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Me, Myself, and Gen Y


I write a weekly column for our local newsletter, and one story I wrote talked about how tough it is to find business attire for chunky businesswomen (like size 1X me, not that I’m proud of it). In the story, I wrote “Me and a few of my plus-size gal pals…” and for that offense, heard from three readers of the newspaper who were horrified by my atrocious grammar.

Mind you, the whole story was written in a casual, chatty style: how else would you write a story whose title is Businesswoman, Chub Thee Not? These three readers, self-identified as ladies of a certain age, let me know that my talk-like-I-write approach wasn't winning any points with them. One of them wrote to say "It's bad enough that people say things like "me and my friends;" it's worse when that kind of thing ends up in the newspaper."

Here's my point: these horrified readers are ladies about ten years older than me, or a little more. If people in their late 50's are writing horrified letters to columnists who write the kind of stuff I write--generally middle-of-the-road in tone, with the odd pop culture reference thrown in, befitting a 48-year-old writer with teenaged-through-kindergarten children--imagine how they'd react to the writing style and tone of the Gen Xers, the Gen Y's and the youngsters to follow? Imagine their reaction to absolutely any popular blog, with its liberal use of slang and so much more?

I am used to being viewed as safe and comfortable by readers my age and older, and being granted grudging respect by younger readers for having a finger on the pulse of the post-millennium workplace. If I'm too far out there with my ungrammatical use of "me and my gal pals," what hope is there for bridging the generation gap?

In a story for Business Week Online, I wrote that the new deal at work is that employees need to give their best effort every day, and employers need to give employees a reason to come back to work tomorrow. I heard from several retired people (they said so in their letters) who bemoaned my observation as the death knell for the good old trusty American work ethic. That reaction gave me a shudder. I'm a moderate in these discussions. I may even be conservative. If business leaders believe that some other hidden force should drive people to keep coming back to lousy jobs apart from their own self-interest, our businesses may be in trouble as Gen Y hits the stage. That argument ("Suck it up! Jobs aren't supposed to be satisfying or fun") doesn't play well with the 30-and-under crowd.

I don't support visible belly buttons at work, but I support the youngsters on this one. The unseen force that sent previous generations to jobs they didn't like, day after day, could be called Duty, or Tradition, but it could just as easily be called Lack of Other Obvious Choices. It could be called Fear of Change. If that force is diminishing, I'm glad about it. I don't mind a little ungrammatical conversation and I don't mind putting it in writing now and then. I don't mind explaining why I support these things to older generations, too much. I just hope I don't become that huffy complainer, ten years down the road.


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