The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jun 012012

OK, prepare for a totally derivative post.  To understand it, you need to go to and take this quiz.

It all revolves around the following question: Do you know the difference between managing Millennials and raising puppies? Are you sure?  Most of the people I know who have taken this test get at least a couple of the questions wrong.

I had to laugh when I took the quiz myself.  When I talk to audiences about Millennials in the workplace–these are often audiences full of Xers and Boomers–I admit to them straight up: This is a high-maintenance generation.  They like to think of themselves as VIPs, no question.  They demand lots of structure, feedback, moral support, mentoring, and some sort of deep connection with the organization they work for.  You need to offer all of the above if you want the best of them to stick around.

It’s work–a great deal more work than the “low-swet” Xers who came along before them.  In many ways I really miss young Xers.  Their day-one attitude toward their employers was simple: You don’t ask much of us and we won’t ask much of you: Let’s just all get what needs to get done quickly and efficiently, so we can all go home.  I don’t think young Xers were ever puppies.  They seemed pretty “broken in” before they ever showed up at their first career job.


Yet here’s what’s really interesting: The puppiness we see in these first-wave employed Millennials is going to become a lot more exaggerated by the time we meet the Xers’ own late-wave Millennial children when they show up en masse in the workplace starting around five years from now.  Why?  Because these Xers are raising their own kids with behavioral handbooks that actually do resemble puppy-care guides.  Many Xer parents look at Cesar Milan’s “Dog Whisperers” for tips on how to be the alpha-dog in their family.  I first started writing about the new behavioralism in Xer parenting on this site a couple of years ago.  Here is an excerpt from that post:

…A lot of Boomers really wanted to change society with the way they raised their kids. And in trying to do that, they believed all that mattered was the intensity and quality of their relationship with their child and the correctness of the values they taught them.

With Xer guides, everything has changed. Xer guides are much more prescriptive, full of do’s and don’t’s, and much less attitudinal. Many of the Boomer guides looked a bit like the Whole Earth Catalogue: It showed how raising children was part of a whole world view. To Xers, hey, child rearing is just like any other technique or business–there must be a good way and a bad way to get the job done. I want to do it the good way.

Xer guides are much more scientific in the sense that the authors need to show that there’s empirical evidence favoring one way over another. Skeptical Xers don’t take advice on pure faith. Amazingly, Boomer guides rarely talked about evidence: We just “knew” e.g. that Lamaze just *must* be a vastly superior way to give birth. Just look at those Hopi designs on the book cover! (btw, I’m a big supporter of Lamaze; I just acknowledge that it was never sold to us as an evidence-based practice.)

As I’ve mentioned, Xer guides are putting a lot more stress on behavioral techniques. Dog whispering is, admittedly, an extreme example. But apt. As in so many other things, Gen-Xers know how to take their own ego out of the equation, which is what behavioral parenting requires. The whole behavioral point of view is very Xer in that it looks at the human condition as a matter of external conditioning and adaptation–a useful antidote to the endless Boomer fixation on interior motives and values.

Here is a story I hear all the time from Boomer and Silent Generation grandparents who have Xer children.  When the Xers drop off their grandkids with their grandparents–en route, perhaps, to a rare vacation alone–they typically include a list of “do’s and dont’s” and a strict schedule regarding their kids.  The grandparents express surprise, “A list?  Why do we need a list?  After all, we raised you.”  To which the Xers rejoin, “Yeah, mom/dad, that’s why we’re including the list.”



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  • JPT

    I see this with my older brother and his kids. The way I would describe it is that he and his wife take the responsibility of parenting very seriously. They don’t want to screw up. The fear of being a bad parent and screwing up their kids’ lives is what drives them, and it’s based on the parenting they saw around them growing up. Their parents were not bad, but they saw plenty who were and the damage it caused to their peers. 

    When their kids go to grandma and grandpa’s house (my parents, both Boomers), they love it because they’re indulged. “What do you want to do now?” is the question, and whatever they answer, that’s what they do. Granted, grandparents spoiling grandchildren is not exactly new, but there is a definite contrast in the mindset. As I understand it they are given instructions, although it’s mostly about food, naps, and things like that.

  • ChicagoH

    Amen to why we Xers include the list!

    Would be interested in how you perceive the current debate over “attachment parenting” that’s been so widely discussed of late.

  • Taramarie

    Omg that sounds like me. I often get funny looks from my teachers and especially when i did some work experience and odd jobs when i asked a lot of questions. The boss didn’t like me knocking and walking into her office when i wanted to ask a question. But how am i supposed to know what she wants done if i cant ask? Work force is VERY strange. I am not a mind reader. She thought it was rude and chatisised me. Naturally that confued me. I did not indend on being rude, i just needed to be advised on something. At school its different. We are put into groups and then finalise our decision with an elder (teacher) and then go do it together. In work force its singular and isolating. Not very appealing  and then older folk wonder why we ask a lot of questions?? We want a team, we are used to other people’s opinion! I really dont like the work force attitude out there atm. Found it hard to get a job so i back in school and quite happy there but i think if we want the work force to change we will have to face it some time. I dont think we will put up with the current work force attitude.
    1984 baby.