Business Coach Anne Loehr Tries to Bridge Diverse Generations: X, Y, Baby Boomer

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 9, 2009

High atop the august Tower Club in Fairfax County, overlooking the glass-and-steel edge city of Tysons Corner, business coach Anne Loehr is teaching 20 executives, mainly baby boomers, how to crack one of society's most vexing workplace problems -- how to deal with their youngest employees or clients.

Loehr, 44 (Generation X/self-identified boomer), asks the class: "What is it like to speak to Gen Y?"

In her seminar, "Get Wise With Gen Ys: How to Effectively Sell to Each Generation in Today's Workplace," Loehr zeroes in on people born in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a demographic cohort so mystifying to its elders that she hands out cheat-sheet wallet cards enumerating traits that supposedly define this exotic generation.

This is, she explains, the first time in American history when four generations -- people born from the 1930s all the way to the 1980s -- are jammed together in the workplace, jostling for hegemony. What we've got here, as a movie character beloved by one of those older generations put it, is a failure to communicate.

Her class -- executives from financial services, government contracting and tourism companies who have paid $25 apiece to get some help -- looks stumped. As plates of scrambled eggs with bacon strips are passed around, the guru elaborates: "Reality TV . . . Gen X had MTV, Gen Y has reality TV. People say to me, 'Why do they talk like that?' Because they grew up on reality TV. Okay? It's not good, it's not bad. That's what they grew up on. They think it's okay to talk like that."

Talk like what, exactly? Loehr doesn't say, but ridiculous-sounding reality TV dialogue is a trait both of today's youth and its elders: "I was, just like, 'Whatever.' ("NYC Prep" on Bravo.) Or: "Before I like you, I don't like you." ("The Real Housewives of New Jersey," also on Bravo.)

Some of Loehr's students feel the need to make a critique.

Jacqui Higgins, 49 (boomer), an interior designer: "They see fame and fortune coming so easy. They have lost a bit of perspective on the hard work it takes to get there."

Bob Urso, 53 (boomer), president and chief executive of a government contracting firm: "Well, they grew up where they had a soccer match and everyone won a trophy, whether they lost or won."

Sensing the room of elders getting feisty, Loehr quickly adds a caveat that seems like a politically correct disclaimer: "It's not good or bad. It's just what they grew up with."

Later, Gretchen Eisenhower, 24, a Tower Club member relations coordinator who participated in the seminar, says she appreciated Loehr's take but couldn't help feeling a tad uncomfortable with how her generation was reduced to a catalogue of stereotypes. "It's a little awkward," Eisenhower says. "I feel like Gen Y is perceived negatively. It makes you defensive."

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