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Four Generations at Work

While writing the first story in a series on baby boomers and the workforce, I started thinking beyond generational lines. How will the rest of the workforce--especially Generations X and Y--deal with the demographic shifts coming about?

Fortune Magazine earlier this week posted a story about Generation Y at work, touching on many points raised by my sources on the future of the American workforce. The Island Packet recently did a story on how employers are grappling with the four generations now in the workaday world.

The Fortune story, written by a Millennial, offers a dynamic, take-the-good, take-the-bad profile of Generation Y.

Members are high-maintenance, awash in years of coddling and center-of-the universe status from their baby-boomer parents. Some Millennials simply quit if they don't like a gig, knowing they can easily return home to mom and dad. Mom and dad are part of daily or weekly life for some Gen Yers, even going so far as to show up for their child's first day of work or take an active role in job choices.

Generation Y can be fearless, the story says, thinking outside the box, and expert multi-taskers skilled with technology. They crave positive reinforcement, and can flourish when given significant responsibilities.

At the end of the day, they don't want to work 60 or 80 hours a week, for years on end at the same company.

Generation Y, Boomers in the Spotlight

Because they're the latest workers launching their career climb, Generation Y is bound to be in the spotlight. So are baby boomers: many are expected to change careers, go part-time or otherwise shift their current work lives. Movement on both ends will have a profound impact on our workforce.

What I find most disconcerting about Generation Y is the level of parental involvement (which I recognize isn't true for all Gen Yers). It's nice to have your parents' support, but at some point--both professionally and personally--cleaving from your parents is good, healthy and makes you a more self-sufficient worker. Mom and dad aren't always going to be in the background, cheering your every move, nor should they be.

The longer Generation Y stays in the workforce, perhaps the more they'll find a way to cope without their parents' constant supervising.

I applaud Generation Y for questioning the constant-60-hour-work week mentality. It's important to work hard and smart, but endlessly working 12-hour days, nights and weekends is nonsensical.

So where does Generation X fit into the picture?

Generation X is smaller than either the Millennial or baby-boomer cohorts. But it's quite possible Generation X will be figuring out how to bridge the work-style gap between the Millennials and the baby boomers. It seems someone has to, and who better than the generation sandwiched between the two?

Stay tuned for my upcoming coverage of baby boomers, Generation X and beyond.

-kc

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