Thursday, January 12, 2012

Generation Why?

Once upon a time in my career I had the responsibility to recruit, interview and hire people. The positions for which I was hiring were for direct care. The perspective applicants would be providing supports to individuals with intellectual disabilities, many of whom are among our most vulnerable and dependent citizens. I have interviewed hundreds of people. All kinds of people. And I have had some of the most unusual responses to interview questions. Many people I've hired have proven themselves to be wonderful and fine employees, demonstrating excellent traits and characteristics we like to see in employees.

Unfortunately, I have also witnessed some of the most undesirable work habits and personalities in those I have hired. One bit of truth I have encountered over and over: finding trustworthy, honest, dedicated, caring, hard-working, and responsible employees that possess common sense is much rarer than you would think. And although I hesitate to paint with a broad brush of generalizations, certain patterns emerge which suggests that generational distinctions are more than anecdotal. It's true that good and bad can be found within any demographic strata (even Jesus had Judas in his ranks). Any first year sociology student should be able to easily explain the differences in value systems, world-views, perceptions, and paradigm shifts in priorities between age groups. Research in the attitudes and expectations among our younger workers (often  referred to as Millennials or "Generation Y")  reflect stark contrasts compared to those of Baby Boomers and even among my age group, Gen X.  As I am frequently reminded by others, differences and change are not bad things. But I see alarming trends that sometimes makes me fearful for the world of tomorrow. 

I promise to try not to come across as a middle-aged man who is quickly metamorphosing into an ill-tempered, geriatric curmudgeon  lamenting that "youth is wasted on the young" (quick, pass the Geritol and then I can regale you with fantastic tales of my boyhood travelings by foot to the one-room schoolhouse that required hikes though miles of snow, uphill, both ways).  Goodness, the older I get the more I sound like my father. But I digress....

Generation Y is that group of young people born between 1980 and 2000 (Note: there is huge disagreement as to a specific beginning and end of this generation, with some saying their generation begins as early as 1976, and others argue it ended in the early 1990's). They are also sometimes referred to as Echo Boomers, Net Generation, or even "Thumb Generation" --a reference to the over-use of their thumbs to navigate video games & other electronics. They are known for being dedicated to ideals, but not necessarily for being loyal to a company.  Only 1/3 of Millennials say they their current job is their career, and 60% say that it's very unlikely or not likely at all they will stay working for the same employer. They change jobs more than other generations.

Some interesting facts about Generation Y:  44% believe marriage is becoming obsolete. They delay having permanent employment and put off having families. As a whole, they tend to to view religion as less necessary and attend church less than previous generations. Although they say faith holds a lower priority in their lives compared to their older counterparts, statistically they are surprising similar in their beliefs in an afterlife, a literal hell, heaven, angels, and miracles.  They are closer to their parents, and say they have fewer arguments and disagreements. Only 2% of them sign up for the military, (significanltly lower than in previous generations). They are more liberal on social issues (they are strong believers in multiculturalism and diversity, accepting towards gay marriage & adoption, and abortion in most if not all cases). Millennials are also better educated (although I would challenge what makes up their "education"...maybe another blog topic for another day).

Marketers are often perplexed in trying to figure out what makes them tick, but the incentive to pull down some of the $95 billion these 27 million young folks spend yearly is obvious. A big share of their disposable income is spent on technology-related items. 43% of 18-24 year olds believe that texting is just as meaningful as having a telephone conversation. 40% believe that blogging about workforce issues is acceptable (this can be a dicey topic, and they may have a legitimate and valid point depending on the context and issue...guess in a sense, I am doing the same thing). Which lends itself to a conversation about Millennial's perception of the employer-employee relationship. Millennials often tend to push the envelope, extending the boundaries of workplace etiquette into some uncomfortable territory. They have a different understanding of the workplace, and their expectations are vastly different than their older counterparts, and often their employers. Many employers are concerned that Millennials expect too much from them. Some corporations have even developed special programs geared towards bridging the gap between older and younger workers. We truly are living in a different day and age, and companies who fail to recognize the differences in their new pool of labor will sadly suffer the consequences.

Gen Yers favor a work-life balance over being a corporate drone. Although decent pay is important to them, they willing trade high pay for a flexible schedule. And they will seek out employers who will allow them to prioritize family over work. Millennials have almost always known the 24 news cycle, and are voracious consumers of instant media, images, and sound. It shouldn't be lost on you that things such as "MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and other such social media market their products using personal pronouns either in the actual name or in defining their platform, touting how the user can customize their internet experience and persona. As one writer says, "customization is the holy grail for Gen Y...from the first day they arrive in the workplace they are scrambling to keep their options open, leveraging their uniqueness for all its potential value, and wrap a customize career around the customized life they are trying to build."

Millennials have high expectations. As a product of "No Child Left Behind," they have been well-nurtured and often-times over-pampered by parents wishing for them to do better than they themselves have done. Millennials are assertive, confident, and achievement-oriented. They have yet to learn the ropes of work-place politics and often fail to "know their place." Gen Yers believe in a level playing field for everyone. They have been taught to question authority. They want their employers to give frequent positive praise and guidance, and expect to be kept "in the loop." To their credit, Millennials believe in meaningful work, but often (and mistakenly) think that their employers have a responsibility to help them build their careers. As they grew up, collaborative work was emphasized in the classroom and in sports, and as such, they value teamwork. Many employers are perplexed by their notion that even nominal participation/attendance equals success (thus the other term, "Trophy Kids" because everyone who participates wins and no one loses). Gen Yers believe that the work place is a democracy, and have no reservations about challenging supervisors about perceived wrongs. They will start off on day one rattling off numerous things that the organization needs to "change" immediately. Millennials are also less apt to think twice about quitting a job in which they are unhappy---they change jobs more frequently than any previous generation. Many of them look to Mark Zuckerberg and other young entrepreneurs and see themselves as easily stepping into roles of leadership or even ownership of businesses. The days of yesteryear's laborious climbing the corporate latter now is interpreted as a quick elevator ride to the top.

It's obvious to anyone who pays attention that Gen Yers are much more techno-savvy than their co-workers. They prefer to use technology to make their lives easier, wherever they are. They believe that texting, social media, and Email (to a much lesser extent nowadays) is much preferred over face to face conversations. Gen Y can multi-task, often listening to their MP3 player, texting, reading, sipping their "venti white mocha lattes" and updating their Facebook status on their smart phone almost simultaneously. Having access to the Internet is more important than television, although they have spent much of their lives immersed in pop-culture and reality TV. Millenials even say that having access to social media and the Internet is a priority in their employment considerations. They look forward to the newest and better piece of technology coming down the pike, and are inpatient for others to catch up. They have a disdain for convential trainings and lectures, and prefer webinars and 'interactive' ways of learning. Employers who expect Gen Yers to read large amounts of text (manuals, policy and procedures, etc.) are going to be disappointed. Gen Yers do better with complex information broken down into easily digested segments, with lots of visuals.

My personal observations may be seen as unfair over-generalizations, but it is my experience that most GenY employees tend to be self-absorbed. They have rarely been told "no" and have difficulties seeing beyond their own immediate needs. Millennials have difficulties in delayed gratification and are an inpatient group who expect immediate results and their immediate needs to be satiated. Many have grown up with the notion that they are indeed the center of the universe. They are highly egocentric, self-indulgent, celebrity obsessed, and undisciplined. Their parents have carefully nurtured their "self-esteem" and helped them to cultivate a overly robust self-image and sense of self-importance. I have personally witnessed some of the most narcissistic, selfish and obnoxious behaviors in Gen Yers. In some conversations I have had with them I couldn't help but question their moral compass; it was as if they were actually comfortable (if not proud) of their own personal expediency trumping ethics and morals.

On the other hand, I have also come to know some of the most amazing, brightest, honest, hard-working, compassionate, caring, considerate, well-adjusted and kindest people from this same generation. I am compelled to believe that their family dynamics/upbringing, parental instruction on personal responsibility, the level of immersion in pop culture (less is really much better!), and connectedness to the church have the most to do with this. And I'm sure I would have many a debate with sociologists and others who would beg to differ.     


  1. yes..and I see it! and I think your last paragraph summarizes the way it is!

  2. Hmmm... Well depending on which time frame you use, I am either a late X or early Y, so my perspective on these assessments are a bit different. I would argue that the workplace (and service field I worked in) is filled with much of what you describe, however, age is not the determining factor in my opinion... but more a general work ethic and internal compass... which is a very broad spectrum regardless of age.

    I could speak to a lot of what you have shared here, as I believe a lot of these issues/theories have another side to them, however instead, I will speak to one that I believe is a great example of how a character trait that is being assigned to a generation is actually a cultural shift that the generation is adapting to:

    To speak to the employer loyalty/career point specifically, while I believe that to be true, it is due to a shift in our culture, not necessarily the generation alone. As a young X/Y professional early in my career I was taught a tough lesson(layoff)that so many in years since have learned.... the company stability of previous generations is non-existent today. There is no promise or even illusion of promise any longer that the company or even the career you start with today will be there in 10 years. Early in my career I watched time after time co-workers some young, some veterans at the companies being laid off left and right... experiencing it once myself and barely escaping it on several occasions. No matter how much the companies loved the loyal employees, the bottom line... not the employee best interest became the best interest of the company. In the fast paced, technology hungry, down-sizing workplace we face, change/flexibility is what is rewarded, not loyalty.

    I think from the beginning of time one generation has struggled to understand the next and vice versa. And, I would say an essay on a previous generation from a Gen Yer would probably be as unflattering and frustrated unfortunately. Although I truly believe we all have a lot more in common than our differences would presume. I think that is why I personally love social media so much. It is the great equalizer, where we can all share thoughts, experiences and beliefs that allow a lot of the generalizations our society makes about age, race, fill-in-the-blank, fall aside a bit and we judge individuals based on their works and content rather than a label that has been issued to them.

    While I didn't agree completely with the general views here, I really do appreciate the discussion this piece generated.

  3. Thank-you for your comments, Chris! I know this kind of topic is dicey. I had difficulty tackling this issue without it branching out into so many other issues. You're absolutely right, many of the problems in the workplace are more about the changed world we live rather than just a generational issue. I know my father's generation was one in which they could expect to work their entire career for the same company. Now many of these same companies have closed down in the quest for cheaper labor, leaving entire communities devastated by the shift to a global economy (in Marion almost all of the manufacturing/factories are now gone).

    I appreciate your thoughts, and glad my post lead to some good discussions! Thanks!

  4. Meant to say "manufacturing/factory jobs..."

  5. i must've missed this in the computer farm craziness last week. Long post - i'm going to print this & read to make a good comment.
    Off the cuff comment - i know i underappreciated MY youth!

  6. was longer than usual. I fell back into old habits of being long-winded!

  7. i think Cris has hit it about the cultural shift as much as generational thing. My dad, a Greatest Generation guy, was loyal to his company for the 40+ years he worked for them, but their attitude toward him was different over the years. While he was away from his job, fighting WWII, he was written about regularly in the company newspaper. When he returned from the war, they gave him an inscribed book about the war, as well as his job back. At the end of his career, he was regarded as a bother; why is this old guy still here?
    Myself, i tend to think as much like a GenY as the Boomer i am. The transition fairs i've been to have taught me that today's grads should expect 7-10 different careers - not jobs, but CAREERS - in their lifetimes. It is a fact of modern life.
    The church attendance thing, that reminds me of the button i used to wear: "Religion is a drag. Knowing Jesus personally is something else." i stopped wearing it because i found it unnecessarily divisive. i stand by the sentiment, though, and i think that may be where at least some of these people are coming from. Worshipping with the body of believers is something else yet again, and you find it and a whole host of other things best in church, despite all the other baggage there.
    Finally, whether electronically or in person, it's important we connect despite our differences. A loner position is more natural for me, but it's important that loners too connect. Asking questions and really listening, giving thoughtful summaries of where we stand instead of chanting slogans, all that builds bridges.
    Thanks for taking on the dicey topic!

  8. Valerie> Thanks for your comments! This is definitely an interesting topic. I think our culture and society have shifted so dramatically over the last decade or so that we find ourselves in a much different world. Businesses are much more about the bottom line (in order to survive and compete in a global economy, I think they may have to be). Attitudes on both sides of the fence--employer and employees, are not the same as they used to be. I am persuaded, though, that generational differences seem to be more edgy than ever. I am often amused by some of these things, but I'm also sometimes concerned by some of the coarseness & disrespectful things I see that seems to be acceptable if not lauded. I could see how that very well could be more cultural than generational.

    But on the other hand, I personally know lots of Gen Yer's that have impressed me. I can think of one young lady in particular who works circles around her co-workers, has one of the best attitudes and personalities I've ever witnessed, and is just an incredible and amazing person. Conversely, I have witnessed a few Baby Boomers with some of the worst attitudes and perceptions about work.

    Chris is right--social media is a great equalizer and a wonderful way for all of us to connect and share experiences, thoughts & beliefs, and we definitely have much more in common than the differences that would seemingly divide us.

  9. Well, social media is ONE equalizer. Anything that you can gather 'round and not notice age until later helps. In our book club, we're periodically being taken by surprise, being re-reminded that we have millennials and boomers happily conversing and learning from each other. But months on end go by, & we barely notice.

    Myself, i suppose i talk a bad work attitude. My paper trail certainly isn't the best. But the jobs i've had have been because someone knew me and wanted ME, and they were happy with me as long as i was content to stay.


Thank-you for taking the time to comment!

About Me

My photo
I work for a Community-Based, Not-for-Profit agency. I have worked in the disability field for over twenty-five years. I am the father of two boys, and have been married to my teenage sweet-heart for 23 years. I live and work in the same town where I was born & raised.
Real Time Analytics