X, Y, BOOM! Generations at Work

Barbara Richter

their toenails and tuning out nagging parents is all in a day’s work.

Echo Boomers  also  grew up  with  increasing school violence, gangs, economic uncertainty, a shrinking middle class, an increase in poverty and homelessness and a war on terror. Nevertheless they are a confident generation: optimistic, flexible, street-smart, sociable and civic-minded. They enjoy working with other idealistic people. Some researchers say they dis- play many of the early ideals of young Boomers (before they got jobs and credit cards), but are more practical in their approach. They are more likely to work for change within a system than to take to the streets against it.

On entering the workforce, Echo Boomers show a keen sense of participation and entitlement and may be quite surprised when their suggestions for workplace improvements aren’t welcomed or acted upon. They respect authority but are not in awe of it, and will treat the receptionist and the company president with an equal amount of respect.

“Paying  your  dues” is  an  alien  concept  and Echos  expect  quick  career  advancement.  They want meaningful work.  Having  grown up with attentive parents, video games and the Internet– all providing immediate feedback – they expect the workplace to deliver the same instant gratification. They expect respect. If they feel badly treated, they will broadcast their grievance to a worldwide network of peers at the click of a mouse.

Echo  Boomers  are  entering  the  education workplace in  a  time  of  relative peace. Stories of the battles fought and  gains  made and lost seldom resonate with them. They are eager and enthusiastic about building the optimistic future they  believe awaits them, and they waste little time and effort in reflecting on the past.

Like cultural and racial diversity, generational differences bring unique and valuable strengths and  perspectives to  the  workplace and  to  the federation. By understanding, appreciating and building on it, we can enhance the potential of all to  contribute to the profession and the federation.

Bridging the generational divide

  • Don’t judge the actions or statements of others through your own generational lens. Don’t make assumptions; ask for a discussion.
  • Resolve that for one week you will not start any sentence with the phrase “If you had been there in …”
  • Ask seasoned staff members about their experiences in their early years of teaching.
  • Seek out a colleague from another generation and discuss an issue facing education.
  • Offer to help a younger colleague set up an activity for students. Ask an older colleague for suggestions.
  • Cultural icons are  never universal; they belong to a specific time and place. Don’t assume your colleagues will recognize generational markers like Howdy Doody, Polkaroo, or Barney the Dinosaur.
  • Suggest a staff discussion about generational