My friend, Steve Browne, hates it when people descend into the “tarpit of generational discussions.” He’s right. There are too many generalizations and stereotypes that weigh down our meaningful discussions.

But I’ve been blogging since February 2004, and I have at least two generations of readers who have been with me for my entire journey. And I’ve been with them through their career journeys, too.

Some of my Gen X HR readers are now VPs. These are men and women in positions of power, and they want to do things differently than their Baby Boomer predecessors. These new VPs grew up in the era of Queen Bees and distasteful dudes who liked to say things like, “I work in HR, but I have the CEO’s ear.”

Not much love for the old type of HR — who thought they were awesome — and a new generation of leadership wants to do things differently.

(I guess that’s pretty typical for anyone who ascends the throne. Generational differences are really just phases, right?)

These Gen X leaders enjoy working in HR, but they’re not going to work in HR at the expense of their families. Baby Boomers wondered if you could do it all, but many women my age have opted out of HR to raise their kids and, also, take care of their Baby Boomer parents who are getting older.

So, and here’s my broader point, there’s a small cohort of leaders over the age of 40 and under 55 who are trying to create a fun and innovative environment but are also keenly aware that work is, ultimately, work. Your family is your family. No matter how much you want to blend the two, work-life is distinctly different from real-life.

And, I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Millenials in HR are sending me letters because they are frustrated with their Gen X bosses. They don’t feel loved.

Like, parental love. Like, mentoring with some interest in their personal lives. Like, friendship.

I try to explain that Gen Xers are, for the most part, not old enough to be a parent to a 28-year-old kid. And I try to remind Millennials that they are not kids themselves.

But I accept the broader point that some people in HR want warmer and more friendly relationships with their bosses. I’ve read the phrases “nice enough” and “would fight for me” in the same paragraph as the words “distant” and “closed off.”

What I gather is that some of my Millennial readers — more than two and less than a dozen — want to love their bosses but don’t feel the love in return.

Is that a sweeping generalization? Sure.

Is this a pattern I see in my inbox? Yes.

I don’t mind saying that some Gen X HR leaders should let down their guard and offer more emotional support to the younger adults who work on their teams. Dare I say that the secret to winning the hearts and minds of your younger colleagues is to be beloved?

No, Christ, nobody wants to be beloved. That’s a lot of work. But you could certainly show some warmth.

And, my dear Millenials, your boss is not your mom or dad. If you need mothering and support, look to your family, friends or the EAP. And give your boss a break. He is working a full-time job and offering emotional support up-and-down the rungs of his family ladder. He trusts that you have your shit together. Don’t let him down.

There is a way to talk about “phases of life” and “generational issues” without sounding like a sketchy IO psychologist on the main stage at a national SHRM conference. No? No? Well, maybe not at SHRM but definitely in our broader discourse.

And I guess what I want to tell you, dear readers, is to chill the hell out. Be kind and demonstrate both empathy and personal resiliency. You’re more like to get emotionally support from the people around you if you don’t burn them out with daily requests for respect and affirmation.

That’s such a Gen X response, I know. But I’m right.


  1. I agree with completely. A couple years ago I had a 28 year old coworker call me “mom.” I was like, “your mom better have been in middle school when you were born if you think she’s my age.”

    I also get VERY frustrated with Millennials not seeming to want to own being and adult. I hate seeing “I can’t adult today” memes.

    Lastly, I’m going to a conference next month where one of the after hours activities is a “Gen Y Pub Crawl.” WTF? I wonder how many of their Gen X bosses said, “ah, nope. you’re not going to that.”

    And I have officially become a cranky old lady. But I can own that.

  2. The perception of the work and work culture has changed it seems. Whereas Baby Boomers were defined by their hard work, work ethics and creating long last relationships at work, Millennials on the other hand are more driven by “fun” work environment with a cut-throat culture and willingness to jump ship as often as it takes to get ahead. Millennials demand perks whereas baby boomers were just happy to get a nice table at work. Don’t get me wrong, it is not all Millennials’ fault. Companies have started seeing workers as cost rather than an asset and they are quick to downsize or “rightsize”. Loyalty runs both ways!

  3. As a #GenXer in the workplace, I can’t stop laughing and agreeing and don’t know which quote I love most, but I think it’s this: “There’s a small cohort of leaders over the age of 40 and under 55 who are trying to create a fun and innovative environment but are also keenly aware that work is, ultimately, work. Your family is your family. No matter how much you want to blend the two, work-life is distinctly different from real-life.”

  4. I ran into the unique situation where the average company age was 30-45. At this point, “generation” didn’t matter. How you were raised seemed to surface more than age.

    Beware those born on the cusps!

  5. I’m one of those Gen-X HR VPs and totally agree. I think part of the issue for us is that we generally didn’t get the parental treatment from our Boomer bosses along the way. Instead, we had to suck it up when they were resistant to change and fight for our own ways to make progress in the workplace. It’s not difficult for us to care about our Millennial associates, but it is difficult to deal with the expectation that we solve everything for them. We’re not into hand-holding and we’re definitely not into offering unwarranted praise for the sake of their Millennial feelings.

    So Millennials, we get you. We get your progressive thinking and your tech communications (although we struggle to keep up at times). We get your want for social, environmental, and economic justice. We get your want to feel part of something bigger than yourself at work. We want to help make all your dreams come true. Like, for reals, yo. We just want you to get in before 9 and occasionally answer an email on a Saturday.

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