Generation Y at Work

What is Generation Y all about?

That's a question on the minds of many, it seems--particularly journalists, workforce experts, and even Gen Y-ers themselves.

Some have said members of Generation Y are navel-gazing, I-want-it-now neophytes in the workplace. Others say they're expert multi-taskers and technological wizards, capable of finishing 60 hours' worth of work in 30 hours.

There's probably truth in all these statements. Gen Y-ers are, after all, humans--with strengths and weaknesses, like any other generation. I think, too, that it's impossible and unfair to generalize about a generation, especially one as large as Generation Y (according to Fortune, there are 79.8 million members of Gen Y, meaning those born between 1977 and 1995).

Generation Y Is ...

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about new graduates and their impatience when it comes to getting promotions at work.

"Twentysomethings are accustomed to meeting short-term goals in schools with quarter and semester systems. They expect to see results on the job just as quickly and when they don't, impatience sets in. The disgruntled say that they don't necessarily want more money, they want stimulating assignments that give meaning to their lives," according to the article.

Some in the blogosphere have suggested that Gen Y-ers have too great a sense of entitlement.

A comment from "Chicago" on The Juggle reads, "I struggle to get my employees here by 8:30 daily. In my experience, many workers in their 20’s have this entitlement attitude and think it’s enough just to show up. I’d like to see how far they get in their career in 5-10 years."

And an in-depth Fortune article by a member of Generation Y, writer-reporter Nadira A. Hira, seeks to paint a picture of her generation, complete with pros and cons. They're high-maintenance, often reliant on their parents and can easily quit a job they don't like, the story says; Generation Y also is marked by fearlessness, an entrepreneurial spirit and technological prowess.

"I know this will be alarming to read, particularly for my mother, who cares so much about my image that she began blow-drying my hair when I was 4. But it had to be written, because I've come to realize that the most significant characteristic of the Gen Y bird is that we are unapologetic. From how we look, to how spoiled we are, to what we want - even demand - of work, we do think we are special. And what ultimately makes us different is our willingness to talk about it, without much shame and with the expectation that somebody - our parents, our friends, our managers - will help us figure it all out," Hira writes.

Generation X Compared to Generation Y

I'm among those trying to figure out Generation Y, particularly in the context of my Generation X.

Many of the Generation X folks I know tend to be incredibly driven, self-motivated and productive. They've never needed coddling from parents or employers and they strive for balance--a combination of hard work, good friends and solid family relationships. Most have sought to understand other cultures and ways of life by traveling or in their careers.

When I first read that Generation Y needed so much reassurance from their bosses, and that some Gen Y parents took an active role in their kids' careers, I balked. How could those coming after tough Gen X-ers be so soft?

So I've decided to spend more time learning about Generation Y, and to keep an open mind.

As part of my quest, I came across a blog by and about members of Generation Y, called Employee Evolution. In reading some of the posts, it occurred to me just how big an influencer technology has been for Generation Y. The speed and immediacy afforded by technology could help explain why some are impatient for promotions, as the WSJ article suggests.

Meanwhile, education costs are soaring, and students are facing increasing levels of debt just to get bachelor's degrees. Being saddled with extensive debt could be a reason some Gen Y-ers go back to live with their parents: to try to repay some of their debt.

By comparison, Generation X hasn't been entirely defined by technology, nor did we face such steep pricetags just to get a college degree. 

I'm just beginning to scratch the surface with such realizations, but I've discovered that summing up Generation Y is an impossible notion. Still I'll try to gain a better sense of what these newbies are about, and share my findings with you.

Stay tuned!

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