Steve Griffiths The March GenerationWatch is here – we incorrectly linked to this post from our March ezine.
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Dr Steve Griffiths offers a light-hearted review on the latest Generational research and comment to be posted on the Internet.

Blame the Boomers

“The baby boomers are the greatest parasite generation that ever lived on this planet,” says A. Magnus from the United States. [1] He carries on his attack, “They took the wealth of a nation and stuffed it down their over-medicated gullets while systematically stripping its infrastructure and collectivizing its society under big government. Name a single contribution they made to the posterity and achievements of this country besides outsourcing, taking the dollar off gold, enabling a Trotskyite takeover of the GOP and signing musical acts like Britney Spears.”
This month, in GenerationWatch, there is something of a backlash against Boomers. Perhaps it is the political climate in the UK and beyond – what kind of world do we live in where the leader of the Conservative Party is a Gen Xer? – but those of a younger generation seem to be rueing the fact that they have not learnt as much from Boomer ‘mistakes’ as they should have done. Abby Lovett, a 27-year-old Chicago ad agency rep, putting in 50-plus hours a week to build her career: “No one is happy. Everyone is overworked, overstressed. No one’s spending the kind of time that they want with their kids or their spouses or partners. And I think part of that can be attributed to the Boomers.” Steve Rubens echoes a growing distaste for the Boomer legacy. “There’s a disconnect between the younger generation and anyone over 45 or so. Something happened; I don’t know when. But they don’t really listen as much as they think they do. They just go with their agenda.” [2] Anthony DeCurtis, a 54-year old rock music journalist sums it up well when he says, “There’s a fear that there’s going to be nothing left – that they’re going to be picking up the pieces for this six-decade party we had, cleaning up the mess,” said DeCurtis, 54. “There’s some truth to that, I guess.” [3]

Not that the world of business takes such a negative view of Boomers, of course.they continue to crank out products for this fiscal generation. One such example is from Tropicana Products, who have a specialised orange juice for Boomers who want more fibre. The juice maker, which has about 40% share of the domestic orange juice market, already has product lines with half the calories of regular orange juice, juice with antioxidants and sodium-free juice. [4] Burnbrae Farms Ltd has billed its new innovation for Boomers, The Superegg. The higher-tech Omega Plus egg contains even-more-powerful nutrients to benefit the body than its original Naturegg product, the company says. [5] Sales are, if you will excuse the pun, booming.
Market manipulation of Boomer preferences led to an incalculable rise in the global sales of coloured Christmas Tree lights this year. What accounts for this massive rise? Frankly, it is the Baby Boomers reverting back to “the way things used to be” when they were children. They want to share their childhood experience of Christmas with their children and their children’s children. Only in the 1980s did white lights become popular, evoking an escaping back to Victoriana. In the US, there is talk of a generational-class warfare around the colour of Christmas lights. [6] But Boomers had better watch out the extent to which they are prepared to defend their cause, as the Bangor News article suggests: “As most twentysomethings would tell you, mine included, there appears to be a fine line between creeping boomer nostalgia and early senility, and they might just have a point”.
Concern for health continues to be a seminal driving factor in marketing to Boomers. has made an interesting observation: “They may not be hanging Beatles posters on the walls, or piping in the soundtrack from Yellow Submarine. Still, more and more fitness centers are doing everything they can to attract the baby boom generation Ñ and it’s working, with folks over 50 making up the fastest-growing segment of the fitness population”. [7] Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, says that by 2012, “those numbers will increase even more dramatically. This is a market that is only going to grow more and more as time goes on.” This, of course, is more evidence to prove what we already know about Boomers: they just don’t want to grow old! But Robert Catalini, an American physiologist, warns that, “.unfortunately, the staff and instructors at many gyms and fitness clubs are not really set up for this paradigm change.”
Not so with the astute marketing team at Phonak Hearing Systems. They have been quick to recognise the extraordinary potential in marketing for Boomers in the field of – yes, you heard it right – hearing aids. David Fabry of Phonak blames Boomer lifestyle for earlier loss of hearing. “Despite the reduction of damaging noise in the workplace, the Boomers are expected to have the same hearing loss as previous generations, from exposure to loud concerts, motorcycles and other noises they shouldn’t have been around.” [8] Predictably though, Boomers do not want just any old hearing aid. It needs to be a fashion accessory. “The baby boomer population is more demanding than previous generations,” Fabry said. “They want hearing aids with high tech and high cosmetics.” Hmm.
Loss of hearing marks a transitional period of life stage. What comes after the hearing aid? Well, bluntly – retirement and death. But the Boomers, as we would expect, are managing to make the most of both of these eventualities. New research suggests that only 16% of Japanese boomers will stop work completely after retirement. 39% want to work for their current employer whilst 15% want to start their own businesses. [9] The only thing to stop a Boomer working, it seems, is the appearance of the Grim Reaper. But Boomers even want to control his activities too. Beyond Japan, some are planning even further in advance, making sure they have the funeral they want. [10] Funeral pre-planning schemes are booming. Interestingly, trends suggest that there is less interest in the practicalities of the funeral and more interest in capturing the ‘spirit’ of the person. A recent poll suggests that 62% want a personalised funeral; 50% want stories told about them, 47% want their favourite music played, and 42% want photos and personal artefacts displayed. Perhaps some might even want their timesheets displayed to prove just how hard they have worked to get where they are.
Generations at Work
A new survey of Generational Work environment has been carried out by BridgeWorks LLC in the US. The results are very interesting:

  • 65% agreed generation gaps make it hard to get things done at work.
  • 90% of Generation Xers said they wanted feedback within a few days.
  • Only 14% chose Generation Xers as the generation they felt most comfortable managing, and this included the Xers themselves.
  • 73% of Silents plan to return to work in some capacity after they retire; 28% said they would enter a new field of paid of employment.
  • When asked who they were most loyal to at work, Generation Xers put co-workers first, their bosses or project second and the company last.

Good communication is at the heart of Generational understanding in the workplace. ‘What six years ago was seen as a `fluff’ topic has become a clear, bottom-line issue, a retention issue,” David Stillman of BridgeWorks said. ‘People who say `I don’t feel understood here’ or ‘I don’t feel respected here’ go to work for someone else.” [11] He offers a timely warning for any companies who try to develop Generational Theories into their practices, namely that we should understand the difference between generalities and stereotypes. Oldsters are not necessarily technophobes. Baby Boomers are not necessarily workaholics. Gen Xers are not necessarily slackers and disloyal. Generation Y members are not necessarily too young to know anything. As Stillman says, ”The point is to get to know and understand the person”.
Which brings us, quite naturally, to understanding women. Somewhat aggressively, Laura Shelton, co-author of The NeXt Revolution, has stated, “Gen X women want it all – and we want it all right now.” [12] According to Shelton, Gen X women are stepping off the corporate ladder in record numbers, totally unanticipated by their Boomer mothers: “The values that (baby) boomer moms valued are being totally flipped by their daughters. We (the boomer moms) thought we were modelling equal opportunity, but this boomeranged in unexpected ways.” This is the view of Charlotte Shelton, Laura’s mother, who is the other co-author of this seminal piece of research. Together, they surveyed 1,200 Gen Xers and came up with some very interesting results:

  • Salary was ranked 12th out of 15 in importance for Gen X women; job status/prestige was ranked last.
  • Recognition is not the key driver with Gen Xer women.
  • An “X-friendly” workplace would emphasize positive relationships with supervisors and co-workers, interesting work, opportunities for learning and work/life balance.

Shelton argues that, if employers do not wake up to this, more Gen Xer women will opt out in the future or, at the very least, become disengaged clock-watchers. This is a massive problem in a global work environment where there is already a dearth of Gen Xers to replace the soon-to-be-retiring Baby Boomers.
Beating The Corporate Brain Drain
This impending crisis for businesses as Boomers prepare to retire on mass is not lost on any of us. One of the greatest challenges facing businesses will be the loss of knowledge that goes with that. “Knowledge capture is becoming an important issue with the impending retirement of millions of baby boomers,” said a spokesman for KANA Software Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, a maker of software to capture knowledge from workers. “According to one [US] stat, beginning on Jan. 1, 2006, a boomer will hit the age 60 every seven seconds for the following 19 years.” [13] The sale of knowledge-management software is taking off in the UK as well as the US, with even such illustrious institutions as Oxford University recognising the need. One of the techniques that the software developers use to capture knowledge is the development of so-called intelligent technology platforms, which allow senior experts to share their thinking about crucial business operations and processes with younger employees over computer networks. IBM, has developed so-called knowledge dashboards, which are accessible in real time over networks by new employees. Knowledge management has been talked about in industry for about a decade, but with the en masse retirements of baby boomers forthcoming, it is now really taking off.
Millennials Rising
Howe and Strauss, the geniuses of Generational Theory, have rejected the label ‘Generation Y’. Howe said society pins a lot of hope on Millennials, considered to be more politically interested and teamwork-oriented than previous generations. “We foresee Millennials to be a political and civic powerhouse of [a] generation,” Howe said. “They will likely fill the vacuum left by X.” [14] The question arises, however, as to what sort of world the Millennials will inherit. Apparently, if it is left to the Millennials, there will be no world left to inherit! There is increasing concern that the Millennial Generation is losing touch with the natural environment. [15] The huge increase in urbanisation means that young people are not so connected to nature. The impact of that, of course, will be further urbanisation decreed by a Millennial Generation of town planners who have no attachment to green fields and babbling brooks. In a book entitled Children and Nature, Kahn and Kellert assert refer to “environmental generational amnesia”. “The upside is that children start fresh, unencumbered mentally by the environmental misdeeds of previous generations,” said Kahn. “But the downside is enormous in that children think what they encounter is the norm in the environment. At some point you understand the baseline is wrong, but you don’t understand it at a visceral level.” Kahn has done millennial research with Americans, Brazilians and Europeans and found similar patterns emerging.
The Vacation Market
If all this information is too depressing, you may feel the need to go and book a holiday. Ah, if only it were that simple. Even vacations are subject to Generational differences! Evidently, the different Generations look for different things out of a holiday, as this current research suggests: [16]

  • Plan their vacations months ahead.
  • Want a trip tailored to their individual tastes.
  • Enjoy the outdoors and all things authentic.
  • Want luxurious, comfortable accommodations.
  • Like to relax, whether it is on a hike or at a spa.
  • Travel for either work or leisure, not both at once.

Gen Xers:

  • Like to take trips on the fly.
  • Enjoy tailor-made trips and like to book travel themselves.
  • Relish urban life and the synthetic.
  • Want functional, high-tech accommodations.
  • Like to test themselves with extreme sports and competitions.
  • Mix business and pleasure.

The different generations have clearly different perspectives on travel. Baby-boomers have more money and more free time than ever before. Top-end Gen Xers are also increasingly spending on holidays. In the US, Gen Xer travel is growing by 7.4% annually, compared with a 6.5% growth amongst Boomers. This presents a real challenge to the leisure industry in how to appeal to two different generations in what they offer: do they focus on offering comfortable accommodation and luxurious décor for the Boomers or functional accommodation and trendy décor for the Xers? Generational theorist Neil Howe has commented, “It’s a little bit like mixing oil and water. Every time you try to accentuate your appeal to one generation, you end up rubbing another generation the wrong way.”
This generational difference is vital for companies to pick up on when they are planning their own business trips and conferences. Gen Xers are not keen on joining the Boomers on the golf course; they want more free time. Greg Hanss, Marketing Director for the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, has suggested that ‘the outdoors’ is the common link. Boomers want golf, Xers want extreme sports. Conference facilities that maximise outdoor choice are those that will thrive in the 21st-century.
So enjoy who you are
So what have learnt this month? Boomers are to blame for everything – and no amount of fibre, golf or fancy hearing aids will redeem them in the eyes of Gen X. They have to plan their own funerals to make sure that this rite of passage will not be sabotaged by the younger element in their family and social circle. Gen X wants immediate feedback so they can go on holiday tomorrow. Millennials won’t be able to enjoy outdoor pursuits as their parents and grandparents have done – because they will have built shopping malls and new towns on every unoccupied field they come across. Mmm…maybe I’d better book that holiday in Spain straight away while the beach still exists.

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