Written by Frank Lopez
From news headlines claiming that millennials have killed the BLANK industry — insert “diamond industry,” the “casual dining industry”, etc. — to opinion stories, such as one published in The Atlantic last month titled, “The Boomers Ruined Everything,” or a 2017 Vox article detailing “How the baby boomers — not millennials — screwed America”, it seems that the never-ending war between newer and older generations is still being waged.
Since millennials are on the brink of surpassing baby boomers as the country’s largest living adult generation, it is no surprise that companies and marketers are eager to catch their attention.
According to 2016 population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, by the end of 2019, millennials (73 million) are expected to surpass baby boomers (72 million).
With the conversation being pitted as millennials versus boomers, it can seem like the middle child is overlooked — Generation X.
Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1980 are projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to peak at 65.8 million in 2018 and outnumber Boomers in 2028.
Though the years for each generational designation are arbitrary and can vary by a couple of years, baby boomers were born from 1946 to 1964, Gen Xers 1965-1980, and millennials 1981 and 1996.
Fresno-based tech entrepreneur Jamin Brazil was born in 1971. In 1993 he founded WebConstruction.com, his first startup that focused on creating websites. It was a transitional period when the internet was transforming the world.
Things have since changed.
“We’ve moved from a product economy to an experience economy,” Brazil said. “My parents and my generation showed our wealth by having a new BMW or a new Rolex watch. The younger generation has moved towards experience, where they don’t really care about owning the watch but they might want to rent the watch so they can take a picture of it and put it on Snapchat.”
He later founded Decipher, a top survey platform in 2000, and served as CEO of the market research company and is currently the host for the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Brazil noted that because millennials grew up more immersed in the digital age and with social media, they have different world perspectives. Because millennials have more access to media that allows them to interact with others online, it gives them a more global perspective that the previous generations didn’t have access to.
Brazil’s contention is that boomers view technology as something new and foreign, while Gen X sees it as it being layered over nature, and millennials only know the fully digitized world that is interwoven into their everyday life.
Even though there is a lot of criticism slung at millennials from the older generations — they are accused of being needy, overly sensitive and lazy — Brazil recalls that Gen X in the ‘80s and ‘90s was characterized as “slackers,” and that such criticisms are not unique to one certain generation.
He believes each generation has members who are going to make big gains.
“I think Gen X brought a ton in the way of technology empowerment, and really birthed that whole internet ecosystem. But it doesn’t matter. Anybody would have taken advantage of that,” Brazil said. “I see consistently, across the generations, a high level of hustle, and as long as that exists, then you’re going to see people that are going to find the inefficiencies and pain. They’re going to seek and remove it, or replace that pain with pleasure, and whenever that happens, you have the opportunity to monetize.”
Another local entrepreneur in the tech industry is Mark Jackson, executive director of the Pi Shop, a product business incubator in Fresno. Jackson is also the owner of Blue Dolphin Design and Engineering Inc., and part owner of Rex E.M.S., a manufacturer of a rescue device that he and a partner patented.
Jackson compared his generation to that of his parents, who were able to support a family with one income, and work for companies with strong union representation. He believes his generation saw the last of substantial pensions from big companies, with more people having to start getting 401 Ks, which meant investing more of their own money.
During Jackson’s time in college, the government started to stress math, science, and computer education, and growing up during the Space Race and seeing all the progress of NASA, there was a strong pull for him towards technology.
Jackson said that Gen Xers share a lot of the same ethic as the baby boomers. Gen X wanted to get to work, and that during the ‘70s there were signs of people considering environmental costs and the values of companies that they work for. He said it was as important as it is now to millennials, who prefer to work for companies whose values and company culture line up with their own.
But in general, Gen X went with the flow.
“I was an engineering student, and when we went to work, we knew we were going to go work for aerospace, or one of the big guys, and we didn’t really think ‘well, do we share the same values’ — because you wanted to start working and get that house in the suburbs. That was kind of the deal back then.”
Jackson doesn’t characterize Generation X as not having principles, but of not wanting to rock the boat, instead doing what was expected of them. He sees millennials’ desire to work for companies whose principles they agree with as a big shift, but also admirable, and that it makes for a better society.
In the workplace
Dale Bearce, president of Sandler Training, a sales and management consulting firm in Fresno and Sacramento, helps businesses manage their work force. He is familiar with the differences between generations in the work place.
He doesn’t believe that Gen Xers are overlooked, but that they are not known to be as disruptive in the workplace.
They bring less attention to themselves, especially when compared to millennials, who he thinks will prove themselves to be some of the hardest working and most creative people. They also have higher standards for their employers.
“Gen Xers didn’t necessarily plant their feet and say, ‘I’m not going to work 60 hours a week,’” Bearce said. “They still have a tendency of believing that you’re rewarded for what you do. You’re rewarded for extra effort. They have work tendencies that are more like the baby boomers than millennials.”
Bearce said that Gen Xers don’t have a high need for feedback as millennials, and were raised to figure things out on their own, whereas millennials have a higher expectation of guidance and attention, and grew up in an era of the education system where competition was not as celebrated.
Because Gen Xers are still in the workforce, Bearce said they are willing to adapt because they learned how to use burgeoning technologies at a young age, and are having to learn new technological skills in the remaining years of their careers.
While baby boomers had a strong work ethic, and were willing to work long hours overtime to get the job done, Gen Xers and millennials might have a different world view because they were able to see all the negative effects of that type of work ethic — divorces, bad parenting and exhaustion.
More in common than we think
Gia Kazarian, a leadership consultant for the New York-based marketing firm First Impressions, brought the company to Fresno to help clients on the West Coast about three years ago.
Kazarian graduated from Bullard High School in 1997, and though she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to study, she always felt that college was part of the plan. Not going was never an option, which was a sentiment that more high schoolers were instilled with during the ‘90s.
In her consultation work, she said she also sees baby boomers and Gen Xers as sharing a lot of similar traits in the workplace.
“I feel like the baby boomers are pretty aligned with the same values,” Kazarian said. “I feel like the baby boomers started at one company and you ended at the same company. You got your retirement, you got your pension, and that’s where your whole life was. I feel Gen X has a very good attitude, good leaders, but they do like the engagement, workplace freedom, work place responsibility, but they don’t like to be micromanaged.”
Kazarian said that because millennials and baby boomer’s world perspectives are so different, Generation X is bookended between the two generations.
She advises employers to really get to know their workers, and see what motivates them and what they want out of the workplace, which will be different for the generations.