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Balancing act: Younger worker responds to older generation's disdain

The next time you're tempted to brand today's younger workers as slackers who want all of the rewards of a long career without making any of the effort, you may want to think twice.

Some readers of this column are sick and tired of that characterization.

A few weeks ago, I shared readers' comments on the issue of twenty-something employees and their work ethic. While not claiming that every member of the younger generation shares these characteristics, many readers felt the work ethic common in my parents' generation is hard to find today.

Then I received an email from a reader named Dustin.

Dustin, who is in his mid-20s, wrote that he used to look down on his own generation "with total disdain. … I would spout one diatribe after another about how my peers lacked any drive whatsoever and that I strive every day to never become one of them."

That made his friends understandably angry, Dustin wrote, so he decided to bolster his arguments with research. And what he found surprised him.

Dustin wrote that he makes between $50,000 and $60,000 a year as a professional in a global firm. Meanwhile, many of his friends who also attended and finished college are still working in service positions, particularly in the restaurant industry. But he was shocked to learn that many of them make between $40,000 and $50,000 per year.

"My curiosity stoked, I found that most of them lacked the drive that I have simply because they can achieve about the same level of success that I have in an industry that requires little commitment and plenty of play time, whereas I work about 70 hours a week with horrible hours and a large commitment to my responsibilities," Dustin wrote.

This led him to research the average salary and cost of living 50 years ago as compared to now, which was another eye-opener.

"In 1960, the average new home would cost the equivalent of 2.39 times the average salary," he wrote. "Today the average home is 11.59 times the amount of the average salary. In 1960, you could buy a new car for less than half the average salary. … These days the average vehicle costs more than a year's salary and will get you an equally average vehicle. Though this seems out of the blue, this tells a lot about how far backward the American economy has traveled."

Dustin also wrote that the baby boomer generation seems to be most critical of today's younger workers, "calling self-esteem, sportsmanship and fair play negative traits, whereas they embody equality at it's finest. ...

"How can anyone possibly expect the youngest generations to be even the slightest bit interested in working hard when that will most certainly yield for them pitiful results? Every day I am disheartened by the knowledge that the baby boomers still dominate middle and top management positions, making my chances of getting a promotion or even keeping my job even that much more slim. I used to think that I was seeing the effects of outsourcing, but now I struggle to accept that my real competition is mostly a generation of people who simply can't accept that they failed, and refuse to get out of the way so that all subsequent generations can succeed or fail on their own."

Strong language, isn't it? But I found Dustin's perspective interesting.

It made me wonder whether I'm just a "grumpy old man," yelling at young whippersnappers, with their demands for ample personal and family time and enough money to live comfortably, to get off my virtual lawn.

I hope that's not the case. I've had plenty of experience with younger workers who are dedicated, driven and highly skilled, as well as with their less-motivated peers. I'd like to think I look at each person as an individual and don't paint all of the younger generation with the same "slacker" brush.

But maybe I do. And maybe I should be looking more at the problems caused by my own generation and less at the inadequacies I perceive in others.

What do you think? Is Dustin correct? Or is his point of view not justified?

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