“Generation No” – Insighting an Intergenerational War

I just received today’s installment of “The Daily Pipeline” from the Partnership for Public Service and was angered when I read the opinion piece by Thomas Schweich entitled “Generation No.” Here’s how he starts his thoughts:

“You know you have arrived when you get interviewed by the 29-year-old instead of the 22-year-old,” the 57-year-old foreign service officer said to me with a laugh. It was late 2005, and this three-time ambassador had just been interviewed for a top post at the Department of State.

Her interviewer was part of a large corps of 20-somethings — some were in their early 30s — who ran the Office of Presidential Personnel. Many of them were sons or daughters of supporters of President George W. Bush. Others had connections through congressmen. With few exceptions, they had one thing in common: very little experience and a very big attitude.

Schweich’s remarks are short and scathing, replete with condescension toward 20-somethings, who he refers to as “the kids.” He makes a strong case against younger, inexperienced appointments and recommends that our new president “fill the personnel office…with a combination of veteran government employees and human resources experts.”

I don’t disagree with the need for competent personnel of any age – of course we want people in government to be the best and brightest! But Schwiech almost suggests that candidates need to be over 45 to have the requisite experience for available positions. Read it for yourself…and see if you agree with me that these kinds of thoughts and ideas, if they are pervasive among those currently running offices and agencies, may be a warning sign that intergenerational war is about to break out in offices across Washington.

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Michael O. Johnston

I believe what Kate is saying is that people over 40 are a protected class in terms of Equal Employment Opportunity. Whereas, those under the age of 40 are not protected by Equal Employment Opportunity.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Okay, so I just looked up “protected class” over at the EEO website and learned the following:

“Protected Class: The groups protected from the employment discrimination by law. These groups include men and women on the basis of sex; any group which shares a common race, religion, color, or national origin; people over 40; and people with physical or mental handicaps. Every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class, and is entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, the EEO laws were passed to correct a history of unfavorable treatment of women and minority group members.”

As I understand this term, the groups listed have special protections under law based on a higher likelihood of experiencing discrimination in the workplace. So I guess a related question might be: are those under 40 now at greater risk of being subject to discrimination (a la “the Schwiech mentality”) and should be considered a “protected class?”


Instead of class warfare I think people need to see the value of a multi-generational workforce. Isn’t that why we stress diversity of all variety.

Young people can be an asset as they grew up differently, are digital natives, and see things through a new lens which may suggest new ways of doing things.

More seasoned employees often have a stronger sense of organizational history, process, and reasons why things should or shouldn’t be done in a certain way.

I think the type of experience is key. As my retired father counseled me recently “many people have 20 years of experience of doing the same thing 50-100 times. as long as you do it once, you can pick up 95% of the wisdom of the experience.”

Pam Broviak

Dealing with people who are inexperienced and arrogant is frustrating no matter what. I think what happens is that when people are upset, they have the tendency to focus on some attribute of the person – like that specific characteristic must be causing the person to be deficient. If they are much younger than the person, age becomes an easy target. If that person had been the same age, they would have found something else. It could be hair color, nationality, etc. Obviously this is wrong and unreasonable, but I do notice it seems to happen quite frequently and fails to address the actual problem which is that the person probably needs more training and an attitude adjustment.

My personal experience has been that people who are good employees are good no matter what age they are. Over the last 15 years or so, I have had many high school and college students help me over the summer in my engineering office. All were intelligent and offered significant contributions to the operation of my office and to the city. Over my career, I have worked with others who were much older and “experienced” who had no clue what they were doing and made little to no contribution at work. So to me, age, like so many characteristics really has no bearing on someone’s competence.

Mark Danielson

Pam rocks.

“My personal experience has been that people who are good employees are good no matter what age they are.”

Thank you. I have nothing to add to that. Peace.