By Sharon Jayson
Baby Boomers have been in the spotlight for a very long time, but
now, as the oldest wave of Boomers approaches 65 and the attention
once again focuses on the first "Me Generation," some in other
generations admit it's a little hard to take.
"Everyone is sort of feeling like, 'Will these Baby Boomers ever
leave?' " says Debra Fiterman, 30, of Minneapolis.
"Boomers have certainly sucked up a lot of cultural oxygen," says
Leonard Steinhorn, 54, a communication professor at American
University in Washington and author of The Greater Generation: In
Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy.
"They are outsized. They changed America in deep and profound ways,"
he says. "It's natural for other generations to think they didn't get
their time in the sun."
Other generations tend to roll their eyes at some perceived Baby
Boomers seem to be "always examining themselves and their feelings,"
says Stan Broitman of Huntington, N.Y. At 67, he's a member of the
Silent Generation, born about 1925-45.
" 'Am I happy?' People didn't raise those issues in the previous
generation. People were always afraid to raise the issue because if
the answer was 'no,' what were they going to do about it?"
"But in the Boomer generation, they did do something about it,"
Broitman says. "Sometimes it was drugs," but psychotherapy also
became common. "People began to go for help because 'I'm not happy,'
" he says. "And the divorce rates also went up."
Fiterman, who studies the Millennial generation (born about
1981-2000) says younger people who work with Boomers find them more
hesitant to change and think Boomers seem "very formal and political."
"They get things done in a work chart," she says. "It's difficult for
Millennials working with Baby Boomers who are so protective of their
knowledge and reluctant to let loose."
To encourage better communication between generations at work,
leadership consultant Tom Davidson, 54, of Richmond, Va., offers a
program, "Boomers, Geeks and Geezers." He says people need to realize
"it is our early life experiences that shape our values," which we
take into the workplace.
Generations United, a membership organization based in Washington,
focuses on intergenerational programs.
"There is some natural tension between generations," says executive
director Donna Butts, 55, a Baby Boomer.
And, she says, there's "finger pointing about whether they've been
too self-absorbed to worry about the next generation."
A good influence
But a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,011 adults conducted by phone
earlier this month finds that most give high marks to the Boomer influence:
- 52% say Baby Boomers have made things better for the generations
that came after them; 39% say they've made it worse.
- 57% describe Baby Boomers as "giving," while 37% describe them as "selfish."
- 54% say the better word to describe the generation is "practical,"
41% say "idealistic."
The results point out what Neil Howe, a historian, author and
demographer in Great Falls, Va., knows very well. "Generations have
mixed feelings about other generations," he says. "It's not just good or bad."
"I would say that today - in the eyes of many people in their 80s and
90s - looking at the culture wars and the unpleasantness of politics
and the polarization and the meanness, they see the Boomer stamp,"
says Howe, 59. "They remember exactly what they experienced in the
late '60s with their kids, and now their kids are running the
country, and they don't like it."
Norma Downey, 83, of West Islip, N.Y., says she and her friends often
discuss Baby Boomers, since their children are part of that
77-million-member group. In particular, she says, her book club often
turns to a discussion of Boomers after someone has visited with the relatives.
"I grew up in the Depression," she says. "Baby Boomers grew up in a
pretty good society. They had a lot of things. They all live on the
edge. They spend right up to what they make. We always saved some,
even if it wasn't much."
During his 34 years as a banker, Broitman says, he saw Boomers get
overextended financially. "They've gotten into debt, and they haven't
really figured out how they're going to pay off this debt," he says.
"People just borrowed the max."
The work divide
The workplace is often where these differences between four
generations are most pronounced, resulting in new companies in the
USA that aim to ease the 9-5 generational divide.
"I'm hearing from younger workers that Boomers take their jobs too
seriously, are too wrapped up in this thing called 'career' and have
left things kind of a mess," says Eric Chester, 53, founder of
Generation Why, a consulting firm in Lakewood, Colo. "The world is
kind of a mess for this new generation to pick up the pieces."
David Stillman, co-founder of Minneapolis-based BridgeWorks, a
generational consulting company, says the biggest complaint he hears
about Boomers in the workplace is they won't delegate.
According to Gen Xers and Millennials, "Baby Boomers are not doing as
much mentoring as they could or should. Xers are frustrated because
they want opportunities to lead," says Stillman, 41.
But, he says, outside of the workplace, the relationship is quite different.
"I'm hearing from Millennials left and right how much they love,
admire and respect their parents," says Stillman, co-author of The
M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace, out
earlier this year. "I think a lot of the complaining we are hearing
from Millennials about Boomers is when they enter the workforce and
these bosses don't think and act like Mom and Dad do."
Michael Goergen, 38, of Bethesda, Md., CEO of a professional
association and a member of Generation X, says he has a "very, very
positive view" of Boomers.
"This is the group that mentored me in a lot of ways," he says. "I
take the very best from what they have to offer and filter out the rest."
But that sentiment isn't often shared by others in Generation X, says
Stillman. "Xer behaviors at work and in their personal lives is
almost a counter-reaction to Boomers.
"I hear from a lot of Xers, 'I want to work hard, but no-way-no-how
will I pay the same price for success as Boomers paid,' " he says.
"These people were run ragged and were trying to keep up an
unrealistic pace. It's not healthy. They don't seem to have a
work-life balance.' "
Ken Dychtwald, 60, a psychologist and gerontologist in Emeryville,
Calif., says he's concerned about what may seem like "Boomer bashing."
"I don't see a rising up among people against the generation," he
says. "I do believe Boomers are self-centered, but at the same time,
they are extraordinarily generous with their time, their money and
Cory Zimmerman, 27, a university admissions officer in St. Louis,
says he thinks his parents are lucky to be Baby Boomers.
"I look back at that time and think about it as a cool time to be
growing up - the Summer of Love and the great cultural upheaval at
that time," he says.
But, Zimmerman says, "I suppose every generation looks back at the
ones before it and puts on the rose-colored glasses."
Butts cautions against generalizing too much about any generation,
"There are so many differences in this group of people," she says.
"The only thing we have in common is we think we're fascinating."