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Generation Y
Generation X
Generation Z

The Times, They Are A Changin: How Volunteerism Is Changing From Baby Boomers To Gen X And Y

Paul McCartney must have been thinking about dealing with Generation X and Y when he sang ‘Yesterday, all my problems seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.’

Paul McCartney must have been thinking about dealing with Generation X and Y when he sang ‘Yesterday, all my problems seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.’

Yesterday, Baby Boomers ran membership associations and recruited Baby Boomers as members.  The culture of the association, the processes of the association, everything about the association, appealed to Baby Boomers. Everyone was on the same page. Problems were so far away.

Today, we’ve got Baby Boomers recruiting Gen X and Gen Y. Danger Will Robinson!  Danger! Boomers are inviting Gen X and Gen Y to join association cultures oriented around how Baby Boomers want to receive association features and benefits and value, which is not always how Gen X and Gen Y want to receive association features and benefits value.

Interestingly, the end goals are pretty much still the same. Baby Boomers and Gen X and Gen Y want leadership opportunities. All want to network. All want to volunteer and join. But how X and Y want to lead, network and volunteer and join is different than how the Baby Boomers did it and is different than many association cultures offer it.


The United States Junior Chamber (the Jaycees) is for young people ages 18-40. We are at the forefront of this generational shift. We’ve got Baby Boomer leaders (I am one) overseeing a Baby Boomer culture recruiting absolutely no Baby Boomers. The Boomers have all aged out; they cannot join us. So what are we seeing from our Gen X and Gen Y members? Here are two perspectives from two of my tail-end Boomer members:

I have been a Jaycee since 2002. So, 11 years. I notice a significant difference among not only members but the generations. Today’s members want a strong value of being perceived as a professional and a leader but have little desire to be active personally, put in time mentoring others or get dirty for a cause of greater good. If they don’t feel immediate reward they can use for self-promotion, they are not active. On the contrary, 10 years ago I’d see more of the membership willing to serve the community by being involved and personally dedicate commitment and time to help others, be active in projects even if just to support a project team. This is a big reason its harder to recruit. Generations X and Y don’t have a need to belong to a group as they feel as an individual they can get faster personal reward. That lack of “commitment” is killing chapters. How do you plan for an event that only the X and Y who have immediate personal involvement may show up to?

Another thought from a Boomer:

Gen X and Y want to be involved, but they don’t want to do the work. They feel entitled to leadership roles, but they don’t want to do the work (or they don’t even want the leadership role, because they don’t want to do the work, theme intended); a lot of our younger Jaycees that are active grew up in the organization, and their parents are still doing the work for them; they do not want to go to meetings; they want to belong, but they don’t want to commit; they are competitive but they want to find the quick and easy way (back to, no work). They need immediate rewards; they are computer and technologically savvy, but their attention span is very short; they are living at home working minimum wage, part time jobs and are okay with it. They haven’t grown up, and no one is making them

These are two perspectives, both quite strongly worded. I am sure many will agree and disagree. The question for the Jaycees and all membership associations must answer is what are we going to do about this? Generation X and Y do not always embrace a Boomer culture. Cultures die hard.  Cultures die slowly. But our old culture must give the stage to the culture of the X and Y if the membership association is to survive. Fortunately, Gen X and Y will tell us when we’ve succeeded; they’ll renew their membership.  Then we’ll join Paul’s partner John Lennon when he sings ‘Imagine all the people, joining associations in peace.’  OK, that is not quite what he sang, but I am sure it is what he meant.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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