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The So-Privileged Generation

There was an article written by the WSJ that spoke about Generation Y making unjustifiable demands on employers and rooted much of the cause of this behavior in pampered lifestyles and short-term goals. Companies are upset that employee turnover is high and workplace demands are becoming more and more extreme. Those in older generations are frustrated because it seems that every step taken by new workers is a slap in the face to the traditional model of corporate hierarchies and the career-building process: the same institutions that they built their own professional lives upon. Well, until this point there hasnt been anyone who has stood up and explained why these behaviors are manifesting. Its easy to say that an entire generation is made up of spoiled and immature children- its another thing entirely to back that claim up. As a member of this generation, Id like to share how I view these traditions so that those who cling so loyally to them can have a bit of an informed perspective. In short, my generation detests its parents. It sounds harsh, yes, but youll soon see where Im coming from. The generation Im referencing is comprised of those who attended or graduated college during the financial crisis (sadly, our first and primary introduction to the professional world) and who have since been accused of being self-entitled brats of a privileged upbringingone that was sponsored by the overwhelming success of our parents. We, however, look at Generation X as a group and see absolutely nothing of moral value. Those who had the opportunity to define Gen Xs ethical inventory screwed up in a such a wildly spectacular way that they caused us, their children, to do one thing: run for our lives in the opposite direction. Weve asked ourselves, "How did they screw up this badly?" simply so we won't make the same mistakes. How did the environment reach this level of instability? How did the economy deteriorate so quickly? How did politics become synonymous with ineptitude? We draw answers to these questions from the only thing we can draw from: our world experience, limited as it is. The answers we found have shown us that the way of life and the way of looking at life that our parents grew up with isnt good enough. The group as a whole didnt learn what it needed to learn: ethics, primarily, but also compassion and prescience. We had to relearn this all ourselves, and in doing so we created our own way of looking at lifeone thats more aware of how we fit into the world, not how it fits us. This perspective has been criticized and misunderstood by Gen X for so long that I need to explain it in detail, and in order to do that, Id like to ask you to please put aside any pride or preconceived notions you may have about those in my generation so we can calmly dissect whats happened. Imagine that youre back in high school, coming to the age at which you start to become aware of whats happening in the world and how it affects you. Up until now, life has been comfortable. Your parents handle the family finances and you, more or less, just go to school and learn. Youre in the midst of SAT testing and are really anxious about what colleges youll be accepted at. Well, one day you wake up, go to school, get settled, and then turn on a computer to be suddenly met with headlines which read that the Dow Jones sank 700 points, banks are shutting their Dan Russell

The So-Privileged Generation doors, the government is scrambling to figure out what to do, and rumors are circling about colossal scandals and corrupt executives. There are words and names and companies that youve never heard of suddenly all over the news. The world shifts a little bit. You seem to be catching a glimpse of a different universe. You go home and your parents are glued to the television set. They dont move. You ask whats happening, but you dont get an answer. Then the fighting starts. Not necessarily at home, but on the TV. At school. Nobody seems to know where their money is or how much they even have. Its absolute chaos. You try to grasp whats happening, but every day theres a new story and it becomes overwhelming. Lehman Brothers, some investment bank that people are freaking out about, just went under. General Motors is bankrupt. General Motors! That massive company how could it possibly be in such bad shape? The government is going to somehow put a bunch of money into the system with a program called TARPthey say it might help. But everybodys saying nobody knows. This goes on for the next year. You go to college and become more and more familiar with what all of this means, all the while realizing how all of it could have been prevented. It seems as if every member of the circle of people responsible for keeping things in line is blaming the person on their right. Confusing, isnt it? Frustrating. Pitiful. Theres an overwhelming sense of being totally lost in a world you thought you understood. While Wall Street and Main Street were duking it out on television and on Capitol Hill, those my age were at home watching it all. The world was blowing up and everybody knew it, but nobody knew how to fix it. So our confusion turned into angeranger at the people clearly responsible for the problems as well as at the fact that those people didnt have the stones to own up to their mistakes and thus allow the problems to be solved. Eventually, however, disappointment took the place of anger. The philosophy that Gen X claimed to exhibitthat of hard work, mutual respect, and sound morals had imploded. In its place was a philosophy of getting something for nothing, taking advantage of others, and placing money over morals. As the news stories added up, the job market tanked, unemployment and prices went up, education became more expensive, and our political system deteriorated to such a state that even the simplest of tasks, say, raising the debt ceiling, had other countries reeling at our own incompetence. I totally lost faith of those in charge, and so did my friends. Fast-forward to present-day. It shouldn't be surprising, given the experiences just mentioned, that you see those entering the workforcemy generationpursuing ways of living that are more and more disconnected from the world of the past two decades. Priorities have changedwere not focused solely on money because it's pretty obvious that that type of motivation ends in failure. Morality has been transformed into a totally different animal. Being ethically responsible is no longer a subject that warrants a meaningless college business course, but it's something Dan Russell

The So-Privileged Generation that's simply expected of those in my generation and exclusively by those in my generation. A college course being taught by a tenured professor not only seems cheesy, but also reeks of hypocrisy, no matter how well meaning the professor's intentions are. Further, if we're accused as a group of being immoral, we'll strike back with a plethora of examples of exactly why Generation X has no justifiable basis for making such judgments. Among the millennials, however, things are different. We expect and demand more of ourselves because, in many ways, our generation's slate is clean. We haven't made our mark yet and we don't want someone to damage how people will perceive us as a group. So when a peer screws up, we get upset, whereas hearing about a local business owner embezzling funds for the past 20 years evokes no more response than a sigh. Its clear that graduates are making a stand, and its a good thing that some companies are willing to adapt. Recent startups have flat hierarchies and are widely known for having fun cultures and better lifestyles than traditional corporate environmentsand these companies are often more profitable than their traditional counterparts and competitors. There's a general purpose across the organization to support employees instead of drain themthat doesn't mean the executives hire a consultant to design a program with HR to make "relevant resources available to employees," but rather, it means that the CEO walking into your office to grab a beer and catch up isnt out of the ordinary. It means not caring how a guy dresses for work because hes really smart and his choice of pants doesnt change that fact. Like I said, priorities change. Companies are trying to figure out how to foster this kind of culture, and some will adapt better than others. Members of the existing workforce who complain that this new generation of workers gets special treatment simply are highlighting the contrast between an old, misguided business philosophy and a new, more grounded business philosophyyes, one that will require adaptation, but also one that will align goals and set priorities in a more consistent and sustainable manner than weve seen in recent years. My generation gets a bad rep when these culture clashes occur, but this can be avoided if those senior to us simply understand where were coming from. Many recent graduates are happy to enter corporate America, but in their minds, the opportunity equals a means to an end. Very few, if any, students graduating from business schoolor any school, for that matterwant to dedicate their lives to one company (or even career) anymore. And that really confuses people? These graduates are the same people who have grown up reading about rampant scandals and diminishing job security to the point that they don't want to commit to something that will probably end up like everything else in the news. So you have higher turnover. Students and graduates make long-term plans, not short-term ones. They enter corporate America with specific goals and a next step in clear sight. They want promotions sooner because then theyll reach their goals faster and theyll be able to leave on their own terms instead of being caught in the next round of job cuts that ends up on the front page. These tendencies that Gen Xers interpret as laziness, a need for instant gratification, or special treatment arent seated in how our parents brought us up. Theyre not seated in a thirst for attention. Theyre seated in Dan Russell

The So-Privileged Generation a need to reinforce a philosophy that we are solely entitled to judge and influence one that we were forced to design and commit to and one that is a direct function of Generation Xs failure to do the same. I love my parents more than anyone, and this isnt a diatribe against the individual Gen Xer, but they were failed by the figures who held the key to their generations legacy, and whats more, they don't fully realize it. Sure, their bank accounts took a hit and they're living with the repercussions of the financial crisis, but when my friends and I show up on the job and want to do things differently, all they see is a nave graduate who really doesnt know how the world works. They see us from the perspective of traditional "Generation X America," which bases how much respect we receive on the amount of money we earn and on the depth of our wrinkles. They insist that faster promotions are earned, not given. True instant gratification doesn't exist. Guess what? We agree! But the world has changed, and these changes have brought with them new expectations. Twenty years in the field is no longer a prerequisite for becoming wildly successful, and weve grown up with that reality. If Gen Xers stopped being so frustrated, they may begin to see where were coming from. To those reading who are of my parents' generation, I would like to simply ask you to look around at the world your kids have grown up in, or are currently growing up in. Anger and greed have dominated, and still dominate, our experiences of the world. So we've reacted. We've chosen more grounded, yet in many ways more liberal, ways of living and thinking, and we're not going to stray from that path. There are plenty of members of Generation X who share the same traits Ive advocated above; I'm not arguing that it's an "us against them" scenario, but I am arguing that our perspective has rarely been considered. It would lend more credibility and principle to those who are still in charge to realize, and possibly even embrace, this perspective.

Dan Russell