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Gen Y: Are They Who You Think They Are?


Everything You Think You Know About Gen Y is WrongWould you hire someone from Gen Y (someone born after 1980) if you had the option to hire someone older? Is your preference about experience or preconceptions? Here are some generalizations about the generations that came before:

Members of the Silent Generation (1925-1945) were raised during the Great Depression. They learned to value their jobs and are hard workers. They are loyal to their employers and value face-to-face interaction over technology. They tend to be more tech-phobic than the younger generations. They also tend to cleave to more conservative values and believe in deference to authority.

Baby Boomers were raised in an era of prosperity. They were encouraged to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They believed they were entitled to a great education and a great job. They are motivated by titles like CEO, perks like a corner office, and a hefty salary with an annual raise. They are independent workers and do well in competitive environments.

Generation X-ers were raised in an era of social change. They are self-sufficient. Many were latchkey kids, and raised themselves amidst skyrocketing divorce rates, two-parent working households, and 10 years of massive layoffs. As a result, they strive to find jobs that offer work-life balance so they don’t have to sacrifice family or personal time in pursuit of the almighty dollar. As workers they are flexible, individualistic and prone to cynicism.

Sound familiar? Or does it read more like a horoscope that an accurate picture of everyone born over a twenty-year period? While it’s fair to make some generalizations, especially when comparing one generation to the next, it’s easy to oversimplify the experiences of millions of people in an effort to neatly categorize the last 90 years of human history. So now that you’ve read about your generation, here are some myths about Gen Y. They’re the newest generation to enter the workforce, but there are some negative stereotypes about them that you need to analyze critically.

Myth: Gen Y is Immature
Reality: Gen Y is sometimes called the “Boomerang Generation”, due to their habit of returning to the nest. They were raised by Boomers or Gen X-ers to expect that a college degree would open doors, but many have incurred student debt due to rising tuition costs and graduated into an economy unready to receive them. With older generations waiting longer to retire, there is less demand for their education and more value placed on practical experience. As their professional lives have stalled, Gen Y-ers have decided to wait to get married and start families until their financial outlook is brighter. Members of Gen Y who have assessed their risks and made tough financial and personal decisions based on their prospects show planning, foresight and a strong sense of duty and responsibility.

Myth: Gen Y isn’t loyal
Reality: In many self-report surveys, Gen Y proves to value loyalty to employers more than either Boomers or X-ers. 36% of Gen Y employees indicate that they feel obliged to stay with their employers, compared to only 31% of Gen X employees and 32% of Baby Boomers. This could be because Gen Y employees express greater trust in their employers. Over 46% of Gen Y-ers believe their employer has their best interests in mind when they are making decisions, compared with only 40% and 41% of Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers, respectively.
While Gen Y is slightly more loyal than previous generations, they don’t face the same constraints as other generations do in their life decisions. Their motivations for working are different than those of the previous generations, and when they feel misled or stymied by one employer, they will often pursue a different course. In addition, the labour market favours younger employees with a wide variety of skills and experience and in many cases limits upward mobility for younger applicants. Gen Y-ers, hoping to maximize their value during tough times, will explore new opportunities once they stop learning in their previous positions, but many would prefer to stay with the same employer for many years, provided they felt they could continue to grow and improve.

Myth: Gen Y is Lazy and Would Rather Work Than Play
Reality: By and large, Gen Y wants to work and are willing to be accessible outside their work hours. They are more similar to Gen X-ers than Boomers though, as they value work-life balance and flexibility. They see no reason to waste time with office rituals, including meetings without a clear agenda, and they emphasize productivity over clock watching. As “digital natives”, they are more likely to blur the boundaries between personal and professional life and need clear policies brought to their attention if this violates the company’s mandate. Gen Y is also not as motivated by salary and benefits as the generations before. They prioritize innovation, creativity and continuous learning as longer-term investments in their worth in the job market. Many would willingly take a hit to their own compensation to work with a company with Green initiatives, charitable donations or that aligns closely with their goals and philosphies.

Myth 3: Gen Y Doesn’t Expect to Pay Their Dues
Reality: Gen Y expects to pay their dues differently, in part because they are the most educated generation in history. 1 in 5 Canadian students hold a degree or diploma. Many were told by their parents and teachers that a college degree was all that stood between them and flipping burgers, and now they have an average of $27,000 in debt and they’re flipping burgers anyway. Critics of Gen Y describe their desire to rise quickly through the ranks a product of helicopter parenting and participation ribbons, but describing an entire generation by the actions of parenting trends is problematic, not least because the parenting practices of 1980 were very different than even the practices of 1995. It is true that Gen Y benefits from positive feedback and close relationships with mentor figures, and that they will move on to the next job when there is nothing left to lose.

Gen Y began as the most supervised generation in history, shuttled off to play dates and daycare and soccer practices from an early age. They have always been rewarded for participation and not achievement. Their world has been shaken by terrorism, sensational news, September 11th, school shootings, and the worst economic decline in 70 years. They desire job security but don’t expect it. They never rebelled to the same extent as Boomers or X-ers, and seek to work collaboratively with their superiors. They are driven by a sense of ethics and commitment to meaningful work – just 13% say they would quit tomorrow if the won the lottery. Employers should reconsider negatively stereotyping dedication and work ethic that looks different than their own and determine how best to put Gen Y’s considerable talent to work with their company.

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