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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Boomer Bosses

In today's Boston Sunday Globe BostonWorks section, Penelope Trunk has written an article entitled, Managing up means managing a boomer boss. I found this article infuriating. Ms. Trunk describes the difficulties today's baby boomer bosses have managing their 20-something employees and the difficulties those employees have "managing up".

The underlying theme here is that baby boomers are interested in things like better parking spaces and climbing to the next wrung on the corporate ladder, while the current generation is interested in challenging work and life/work balance issues. In reality, these kinds of disconnects are not generational--they're environmental. That is, it's typically the company that promulgates an environment in which management and individual contributors have completely different concerns. So much so that the individual contributors and managers can no longer understand eachothers motivations.

My group of friends at work ranges in age from the mid-20s to mid-40s. And although we certainly are at different life stages and therefore have different life concerns, we all have almost identical job concerns. The managers at our company also span a wide age range. As in any corporation, you'll find individual contributors (especially the younger ones) who exhibit some of the ladder-climbing aspects that Ms. Trunk would have you believe are associated only with boomer managers.

Ms. Trunk quotes Laura Shelton, author of "The NeXt Revolution: What Gen X Women Want at Work and How Their Boomer Bosses Can Help Them Get It":

"Don't sit in a job with a baby boomer boss who doesn't get it. Vote with your feet."

Good advice for anyone who does not feel valued in their job for any reason.

There will always be people in any work environment who are more interested in the rewards associated with climbing the ladder than those associated with simply doing a good job while plying your craft. And when those people are managers, this can certainly translate into a poor work environment for that manager's employees. But this has nothing to with age as much as the corporate culture that rewards management for that behavior.

Comments:
Nice post Brian. I wonder however if the whole ladder-climber vs life/work balance talks isn't a red herring. Perhaps it's just that the new generation is less willing to kiss ass. From my observations at BigCo, that certainly seemed like the most effective way to climb the ladder.
 
UPS isn't the only company who's corporate color should be brown. ;-)
 
Brian: Shouldn't that quote be "Vote with your fee[t]"
 
Hi Pete. I guess my point was that I don't see one generation as being more willing to kiss ass than another. Companies like BigCo are guilty of rewarding employees (of any generation) who kiss ass by promoting them or giving them awards which are equally as undeserved.
 
Thanks Bob. Quote corrected.
 
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