The economy…from the GenX perspective

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

This is not news to X’ers, but we are the first generation in the US to be worse off financially than our parents, as recognized in an Associated Press article that hit the media today. I’m thrilled that the issue has claimed the attention of the AP but seeing the phenomenon written out in black and white, in hundreds of news sources across the country leaves me with a sour stomach.  Why?  Because it is accurate.  Many GenXers and Millennials are living with very high student loan debt, little to no net worth and have been disproportionately affected by the mortgage and housing crisis.

To quote the article “The typical household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35.

Before you jump to the explanation that people accumulate wealth and assets as they age and we Xer’s just need to put our time in, the article is also quoted as saying that “the gap is now more than DOUBLE what it was in 2005 and five times what it was 25 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.”   Yes folks, we are the first generation to do worse financially than our parents and our millennial friends behind us hold the same distinction.

This trend has vast consequences for our public and non profit organizations.  Consider our donor base, philanthropy and planned giving best practices the industry has been using for decades. Ask yourself it they take this trend into consideration?  In my experience, the answer is no.  All of these activities are still very boomer and traditionalist focused.  If you haven’t already come to this conclusion, let me be the first to lay it out, in black and white….the way we raise money to support our organizations today, is not what will be successful in a decade.  I encourage you to review the AP article (or the subsequent flurry of articles resulting from the AP article-click here for the Chicago Tribune version) and begin the conversations in your organizations about this trend.

Finally, millions of Americans are struggling financially, that is not news.  But the state of the economy from a GenX filter is news, at least it was today.

Technology, is not an alternative.

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm

There seem to be two groups of people in the workforce these days.  Those that fear technology and see it exhaustive and a burden and a second group, who see it as a tool to make our work easier.  The division is not always along generation lines-but I do often see the first group born somewhere in the boomer generation.

This is not a new concept, nor can I take credit for calling the concept out for the first time. But I will lay it out there, with a generation lens.

Just yesterday, while in a large strategic planning meeting, I was struck by the division of some seeing technology as a threat and others seeing it as an opportunity.  One particular comment, that started a flurry of fear based comments, was “technology is so unsafe, we have to protect ourselves and our children from it.” While another (also a boomer) chimed in to add “technology is not only unsafe but it is EXHAUSTING, all the constant emails and text messages, I can’t keep up!”  There was a collective sigh, and it was mostly from those well over the age of 55.

Meanwhile, I see the X’ers and Millennials in the group shifting uncomfortably in their chairs.  Some looking around with cagey eyes like they are trapped ready for the finger pointing and  “those millennials keep texting during meetings” comments to begin. Others were ready to vehemently disagree, wanting to list off all opportunities that technology offers to make our work more effective, efficient and increase accessibility of information.

This division and dynamic is obvious in nearly all meetings, trainings, seminars I attend.

I don’t have a specific solution for either group’s conflict, but I can say that as a “bridge” generation between boomers and millennials…Generation X has a chance to make a significant impact in this argument.  Boomers, some better than others, have adapted to common workplace technology developments like email, texting, internet, google etc. But it has been an adaptation for boomers.  Millennials were born connected, they don’t know a life without it. Meanwhile, GenX, was in our prime developmental years, psychologically, emotionally and educationally during the rise in the use of technology for communications and work.  We were also just beginning our careers during the explosion-a pivotal turning point in the evolution of technology in the workforce.

As a generation, we can argue both sides of this technology argument.  The positives, the negatives.  The challenges and the opportunities.  What is even better however, is that we can act as the bridge between the boomers and millennials.  Technology is here to stay, and will continue to evolve, avoiding it is no longer an alternative.  Not using email or learning to text for work communications, not googling your next job applicant candidate, avoiding social networking or websites to promote your organization, is no longer cute.  Technology doesn’t have to be scary and bad.

To my fellow X’ers, stand up and offer to help your colleagues to adapt.  Bridge the gap between generations. Explain to millennials about where the fear of technology comes from so they are better able to validate boomers.  At the same time, be assertive with boomers to give time and space for Xer’s and millennials to teach about the advantages of being more connected. Technology has much to offer, so let us frame the conversation to be less about fear and more about an opportunity to learn from other generations.

Retirement, welcome it.

In Work Values on October 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

The wave has begun…and if you’re not with me here, I speak of the tsunami of  impending retirements in the nonprofit and government sectors that is headed toward us quickly.  Many studies have predicted this, but the economic down turn and drop in retirement accounts of our boomer friends delayed it briefly.   We are seeing the beginning of a mass exodus.  I’ve noticed the shift starting just in the last 9 months,  in my small community, with my clients and the organizations I work and volunteer with.  What is more concerning than the shift, is the response.  The shock, dismay and fear I’ve seen on faces when boomer executives give notice is quickly accompanied with “how are we going to replace you?”, “how can we find somebody to manage all that you do every day?” and most famously  “there is nobody here that can do or is willing to do your job, what are we going to do?”

Did you hear that sound?  It was the collective sigh of frustration of my GenX colleagues.  For nearly two decades, my generation has been overlooked far more than our predecessors were when they were our age, and with bigger economic impact.  The majority of GenX’ers in public/government jobs and NPO’s are still in middle management, with huge student loan debt, little to no retirement savings and working under a “grey ceiling.” To top it off, we are the generation with a disproportionate percentage of mortgage crisis victims, we are the first generation in the history of our country to NOT do as well financially as our parents and we have workaholic boomers and traditionalists who just won’t retire.  Add to that, the prevailing GenX belief that there are many ways we could and should do business differently than our predecessors…if we only had a chance.  So yes, we have some anxious X’ers wanting to step into those executive jobs that boomers are vacating, and we welcome the tsunami.

The dichotomy between the anxious ready to change things up get out of my way X’ers and the fear of the unknown/there is nobody who will do it like me and with my experience attitude of the boomers is played out nearly every time I hear the word retirement.  Which is usually followed by a tense argument about the value of experience vs. the value of pragmatic results based leadership. Then it quickly degrades into dissent about who are we going to hire to fill this void?

The solution you ask?  Well for one, I’d suggest you approach the void by not looking at it as a void.  The tsunami of job title transitions is an opportunity for change and growth.   Both GenX and Millennials are already in the trenches and we surpass boomers and traditionalists in academic preparation, prior volunteer experience and innovative entrepreneurial ventures. Instead of looking for somebody to fill your shoes, look for somebody to provide a new direction and a breath of fresh air.  Approaching recruitment, even in this economic time, with an opportunity lens will likely get you the candidates you really want, not the warmed over mediocre version of what you already have.  Secondly, LISTEN.  The majority culture (boomers in this case) are classic for “knowing” what is right, but not always seeing alternatives that might also be reality.   Lastly, have a robust and diverse hiring committee, comprised of various generations, experience levels and expertise areas.  THIS will bring in your best candidates and your best match, regardless of generation.

As for retirement.  Welcome it, embrace it, it is not to be feared. Being a GenX “slacker”, I look forward to the days that I get to retire and choose how I spend every moment of every day. Welcome it!


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