Jon Anne Willow

No need for media-fueled, inter-generational Cola Wars

By - Nov 16th, 2009 09:53 am
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Lately I’ve been interviewed several times about the kind of workplace we’re running over here at ThirdCoast Digest. One of thosestories, by the Associated Press, was picked up in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. The reporter, Martha Irvine, asserts that Gen-Xers (who belong to a generation half the size of those directly in front of and behind it) are feeling trapped between the Baby Boomers (who are not retiring as scheduled) and Gen Y (just entering the workplace with perceived lower wage expectations and an assumed greater understanding of technology). As a Gen-Xer myself, I can relate. Up to a point.

Photo of me by the Associated Pres

Photo of me by the Associated Press

Up to a point. With some reports estimating that over 40% of American households have been affected by a layoff, decreased hours or total unemployment, it’s no wonder people are feeling tense, and it’s even less surprising that competition for the precious jobs that are out there could divide along generational lines. I guess it is possible that a storm could indeed be brewing, something analogous to a media-fueled Cola Wars (if RC had also been a contender). It makes for all kinds of interesting punditry, but at the ground level I don’t believe it holds much water.

In today’s AP story, I was quoted as saying “When the dust settles, they’ll [Gen Yers] be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food.” The last part, about fast food, was taken entirely out of context, as I was referring to any worker who doesn’t step up to the plate and realize that these are highly competitive times.

The staff of ThirdCoast Digest spans all three generations, and it’s a terrific mix. We fly in a loose pattern formation where the most experienced of us mentor the less so, though experience doesn’t always fall along age lines. Some of our less technophilic members have been acclimated to social media by the more tech-savvy; our less experienced writers are being mentored by those with more bylines under their belts. It’s a healthy ecosystem, unpolluted by the jealous tension espoused by Ms. Irvine’s article.

I’m sure our workplace isn’t unique. Nor is it just like all the others. Healthy workplace cultures are healthy, and unhealthy workplace cultures are… not. And in an environment where most of us with jobs in our field are over-extended and under-supplied, the best course we can all take is to look objectively at our internal collective resources and use them to our best advantage, period.

If the unemployment crisis begins to mend within two years or so, I predict work life will revert more or less back to regularly scheduled programming, and the generational cage match that some see in the offing will never materialize. If it takes a lot longer, things could get ugly. But it will be the ugly that manifests when it’s a matter of survival, not mere inter-generational disdain, which always has existed, and always will.

Personally, I would love the Baby Boomers to retire. I’m sure they would love to make me happy. Gen Yers need access to meaningful professional development so they can be ready to take the reins when their time comes. And Gen X is ready now. But the natural order has been upset by forces larger than our desires, and there’s no changing that fact. So while we wait, our best chance for a full recovery is to all pull the oar in the same direction. This is no time to panic, and that means sticking together.

Categories: Business, News, Up All Night

0 thoughts on “No need for media-fueled, inter-generational Cola Wars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Im glad i went to this site and looked into what you were saying instead of going off of what msn had to say.
    Kinda sounds like your backpedaling from what you said tho….But deffinetly a much more positive article and leaves me with a brighter outlook for my future.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for understanding, Alan. I’m not back-pedaling, I do truly believe that when the dust settles, anyone who doesn’t get what it will take to work in a professional environment in the 21st century – regardless of age – will not succeed. Education is no longer enough. It’s going to be all about keeping your skills sharp and your eye on the ball.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I read the original AP article in the Monday edition of the Appleton Post Crescent about you hiring older people. THANK YOU! I’m one of those older people (older than those in the photo) who are being overlooked. I felt refreshed that someone somewhere is giving our generation some much-needed employment attention. Thank you again!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just read this:

    Jon Anne Willow, co-publisher of, an online arts and culture site in Milwaukee, is among employers who’ve recently been able to hire more experienced candidates for jobs traditionally filled by 20somethings.

    They’re hungry to work, she says. And as she sees it, that gives her fellow Gen Xers and the baby boomers she’s hired a distinct advantage over a lot of the Gen Yers she’s come across.

    “When the dust settles, they’ll be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food,” she quips.


    A word of caution:

    Should you and any other self-proclaimed “it-getters” find yourself with a craving for fast food, you’d better hope the person who makes your burger doesn’t read statements like that, especially if you “sifted” them into obscurity.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “McJobs.” Douglas Coupland popularized that term in his 1991 book, Generation X. Everybody remember? In 1992, Dan Quayle pointed to a “now hiring” sign in the window of a Burger King as proof that the economy was strong.

    Even if your fast-food comment HAD been directed at Gen Yers, it’s no reason for anyone to get in a tizzy. Gen X’s been there, done that.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’ve got to agree with Jon Anne Willow. She’s spot on about the generational issues, and, the fact that in these times, the best thing to do is to work together – up to a point, that is, and come to realize that it is the time for Generation X as the new incoming establishment.

    Frankly, while I am hoping for Ms. Willow’s perspective to win out, I think it has nearly already become “ugly.” As a Gen Xer myself (’63)the economy is tough shape, and the recovery, when it does come, will mean tens of millions of boomers who have to retire (like it or not) while Generation X (including Ms. Willow) will have to hit the ground running – not only preparing for the future, but, also having to clean the total mess (and it is a mess) that the previous Boomer generation left behind.

    Called the Nomad Generation of latch-key kids who watched the Bionic Man and Woman do battle – Gen X is going to need all kinds of bionic strength, patience, creativity, vision, and toughness to undo the wasting of resources, and the professional, educational, financial, social, and infrastructure mess of the last 17-18 years.

    Generation X is about to enter into power. It’s already has begun, and the Baby Boomers are now the new senior citizens.

    All this is looking to start earnestly in 2010-2011 – so, we are about to discover what that “X” – (symbolizing the unknown in mathematics) in “Generation X” – is all about over the next two decades ahead.

    Jon Anne Willow had it right: education is no longer enough, we’ve got to keep our eyes on the ball. For Generation X – the ball has just started to get rolling.

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