Tuesday, May 27, 2008


When I decided to do my first blog almost two years ago, I was determined not to do a blog which consisted only of disconnected ramblings and updates on my mundane life. I wanted a blog which had a particular point of view, a theme, a clear framework that readers could recognize. That’s how my blog “Once Upon a Toy” came to be. Focusing on childhood memories and my current hobby of collecting and customizing action figures, the blog is a fun outlet for my fragmented recollections and a way to show off my collection. Unfortunately, I’ve been running out of material lately and haven’t been posting as often as I used to. I’ve even resorted to posting off topic items because there is a great deal of things I’d like to talk about which don’t fit neatly into the theme of “Once Upon a Toy.” That’s why I’ve created “nealblog,” to voice whatever stuff is floating around in my head. I don’t know whether anyone will read it or care, but if at least one person finds it interesting, that’s better than writing it in a private journal.

Here’s a sample of my thoughts. Last Sunday, 60 Minutes did yet another piece on The Millennials, that generation of young adults born during the 80s. They talked about how this group, over indulged by their Baby-Boomer parents and rewarded for every meager gesture, have entered the working world with a sense of entitlement and are not interested in following the rules of Corporate America. Those old farts on 60 Minutes love to examine how different the younger generations are and how they are going wrong. However, this particular subject fascinates me because I noticed this unique generation gap myself a few years ago and thought perhaps it was just my Gen-Xer self turning into a grumpy old man.

One of the points made in the segment was that Millennials, or Echo-Boomers as they are also called, place their friends, family, and personal happiness above any commitment to a company or career. That’s hardly a new concept. Their parents, the Baby Boomers, promoted their own anti-establishment ethos, believing that they could smoke pot, drop acid, have casual sex, and listen to rock and roll all day while still maintaining the comfortable, middle-class lifestyle they were accustomed to. Of course, the horrible hangover that was the 70s taught everyone that this was a lie. Those who did not end up in jail, in rehab, or dead, cleaned up their acts, got jobs, and became the eager beavers of the 80s. Those of us in the Gen-X crowd, who watched our parents struggle through the hard economic times of the 70s, were only too willing to buy into the dress-for-success, power tie corporate philosophy, believing that financial security was the only true path to freedom.

At the same time, we weren’t entirely made of stone. As technical advancements allowed employees to work completely in front of a computer or over the phone anytime, anywhere, much of the office formality entrenched in the corporate world seemed a bit silly. We quietly worked within the system to institute “Casual Fridays,” greater leave flexibility for illness or family issues, telecommuting, and more social activities at work to lighten the mood and break tension. By the end of the 90s, my working world looked a whole lot different than when I entered it in the late 80s. These changes are taken as birth rites by the Millennials, but we had to fight for them.

My first encounter with this new generation came in 2003 when the company I worked for did a mass hiring of entry level positions to meet the sudden growth we experienced after the 2000-02 recession. At that time I was a training/quality control specialist, and I found myself surrounded by young college grads born between 1980 and 1982. During the training phase, I found these new reps to be bright, friendly, and eager to develop a team dynamic. Once they got on the floor, however, their approach to work was just as bewildering to me as I was to them. Up ‘til then, I had used a mixture of stern words and pats on the back to convey the message that, while you made mistakes that needed to be corrected, we understood that this was part of the process and were there to help you succeed. Previous reps appreciated this treatment, respected my experience, and often came to be my friends. The new reps couldn’t understand my criticism of them and some even were indignant. When I pointed out a mistake, I would hear, “But I did what I was told.”

“But you did it wrong and it needs to be corrected.”

“But I don’t understand why I have to go back and do it again when I did what I was told.”

“You may think you did it as you were trained, but it’s wrong and it needs to be corrected.”

“Well, there must be something wrong with the training class because I’m sure I did this right.”

And on and on. Some reps even went to my supervisor to criticize my treatment of them. My supervisors usually backed me up (I was doing my job, after all), but it did create an environment where the senior people were questioning the appropriateness of our behavior rather than holding the new reps accountable for their performance. Ultimately, I became lost in this new atmosphere and felt forced to leave a company I had devoted 14 years of my life to because my style, which was so gratefully applauded just a few years before, was now out of step with the new people’s liking.

The Millennials are also becoming known for their transient attitude toward jobs. There is no longer any stigma attached to moving from job to job when one becomes uncomfortable. I believe that’s also something that the Gen-Xers started first. I was considered unusual for staying in one place for as long as I did. The jury is still out on whether such an attitude will help or hurt our economy. In my opinion, such behavior creates a work force that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Without experienced lifers who have a sense of a company’s history, where the bodies are buried, and what mistakes were made and should never be repeated, you have a revolving door of employees who require constant training and offer mediocre service because of their perennial inexperience. Also, there is no insight, no new ideas worth pursuing, and no long-term picture. Just a drifting juggernaut with no particular destination.

I’m inclined to believe that this self-indulgent view of career will not last much beyond the current decade. I know the Millennials want to avoid making the sacrifices their parents made (a feeling all young people have), but once they reach the point where they want to have kids and raise a family in the lifestyle to which they were accustomed as a child, they may have to face and accept those same sacrifices. At least the Baby Boomers had parents who warned them of such challenges. The Baby Boomers themselves, it seems, never provided such warnings for fear that they would damage their children’s psyches. But we’re already looking at tough economic times with spiraling oil and gas prices which in turn are driving rapid inflation and economic stagnation. With a scenario not unlike the scenario the country faced in the late 70s, it’s not too difficult to see our free-thinking Millennials changing their I-tune and becoming people more like their parents. Only this time, they’ll probably lose the power ties.