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August 8, 2007 / Toby Dayton

The Differences Between Boomers & Gen Y

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel of recruiting bloggers at a recruiting seminar in Minneapolis. The event was organized by Paul DeBettignies (aka, MN Headhunter) and Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com fame. It was an excellent event and those two deserve enormous credit for pulling it together and packing the room with HR professionals and corporate recruiters. One of the highlights of the day was hearing a presentation by John Sumser of Recruiting.com talk about the differences between Boomers and Gen Y, or as he says, Gen Why. He is a phenomenal speaker and his presentation on generational challenges is the best I’ve seen. If you ever have the opportunity to hear John speak, I would highly, highly recommend it.

The slide below is taken directly from his presentation, and the slide by itself doesn’t do the topic or his perspective on it justice, but it was the most clear, concise, and accurate characterization I’ve seen of how Gen Y workers operate. His message is basically that Gen Y’s, on average, grew up in smaller families, never had to compete for resources like boomers did in bigger families, received inordinate amounts of attention as children, view technology to be as integral to their lives as anything else, and can multi-task beyond belief. To varying degrees, they need to be ‘sold’ to do the work at hand and they need constant feedback and communication every step of the way. Their beliefs, views, habits, perspective on work, motivations, etc. are simply a function of the manner and times in which they were raised.


While it’s been beaten to death, the fact remains that Gen Y workers have and will continue to dramatically alter not only the nation’s workforce, but the manner in which companies manage and leverage talent and compete in the market. Companies and recruiters who view Gen Y’s defining characteristics as deeply-rooted character flaws and do little but complain about how the country is going to hell will suffer greatly. Not only will they lose enormous opportunity from leveraging an extremely talented generation of people, they will simply not be able to recruit talent and compete in the marketplace.

[tags]Gen Y Workers, Gen Y, Gen Why, Baby Boomers, Changing Labor Market, Talent Management[/tags]


  1. TIm Harris / Aug 9 2007 5:07 pm

    Generations need to be measured by their traits and tendencies rather than that of age. Your article shadows what we have been thinking all along. Visit our profile at http://www.generationalprofiles.com and take your profile for free to find out for yourself.

  2. Uturn / Oct 16 2007 7:13 am

    Funny, I was just thinking that potential employees need to be judged by their skills and abilities rather than their age. I guess this sort of backward thinking will lead me to “suffer greatly,” especially when people who are assessed as comfortable with technology can not word process, use a spreadsheet or a database, or conduct an effective web search (Let alone type in complete sentences…but I digress). Their social networking will be invaluable as they monopolize the water cooler as profits break through the floor. But, I forget, their unmatched skill in the art of text messaging will save the day. I just wish I knew what fyrite meant.
    When the newer generation that is put out of work by these supposed superior workers, entrepreneurship will be the only method of survival, and ultimately will lead to the collapse of this “new” hand-holding managerial style and the corporate giants. Unless you boomers don’t really want to retire, and are content to remain on and do all the work of all those you manage repeating to yourself “I’m just helping them out, just holding their hand.”
    Ask yourself one thing before abandoning the search for qualified people in lieu of generational hiring: Do I really want an employee who will talk, text message, play solitaire, watch a movie, conduct an online chat AND sit at their desk; or should I just settle for the one who does the job?

  3. Toby Dayton / Oct 16 2007 10:37 am

    Uturn – In my experience, and the majority of employees in our company are between the ages of 23-30, you could not be more flawed in your thinking. We absolutely hire and evaluate our people by their skills and abilities rather than age, and nothing in my post suggested that we or any company should do otherwise. Contrary to your erroneous generalizations, this age group can ‘word process’ (or as I personally like to call it – write), can use databases (usually they build them and/or improve them before utilizing them), and can use spreadsheets. And the last time I checked (this morning), the phenomena of the workplace ‘water cooler’ was not a generational anomaly, but simply evidence of our species’ inherent propensity towards socialization.

    As far as your 2nd paragraph is concerned, I cannot begin to make sense of the point(s) you are attempting to make (perhaps you should work on your word processing skills. Or, would that be writing skills?). What newer generation is going to be put out of work by Generation Y? The generations ahead of Gen Y are typically referred to as older generations (unless you mean to imply that Gen Y is going to be taking jobs from their children). I have no ability to follow your logic about entrepreneurship becoming the only method of survival, though perhaps you’re implying that people considered to be part of Generation Y are incapable of working in a large organization given what you mistakenly perceive to be their character flaws. If you are attempting to argue, and given your meandering, borderline nonsensical line of reasoning I cannot be certain one way or another, that ‘corporate giants’ are going to collapse for lack of sufficiently capable workforce, I’d argue vehemently to the contrary. I’d also suggest that a massively flawed, grossly underfunded public education system in this country and increasing pressure from globalization as just two factors among many that will contribute to the challenges that companies in this country face. But again, I am having trouble deciphering what you are trying to say in your comment, so I cannot be certain how to adequately respond.

    As I pointed out earlier, nothing in the post, and certainly nothing in John Sumser’s presentation, advocated for the abandonment of hiring based on skills, talents, and fit. But the fact remains that Baby Boomers will eventually retire (though I would argue more gradually than predicted for many, many reasons), and Generation Y will become the dominant generation in the workplace. Companies that are not already successfully adapting to the changes being precipitated by this transformation will be, without question, less competitive than those that are. If you feel differently, and conduct your business accordingly, I certainly wish you the best of luck and I’d be curious to know how it works out for you down the road. Please keep me apprised of your success.

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