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Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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The Generations' Differing Attitudes Toward Money

Do the generations in the workplace have different attitudes toward money? And does their relationship to money color their perceived work ethic and alleged sense of entitlement? Where do these differing attitudes come from?

With the caveat that these are generalizations and individual differences abound:

The Traditionalist generation (born pre-1943 or so) is known for a mentality influenced by either direct experience living through the depression or hearing about it from their parents. They don't take money for granted, and professionals of that generation didn't expect to become rich through their profession.

The Baby Boomers were born after the depression and didn't experience World War II in a firsthand way. But many of them heard about family experiences. Often the result was either conservatism about money and saving or the strong ambition to have a more luxurious lifestyle than their parents. The latter highly value tangible symbols of recognition for their contributions, and money is a major one.

The older Generation X members entered the workplace in a down economy. Many had trouble getting the jobs they thought they deserved, and for that and other reasons have felt that they needed to look out for themselves, as no one can be relied on to help them. Many don't feel obligated to take care of others, including their senior colleagues who built the foundation for what they have.

For the youngest Gen Xers and GenY/Millennials, it's been much the opposite. The tech and dot-com boom was one influence. They expect to be paid well without having to fight for it (so far borne out – but what happens if we are in a recession?), and they expect people to help them as many of their parents, teachers, and coaches have and continue to do. They didn't originally demand the inflated salaries that were showered on them. Seeing the world as insecure, they want instant gratification, so they wouldn't turn them down..

These different formative influences around money have an impact on the culture of organizations, especially partnerships, and will produce increasing tensions among the generations in firms, I predict.



We hear a lot about the “entitlement” attitude of the younger generations. It is said that they expect to be paid a lot without putting in the hours that support those high salaries and without acquiring first the experience that makes them worthy of the responsibilities and status they want quickly. Granted this is not a myth, though this attitude doesn't exist across all economic strata or among the immigrant population from developing countries.

On the other hand, the Baby Boomers and older Generation X partners and executives voicing the complaints exhibit their own type of entitlement. Many of them seem to feel entitled to make as much or more money as their best year even when the economy is poor and the firm does less well.

Consumer Behavior

Young Gen Xers and especially GenY/Millennials behave as “consumers” and will try to negotiate much of what they are asked to do. This relates at least to some degree to the “helicopter parent” demands on schools for higher grades for their children since they and the students themselves pay a high price for the education. That has been following through to demands on employers as well in some instances.

Alternative Currency

Money is not the only currency. Generations X and Y regard time (particularly personal time) as a form of valuable currency and are reluctant to give it away. In survey after survey over the last decade, a large percentage of younger workers say they would gladly trade some of their financial compensation for fewer hours of work. Interestingly, in actuality a much smaller number take advantage of policies that allow this trade-off. While there are a number of reasons that explain this, one major one is the stigma that flex-time arrangements still have, especially for men.


Some of the challenges facing organizations around different generational attitudes toward money are:

  • Whether Baby Boomers should be compensated for the time and effort of transitioning their clients to the next generation, including professional development and bridging the relationship. Gen Xers may oppose supporting older partners and executives during this transition time. However, without doing so, they may lose some of the clients.

  • Long-term investment in professional development and talent management which most benefits the younger generations who are not owners. Baby Boomers and the older Gen Xers may feel they did it on their own and didn't need so much training and coaching.

  • The free-agency atmosphere now present in many organizations fosters “what's in it for me” attitudes in each generation. Even Baby Boomers who started with a greater sense of loyalty until the rules were changed on them (often self-inflicted), move easily now for more money.

  • The Boomers and Gen Y talk about the desire for stability and security, but no one trusts that it will be there for them anymore.

Since it seems that our society has gotten more materialistic over the years with no change in sight despite Gen Y's well expressed social conscience, is there no prospect for the future but more of the same? Unless some of these money divides are resolved or at least ameliorated through a cross-generational consensus on organizational values and vision, we are in for tense times over money, productivity and retention.

What do you think? Please share your observations and thoughts.



© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2008. All rights reserved

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For coaching, training and special programs on inter-generational relations and maximizing the potential of young professionals, call Phyllis for an exploratory talk or complimentary coaching session at 212-593-1549. See and We also provide *Next Generation, Next Destination* transitioning planning programs and services for baby boomer senior professionals and their firms.