God, more about generations.

Apparently, this is going to dominate this blog for the next 72 hours.

I just got done with a staff meeting. We started talking, actually randomly, about the 18-year-old girl who quit yesterday. She post-dated her resignation to last Thursday, even though her idea of quitting didn’t come up until yesterday. My two bosses, both Gen Xers, then talked about another girl who had gained permission from her father to work here. It seems that my boss had actually had a long conversation with this girl’s father about what the job was, how the insurance affected her driving, and what the mileage reimbursement rates were. I told my boss that was amazing. I mean, I have dealt with husbands of employees before, but never parents. How strange.

I remember being 18, and driving my parents’ car. Our job requires driving kids around to various places. We get reimbursed at 40 cents a mile. We can put on up to 50 miles a day. I get why people and people’s parents can be concerned. But I also remember being 18, and being completely separated from my parents. I did an impression of myself, at 18, for my boss, had I been that girl with the concerned dad. It would have gone like this:


*Stamping of feet* *Heavy sighs*

He would have said:

“Stop being a drama queen. That’s not your car, and you need to find out about the insurance. If it was your car, you could do whatever you damn well wanted. But it’s not. If you don’t find out, you’re not going to be able to use the car, and you’ll have to find some other way to work. End of Discussion.”


*Dad retreats to the wood room to watch some special on the History channel and smoke cigarettes.*

*I stomp away and slam a door for full effect.*

I would then call my boss and explain I needed to better understand the insurance policy. I would then explain it to my dad. All the drama would stay at home. It would be MORTIFYING to share all of the questions my parents would have had with my boss. At 18, I did not want anyone thinking I actually *gasp* had parents.

The thought of people actually having their parents get involved with their jobs is somehow shocking to me. Like, I can’t comprehend it now at 30, and regressing into my former 18 year old self, I can’t comprehend it. I was still mired in that world-revolves-around-me, I-can-do-it-all, I-actually-birthed-myself-and-came-out-as-and-adult mindset of a teenager. I did not want my parents involved in any part of my life at all. Which sucks for me, because now they don’t want anything to do with me now that I’m a sane adult and can appreciate them, because I’m a big ol’ fat queer. Ah, the irony.

Some of the comments in the last blogs about this generational gap have been about the parents of the Gen Y, or the Millenial Generation. In this staff meeting, we had 3 Gen Xers — me, and my two bosses — two young Baby Boomers, and 1 Gen Yer. One of the Baby Boomers started talking about the concept that the reason Gen Y was the way is is because of the concept of helicoptering parents. She was talking about this in context to what we have been experiencing in relation to our staff retention. My boss, a Gen Xer, became very fascinated by this. She sees a real problem with our retention. And it is. Because of the nature of the work we do, we primarily recruit college students, and the way they quit or handle themselves just baffles us. The Gen Yer in the room is really engaging and sweet, and very committed to the work we do. She recently went to a conference on all of this stuff, and is going to bring us in some stuff so we know how to better market this job to the people we recruit among.

One of the Baby Boomers asked me a question — she said: Well, don’t you have something in your schooling or textbooks about how to work with people like this? And I said, well, we tak about generations in terms of systems therapy, but there’s nothing like: All Gen Xers should listen to angsty music. There’s no theory like that.

Of course the other two Gen Xers laughed. I’m quite aware of what we Gen Xers look like, and what our label says about us.

It gets me to thinking. One of the things we talk about a lot in therapy school and FA, is cultural competency. It’s this concept of stepping outside of one’s own cultural paradigm, and recognizing how others’ cultures may impact their experiences, and their reactions to the world, and affect their coping skills. My textbook for this Group Process class has gone a little overboard by really stating things like: All Asian clients will present as humble. Um … isn’t that replacing cultural competency with stereotyping? Hmm. In FA, this would be similar to: Intuitive eating allows you to eat an entire bag of cookies whenever you want. Um, isn’t this similar to binging? I think we have to be careful about these things.

Anyway, here is my point. We had this really good, non-judgemental conversation about the differences between generations in this staff meeting. We are having a problem with retention, and quite frankly, ALL of our workers are of Gen Y. Historically, one generations bitches about the next. One generation builds upon the last. This is the way society moves and shifts, grows and develops. What I am wondering, is, it seems a generation is truly shaped by the people they were raised by, OK? I am hypothesizing here. So people are raised by people, generations are raised by generations. N called me on the carpet yesterday for complaining about an entire generation, but then stating that it was racist to label Asians as humble in my therapy book — claiming that was sterotyping in the name therapy.

Ok. So here’s kind of my question. Obviously, we all want to look at people as people. I believe most people really strive to do that. Hell, I work in social work. I really believe in that. But aren’t there trends that exist among groups of people based on how they were raised, what they were acculturated to?

Marketers use this all the time. Feminists have pointed this out in terms of the messages women see about body image. Advertisers capitalize on this. Clearly, my boss wants to recruit and retain based on this. My therapy book is teaching me how to counsel individuals based on this. So I guess what I am wondering is where do we draw the line in expressing ourselves about groups of people? Are we allowed to say: There are differences among people who are this age, this class, this race, or aren’t we? And how do we do that? What is the appropriate way? Is anger and frustration ever allowed to be a part of that conversation? Because some things, I think, ARE a part of the acculturation process, and that will naturally lead to friction. Are we allowed to ever express that? I am genuinely asking, here.

Clearly there is a danger in such things as institutional racism and sexism and sizeism. We have seen what those things have done to society and to individuals. We have seen that danger close up. As a proponent of free speech, however, you’ll never hear me wanting to shut down such idiots as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, myfatspouse.com, or the KKK. They have a right to their expression, just as I do mine, and you do yours. They have been acculturated, too. I may not respect, agree with, or waste my time reading or involving myself with what they are doing, but that they exist actually gives me a reason to exist, too.

I don’t know. Thoughts on this are appreciated.



  1. Falantra said,

    February 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    The answer should be clear. Just don’t assume anything. Don’t expect anyone to be a specific way. If you state a rule, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule and you’ll never know how frequently those exceptions will occur. You can develop an approach to one group of people and then end up alienating the people within that group who are different because your approach doesn’t actually apply to them at all. A good example is child therapists who use toys and patronizing speech as a way to comfort, but all it does is piss off the children who have matured early and can recognize the behavior as asinine. People are different, period. Respond to the individual, not the classification the individual might happen to fall into.

  2. Tari said,

    February 26, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    It’s been my experience that stereotypes do hold true, in some (but not all) ways, for some (but not all) people. I think the only way to handle my own reaction to a stereotype is on an individual basis, by asking questions and trying to understand – to see where that’s coming from (’cause it could totally just be coming from my head).

    I apply a particular stereotype to my sister fairly often (thin, blonde, hot), and sometimes she’s earned it – sometimes not so much. She does have strong opinions and takes actions that seem to flow from what I see as privelege inherent in that stereotype; but sometimes those opinions and actions come from her own internalized oppressions and fears – which i have no way of knowing unless and until I ask.

    Maybe it’s a case of holding both truths (stereotype/demographic v. individual) at the same time?

  3. Sandy said,

    February 26, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Like I said in the other post…if the vast majority of a group of people are acting the same, then of course your only opinion is going to be based on those people you have met. It won’t be until you actually do see the exception that your view will change. Just like most people stereotype blonds, fat people, Asians, Jewish, Muslim, etc. The human mind will always buy into the stereotype until an exception comes along.

    I will say this though…kinda off topic but not really…you were talking about the girl whose dad called about the car insurance. It reminded me of my BIL who is a college professor. He says that parents call him all the time demanding to know about their kid’s grades and why they got such and such and so forth…he says it is really annoying when the parents call especially when they get mad because he can’t discuss their grades. They kids are legally adults and it is a right to privacy issue, but the parents get mad anyway. He is a college professor and holds the same view of the younger generations as you do…so he is generalizing as well…and he has also met a ton more kids from 18+ and says that the majority of his students are like that….though he will admit there are exceptions.

    I know, off topic, but that part just reminded me of that.

  4. shinobi42 said,

    February 26, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    This is going to be the longest comment ever, and I’m sorry for that.

    I generally think that it is wrong wrong wrong to say X is true about this group. This is a pretty strong belief that I have based mostly on the fact that X is invariably not true about me, especially as regards gender. I tend to defy most stereotypes etc. To quote my senior yearbook prediction “Shinobi…. will be Shinobi.” So whenever someone judges me based on how they think I should be they are invariably wrong.

    Additionally once you start stereotyping it is a notoriously difficult heuristic to stop. Once a group of people has been described as X, anything that does not conform to X will not be seen as proof that X may not be true, but rather as an “exception.”

    Example, My grandma’s a big racist. A BIIIIIG racist. She now lives in a predominately black neighborhood. Her neighbors, now all black, really look out for her, because she’s an old lady. They are invariably described as exceptions to her opinions about black people. No matter what kind of people they are, if they do not conform to her stereotypes about black people she will see them as an exception, and not disproof of her opinions. She’s ninety, so I give her a pass, but stereotypes are a dangerous trap to fall into in any situation.

    What I would say in this situation is that you’re having a problem with the young people who are applying to or getting hired at your place of work. Their maturity level is not up to snuff apparently. My thoughts on this would to be to really examine and place the responsibility on the company and its hiring practices, instead of an entire generation of people. (Not to say that your boss or anyone is at fault, just that they could make some improvements that might help.) This may mean you hire fewer people, but you’d be better of hiring 2 people who stay for 10 thanf you hire 20 people who quit in a month

    Things I would do:
    1. Refuse to engage in any way with parents of adult employees via respectful statements that the employee needs to be handling this issue themselves. The parents and the kids are apparently not aware of this so the company should feel free to set these boundaries. As long as the employees involved are legal adults I don’t believe that you have any obligation to discuss anything at all with their parents. Discuss this with both the parents and the employee in question. They need to know this is not acceptable in the real world.

    2. Use more behavioral interview questions. My company’s interview process has a lot of questions about situations that happend in the past and how you resolved them. Like “Describe a time when you and a person of authority did not get along, how did you resolve this?” Ask for specifics, if the answer is “I had my parents call them” then we have a loser. We use a process called TopGrading that has about a billion questions. I wouldn’t entirely recommend it, but some of the questions are good.

    3. Examine the source of your recruitment and standards for hiring. Where do applicants come from? IS there a way to get to a better pool of applicants? IS there some standard we should apply to improve the quality of people we hire? Educational requirements? Prior job experience? Also The job market in most areas is pretty crappy right now, it’s really an employer’s market. So if you aren’t getting good enough applicants even now you may need to make the job more attractive to people.

    4. Examine the job itself, the conditions, how issues are handled etc. What incentive do new hires have to stick around? If they stay for three months do they get a raise? Some vacation? Are their performance incentives for quality of work? What is the culture like? Are their small morale boosters that could encourage more community or more retention? group lunches? Free starbucks?

    I realize that none of these are free instant suggestions like “Stop hiring Gen Yers.” But the fact is that hiring a new person costs money, there is paperwork, time, training, and other costs involved in hiring someone who doesn’t stick around. If you have to spend a little money to ensure that employees stay longer it will likely pay for itself in hiring and training costs.

  5. shinobi42 said,

    February 26, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Oh PS, you may already be doing some of that stuff, so sorry if my suggestions are redundant.

  6. Des said,

    February 26, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I like that you’re blogging about this because honestly I feel like these issues are the reason why a lot of us from the younger generation have a hard time getting jobs and I’m getting to see things from the other perspective.

    People tend to assume things about the younger generations, and it’s unfortunate, but with popular culture the way it is and bad experiences they have had mold the way they think. Ageism is bad, and it’s frustrating to be given a label based on the actions of some people that happen to be in the same generation. I like shinobi42 advice about asking behavioral questions during the interview, that tends to weed out the bad ones.

  7. Froth said,

    February 26, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    *tentative raising of hand* I’m of Generation Y and feel a little insulted by the attitude of Generation X (behold my gross generalisations!) towards people my age.
    Of course we’re not all mature. We haven’t all grown up yet. Some people grow up, become intellectually and emotionally adults, much quicker than others. Some never seem to grow up; some are grown-ups at fourteen.

    There is presumably a much higher proportion of not-really-adults among twenty-year-olds than, say, thirty-five-year-olds. If you hire a lot of younger people you therefore have a higher chance of hiring people too immature to do the job. How you distinguish them from the people who are mature enough, I don’t know – give me a few more years to learn about how the real world really works and I might have a few ideas.

    Oh yeah, stereotypes. Inevitable, sometimes useful as a starting point, sometimes completely wrong, always to be taken with a pince of salt. Don’t beat yourself up about having a mind that extrapolates from limited data to a pattern. Humans do that.

  8. kira said,

    February 26, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    First, regarding your story of the 18 year old and your recreation of yourself as an 18-year-old: oh my GAWD! That was hilarious, and so like my experience. I’ve always been a super-independent person (which fact drove my mother crazy for years), and by gawd, especially at 18, I’M GOING TO DO IT MYSELF!!! I would have rather died than have my PARENTS get involved in my job! I’ve had a similar experience though, which I found incredibly amusing at the time (and to this day); interestingly it was also my first experience with people born 1980+. I was leading a training session for our crew of summer interns and one girl was dropped off by her parents (usually people come on their own). Her father pulled me aside and asked me about a million questions about the work, safety, health issues, etc. etc., while I struggled to answer professionally while keeping a straight face. Being who I am, I would have absolutely died if my dad had done such a thing – especially right in front of me like that! – but she took it totally in stride.

    Anyway, back to your larger point – that’s a really sticky issue. It seems to be human nature to make judgments about groups as a whole, but I believe it’s wrong to do so. On the other hand, I’ve found that you will communicate more effectively and make stronger connections with people if you can “speak their language” so to speak. At my undergrad we had a large Japanese exchange student program, and many of the students fit the stereotype of being reserved and humble (at least at first). If you’d approached that group with a brash, Brooklyn-type attitude you would have scared them off. Conversely, if you’re ultra-polite and timid around a more brash group (e.g., aforementioned Brooklynites) they’re going to ignore you.

    In sum, I’ve found that stereotypes may come in handy when you’re first approaching a person from a certain group – but you can’t retain that stereotype. I use it for determining how to approach the person, the preliminary introduction, then attune to the individual person, and interact with him/her as a unique person. (sorry if this doesn’t make sense – this glass of wine here is going straight to my head!)

    Also, I have to second Shinobi’s hiring recommendations. We went through these same problems at my former job in hiring and retaining interns (mostly college students or recent grads, and mostly late Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers). Interns would commit, then just not show up, or show up and quit after a few days or weeks because it was too hard, or wasn’t what they were expecting. We had to totally revamp our interviewing process, nearly scaring people off by explaining every possible discomfort they could experience as part of the work, explaining exactly what was required of people. It felt weird, but it worked – interns knew what to expect, and we had far higher retention rates.

    Anyway, this has been an interesting and thought-provoking series of posts. Thanks for bringing this up!

  9. Piffle said,

    February 26, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    The young people are, as a group, going to be less conscientious than older people, because conscientiousness increases with age. I think you’ve gotten some good ideas from other people. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is indicated by such things as neatness and being on-time for things, you could ask questions about those I think (not an HR person, so I don’t know the legal stuff).

    You could also expand your pool of potential hires, look to retired people or parents who want part-time work perhaps.

  10. Laura said,

    February 26, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    I was born in ’83 and I would also be quite embarrassed if my parents had butted in like that regarding my job. But then again, my parents would never have stuck their noses in it if I had even asked them to, because they would’ve told me I was an adult and I needed to take responsibility and handle it for myself. So maybe the parents in these situations need a bit more of the blame rather than the kids. The kids may be so used to their parents being this over-involved that they don’t even know it’s weird and unprofessional.

  11. Jae said,

    February 26, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Shinobi is a genius. That’s pretty much all I have to add 🙂

    But thank you for exploring these issues; I think it is helpful for everyone involved!

  12. February 27, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Because of the nature of the work we do, we primarily recruit college students

    This seems to be the problem. It’s not their age. it’s the fact that they are in college. Their jobs is not their primary focus or responsibility, nor should it be. They are in college. That is what they are, and should be, concentrating on.

    If you want reliable workers, then hire people who don’t have classes and exams and constant social functions to worry about during the week. People above the age of 21 can “driving kids around to various places”, and will probably do it more safely.

    Unfortunately, they will also probably have the sense to demand more than “40 cents a mile”. How is that even legal? Gas is over $3.00 per gallon, and I’m guessing you’re not paying for your employees’ car insurance. I’d say that egregious underreimbursement is a big part of the reason your employees are dropping on you like flies. You should hope you Gen X managers aren’t being stereotyped yourselves as inefficient recruiters who underpay people then wonder why they leave.

  13. thoughtracer said,

    February 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Well Bianca,
    40 cents a mile is actually pretty high. I think the IRS reimburses at that, and if it’s not at that, then it’s slightly higher than that. But not by much. So that’s how it’s legal.

    Secondly, most of the kids working for us are fulfilling college requirements. Volunteer requirements for class, internship requirements, etc.

    Anyway, here is where I am at with this series of blogs. Some of you had really great comments. Some of you helped me process some thinking. Some of you left me feeling judged and shamed, and I would ask you what it was that led you to feeling so strongly that you could come here and throw stones? The Gen Y people who came here and commented back were actually politer to me than some of the other folks. What’s that about? Out of anyone, they had the most right to be dicks to me, and they weren’t, which proves one stereotype about them is true: They are a whole lot nicer than Gen Xers, anyway. And as a Gen Xer, I can damn well say that.

    This was a good series of blogs for me to write. It helped me process some stuff, and the commentary was invaluable to me.

    But I question each and every one of you who has thrown out the totality: You can NOT ever be stereotypical. Stereotyping is bad! I think that too, but it doesn’t mean we don’t all struggle with it. I fight against stereotyping and prejudice in my mind all the time. Who among us doesn’t, as women, cross the road at night when we see a man or group of men walking toward us, fearing for our safety. That’s sexist, but do we take a chance? Who among us doesn’t lock our car doors in a predominantly African-American or Latino neighborhood? That’s racist, but do we take the chance? Among the queers, I listen to “breeder” jokes all the time, blatant, sweeping generalizations about straight people, and up until 1 year ago, I identified as straight. Among the straight people, who doesn’t look at the queers and wonder about the “homosexual” agenda being pushed in schools? Who among the middle class hasn’t cracked a joke about the hillbillies from Kentucky being inbred?
    Who among the thin hasn’t stepped aside from someone who appeared to be over 300 pounds, worried they may catch the fat? Who among the fat hasn’t thought: “Skinny bitch” when they’ve seen some really pretty girl out somewhere. Who among the feminists hasn’t thought: She shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit, she was asking for it?

    My point is: No matter how enlightened we are, we are prone to prejudice. My prejudice was very clearly on public display in this forum. I admit that. I am sorry for that. I don’t think All Gen Y is bad. I don’t even know all of Gen Y. Prejudice isn’t OK all the time, but sometimes it keeps us safe, I guess. How do we live in that paradigm?

  14. Jae said,

    February 27, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    My point is: No matter how enlightened we are, we are prone to prejudice. My prejudice was very clearly on public display in this forum. I admit that. I am sorry for that. I don’t think All Gen Y is bad. I don’t even know all of Gen Y. Prejudice isn’t OK all the time, but sometimes it keeps us safe, I guess. How do we live in that paradigm?

    Perhaps by doing just what you’ve done, admitting to it. Stereotypes and prejudices are bad, but everyone on earth has them (see the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q) and I think pretending that we don’t is a problem, because we can’t ever get over something we pretend doesn’t exist.

  15. February 27, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Who among the feminists hasn’t thought: She shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit, she was asking for it?

    I don’t know any self-identified feminist who has said or thought that. I have heard other women express that sentiment, though.

    “Catch the fat”? Hee hee! Do some people actually think fat is contagious?

    The problem with the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” is that 1) as far as I know, it’s written by a couple of blame-shifting white/paler-hued guys, and 2) I’m not racist. Racism and sexism and homophobia are far more prevalent, and far more dangerous, among white people, men, and heterosexuals respectively. It’s worst among straight white males, because straight white males are considered the norm by society. Any deviation from that norm gets you labeled as “other.” All discrimination is not equal. You should read about the invisible knapsack of privilege. Nonwhite people being racist against white people, women being sexist against men, or queer people discriminating against straight people does not compare to the centuries of oppression of brown people, women and the LGBT community.

    All of that said, no one should shirk their responsibility or leave their position without two weeks notice just because they are in college. That’s not cool.

  16. February 27, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Oops. I forgot to close the “a href”. The last five sentences should look like this:

    All discrimination is not equal. You should read about the invisible knapsack of privilege. Nonwhite people being racist against white people, women being sexist against men, or queer people discriminating against straight people does not compare to the centuries of oppression of brown people, women and the LGBT community.

    All of that said, no one should shirk their responsibility or leave their position without two weeks notice just because they are in college. That’s not cool.

  17. Colin said,

    March 7, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Ann Coulter called me ugly on TV one time.

  18. thoughtracer said,

    March 7, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I’m sorry. Is it wrong that I just laughed out loud at that? Anything Ann Coulter does is just funny to me. I don’t even consider her to be a real person.

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