad had work. But the Great Depression and World War II (during which my dad served in the Canadian Navy) left lasting marks on the men and women of that generation.

The Silent Generation (67 plus) was born during the Great Depression and the World War II. They benefited from a robust labor market during the fifties and sixties, where as long as you had a pulse you had a job for life. The standard of living in North America soared during this period, and it was then that we Boomers started to be born (between 1948 and 1966, with the peak year for births being 1959).

As Boomers grew up and began to enter the labor market the world economy underwent numerous contractions and gyrations. The OPEC oil crisis in 1973, a subsequent oil event a few years later, stagflation (Google it) with massively high interest rates during the late seventies and a devastating recession in 1981-82 hammered the crap out of Boomers.

The flood of Boomers hitting the labor market during the seventies and eighties produced a highly competitive labor market, where promotions in the corporate world became gladiator contests.

And in an effort to not cause Gens X and Y to bring out the Kleenex, Baby Boomers also saw their standard of living rise steadily during the nineties. Indeed, Boomers can lay claim to being the principal architect to the dot com boom (2001), the financial meltdown (2008), the Great Recession (2008-2010), and the ongoing U.S. debt ceiling fiasco.

Everyone take a bow who was directly or indirectly involved in any of these crises.

So where’s Gen X in this picture? It’s like the people in this cohort (32-45) don’t exist.

Except they do.

Gen Xers are rapidly assuming the levers of senior leadership, whether in business or government. More attention needs to be paid to how this age cohort will lead organizations and governments through the turbulence of an inter-connected, highly competitive world. A huge amount is at stake for Canada and the United States, two countries with a neurotic love-hate relationship, where escalating competition from newly industrialized countries and emerging economies is threatening our long-term standard of living.

Gen X will increasingly play a pivotal role in leading companies and government organizations towards what must be shared visions. And they’ll be doing this sandwiched between the Baby Boom Generation, as it slowly exits the labor market, and Gen Y, confused as heck over how their situation changed so drastically in just a few years.

So my advice to Gen Y is to get over it. Shit happens in life – a lot! Building change adaptability is the most important skill you can acquire. It’s time to get on with it.

To help you, as a member of Gen Y in your leadership journey, a little humor always helps. Take a look at this short video clip. If you don’t smile, go get checked out.





Be open to outcome – not attached to it.
Angeles Arrien (author of The Fourfold Way)


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2011 4:50 pm

    as a lonely Gen-Xer out here, observing and writing my ass off, i really appreciate and share much of your perspective. my post today prompted me to see who else out here might be touching on these subjects. Thank you!

    • August 15, 2011 5:13 pm

      Hey Trish. Glad my post resonated with you. You and your cohort peers are called “X” for a good reason – continually excluded from the intergenerational wars debate. Okay, some people write about Gen X, but in the past two years Gen Y has been in the limelight, along with ageing Boomers who are losing their jobs. Your skydiving metaphor is very apt, given that Gen X is lelaping into the great unknown of organizational and societal change.
      Bonne chance!!

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