Putting Gen Y on Paper


After spending a solid hour or so immersed in Thesis Land, I’m feeling pretty satisfied with the intro paragraph for Gen Y itself.  After over a year of research, it feels pretty ridiculous to be putting this sort of an introduciton together.  It’s sort of like a nuclear physicist mapping the chemical bonds for baking soda and vinegar.

Okay, you’re right: this makes me sound pretentious and bitchy, and being a self-proclaimed expert is one of the single most obnoxious things on the Internet.

In any case, here’s my first attempt and putting together a general description of Gen Y and what might make us tick.  Suggestions WELCOME!

One of Glamour magazine’s ten young women to watch in back in 2000 – an army sergeant and nuclear engineering student – said in her interview that, “All ten of us are trying to find this altered reality, or this utopia, or we’re trying to change the world.”  Gen Y isn’t the first generation to desire change in the world, but we are arguably the first ones to truly believe in limitless potential in the modern workplace.  According to Smola and Sutton’s study, Gen X believes that “working hard makes one a better person” and Boomers feel that “work should be one of the most important parts of a person’s life.”  Gwendy Donaker, a recent graduate from Pomona College who was interviewed for a BusinessWeek feature, explained her refusal of an employment offer with a successful consulting firm: “I soon realized that it just wasn’t worth sacrificing two years working so hard on issues I don’t care about just so the firm could pay me to go to B[usiness] school.”  In other words, Gen Y would likely say that, “Work isn’t worth doing unless it will make the world a better place.”

The reaction from employers regarding the work attitudes of Gen Y have been swift and consistent.  First, we’re too contrary: “Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today’s workforce,” according to Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York. “They’ve grown up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers. They don’t know how to shut up, which is great, but that’s aggravating to the 50-year-old manager who says, ‘Do it and do it now.'”  Gen Y has been shaped by a high degree of transparency in popular culture.  Just a cursory look at the images that have shaped Gen Y reveals American Idol contestants crooning their way from obscurity to stardom, dysfunctional Real World cast members featured on the silver screen, 16-year-old filmmakers, and 15-year-old Disney superstars.  Success is no longer a far and distant goal separated by years of nose-to-the-grindstone work: it’s ripe for the taking as fast as a resourceful person can get to harvest (not that Gen Y would know a hard day’s work in the fields anyway, right?).

Pallavi Gogol of BusinessWeek reported that, “With both parents working and more disposable income than previous generations, Gen Y has often been branded as an overindulged, spoiled, and disengaged group that looks at the world through a prism of self interest.”  Just as Gen Y lives by our favorite member brands, so are we branded by our behavior and attitudes in the workplace.  Perceptions will always trump reality, and no contradictory statistics regarding the work ethic of Gen Yers could ever change the mind of a Gen X manager with a bad Y taste left in her mouth.  A popular blog called Gen X Speaks to Gen Y cites a fashion retail manager’s experience with Gen Y employees: “This generation known as Gen Y may be smarter but they do not know how to work in a business atmosphere.  I truly believe that unless they are given a syllabus or specific instructions, this generation would not know to wipe their butts.”  [BLOGGER’S NOTE: We have the same WordPress theme…coincidence?] Though not necessarily an expert opinion, this manager’s words are certainly corroborated by the experience of others (and as stated earlier, perceived laziness will always put a damper on actual hard work).


2 Responses to “Putting Gen Y on Paper”

  1. That sounds very Gen-Yish to me. Perhaps it’s because it’s so personal, but the whole issue of generational perceptions and conflicts between generations really irks me. And it’s an issue that’s coming to the forefront more all the time. Why can’t we all just get along?

  2. Believe it or not, my thesis title is actually “Generational Conflict in a 2009 Workplace: Y Can’t We All Just Get Along”. Not sure if I put that on the internet yet, but your last sentence is pretty funny…

    Also, I’m a little bit sick of it too. Unfortunately, I’ve been studying it for a year and I’ve got to go with it at this point, right?

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