Getting to Know Generation Y: Instead of Clashing Head-On, Learn the Language of This New Wave of Workers

By Giacomarro, Garin | Public Management, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Getting to Know Generation Y: Instead of Clashing Head-On, Learn the Language of This New Wave of Workers


Giacomarro, Garin, Public Management


I'm slouching down in my chair, eyes intent on the floor, as I try to shrink away from my current situation. On the projector screen in front of me and 40 of my newly met colleagues is a popular online video that is primarily made up of questions posed by an off screen individual and the answers of current college students.

The room is howling in laughter. These wide-eyed 18-and 19-year-olds are expecting to make how much in their first job? They expect to be promoted when? They got that degree and expect to find an actual job? I weep for future generations.

These interviews are slowly phased out by the more reasonable, middle-aged managers who are stating plainly what they expect. "If your job starts at 9 a.m. and that's when you arrive, you're late." The whole room nods in agreement. "It's not about doing what you want or what interests you. It's about being productive." Universal agreement rings out.

Understanding the Disconnect

The video ends and the room as a whole moves on in conversation. I, on the other hand, can't shake the experience. Are people my age really that bad? Is there something inherently wrong with those who have never known a Reagan presidency or why Michael Jackson was such a big deal? I first feel embarrassed, then defensive, and finally contemplative. Where is this disconnect coming from?

I have so often heard the near-universal assessment that people entering the workforce these days are both lazy and entitled. Once they get to a point in their career, they expect to be handed the reward for it and for their subsequent work to be directed at their next advancement. Where did we learn such ungrateful behavior?

I've grown up in a generation that was told day in and day out, "Work hard, do good in school, go to college, get a good job, and have a fruitful life." Millions of children were sold on the idea that, if you do A, B and C, you get what you want. We were raised on this philosophy and continue to rely on it.

What does it take to get into a credible four-year university? Primarily, it relies on your standardized score. If a university's average SAT score is 1950, getting above that means you're in. It's a plateau mentality that says: If you just accomplish this goal, you get to reap all of the reward after it. It's still hard work; it's just of a different variety.

The first instinct of Generation Y isn't to plan out how to save up money every month; it's to figure out a way to get more money with one plateau-forming act. It's a change in budget or a new job. Our hard work is discovering that solution and making it happen. We accomplish goals to obtain things.

We've been told all of our lives to love what you do. Movies, parents, society, media--you name it--all of them paint a picture of having a job that is fulfilling and that still allows us to live the way we're used to. Is it really so mysterious why a college student who has lived comfortably his or her entire life graduates with an art or philosophy degree?

"Go to college, get a good job, live a fruitful life." We've done Step 1 in our plan of accomplishment. It's Step 2 that eludes us, and we don't have the skills necessary to adapt easily to it. We've been taught checklists, not strategies.

Time management is another issue that generates criticism for my generation. Often times, working from 8 a.m. to 5 p. …

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