Conan vs. Jay: Gen X vs. Boomers in the Workplace


Is it just me, or does the battle between former Tonight Show host Jay Leno and his successor Conan O’Brien resemble a generational war that is being played out in workplaces all over America?

Think about it: A veteran executive (Leno) has been in his position for several years, performing fairly well. But there is a younger guy (O’Brien) who is also qualified for that position or something similar.

(At age 47 and more than 15 years of late-night TV experience, few people would consider O’Brien “young.” However his brand of comedy and style of hosting are decidedly from a different, younger, edgier generation than that of Leno’s.)

Does the older exec graciously step aside and welcome in the “next generation?” Does the younger exec attempt to push the veteran out of the way? The young exec could leave the organization for a higher position with a new company. Or the organization where both execs work could decide to promote the young exec and move the veteran into a new position.

NBC’s decision to create a new opportunity for Leno was a smart move. If O’Brien didn’t get promoted as The Tonight Show host, NBC would have lost a talented performer to another network. On the other hand, if NBC pushed Leno out without offering him a new opportunity with the network, NBC would have lost all that Leno brings to the table.

The problem is that Leno’s new show didn’t work out. So what happens to the veteran? Whatever move Leno decides to make (or NBC decides for him) affects O’Brien and The Tonight Show, which is rightfully O’Brien’s now.

If this situation were happening in the corporate world (which it is), what would happen to the veteran exec who wanted his old job back? What would happen to the young exec? I’d be curious to find out how human resources experts would advise involved parties.

As a fan of both O’Brien and Leno, and a member of Generation X, I have to say, I’m with Coco.

Not only did Leno have just as much of a chance to prove himself in his new position as O’Brien did (give or take a few months), but I have to ask: When do we get out shot? If the Baby Boomer are insisting on hanging on to their positions, then what happens to all the qualified Gen X employees ready to move up?

I’m not talking about the Boomers who have to keep working for financial reasons. I’m talking about the members of the 55+ crowd with relative financial freedom who could retire, move into a new position, or create a new opportunity (consulting, entrepreneurship), but don’t. Slackers.

This lack of turnover is creating a bottle neck for many 35-50 year olds who’d like their shot in upper management. This situation is leading many Gen Xers to create their own opportunities with start-ups in all types of industries.

I wonder, however, what the American workplace will look like in a few years as more Millennials move into the workforce with the Gen Xers and Boomers.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Conan vs. Jay: Gen X vs. Boomers in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: Baby Boomer Leno Seems Lost in New Workplace Economy « Denise in Minneapolis

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