They were born between 1978 and 1994 (the key start and end years vary across countries), and they entered the workforce at the beginning of the new Millennium. Since then, they have built a reputation for being an employer’s worst nightmare. They are the “Gen-Yers”, members of Generation Y. Many label them as self-absorbed, ambitious, and lazy - but their eventual takeover of the workplace is something the world will need to learn to accept - as it is happening under our noses.
Generation Y is also known as the “Millennial Generation” or as “EchoBoomers”, a reference to their parents, the Baby Boomers. “Gen Y” is the most commonly used term to reference them, as it alludes to their chronology after their predecessors, the “Gen X”, those born between 1965 and 1977.But American consultant Eric Chester has wryly opted to refer to them using the pun, “Generation WhY”, making light fun of their propensity to routinely questioning any constraint imposed on them. Here are a few other things we know about them:
They are children of the web and globalization.
This is the first generation to grow up with instant communication and information technologies. They are accustomed to having access to large amounts of information on the net and to the constant ability to communicate widely. Because of that, however, they suffer from a poor mastery of spelling and an inability to analyze information and summarize (they have the “copy-paste” syndrome). They are also the children of globalization, and they are eager to go places and live anywhere. For example, since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus program (also known as European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) has enabled 1.5 million students to spend time studying in one of 31 European partner countries.
They are anti-authority.
When they became adults, their outlook was shaken by the terrorism of 9/11 and by the awareness that companies can be places where fraud and corruption take over (the Messier scandal, the Enron saga, etc.). They witnessed the bursting of the dotcom bubble and watched preceding generations, including their parents, experience unemployment and financial insecurity. Finally, they grew up during the 1980s and 1990s, and it was during this period that education focused on developing self-esteem to the detriment of developing respect for authority.**
This produced a generation of youth who are often accused of being individualistic, independent, and anti-authority. But they are also described in four positive ways: well-educated, well-informed, motivated, and flexible. To sum up, they have a reputation for acting like spoiled children, but they are aware they are in a position of strength, as companies are facing a talent shortage.
They are ambitious, pragmatic, and individualistic- what we want from tomorrow’s leaders.
In short, Gen Y is demanding. They want training, they want recognition, and they want to create the lifestyle they desire - and they want all of it now. If managers could learn how to harness their energy and coach them effectively, these young employees have the potential to become “the highest producing generation ever”, according to Carolyn A. Martin, consultant at RainmakerThinking, Inc. and author of Managing Generation Y.***And since large numbers of Baby Boomers are retiring and there aren’t enough Generation X employees to fill the resulting vacancies, mobilizing and training tomorrow’s leaders of Gen Yers will fast become an imperative for companies. Employee integration programs will need to be based on adaptation rather than confrontation with them.
So what does this picture tell us? It says that companies need to break the spiral of misunderstanding that has emerged from a lack of objective information about the behavior and expectations of Gen Y; that these expectations are pushing companies to adopt a personalized approach where work is primarily a life experience - and that this is a positive step. And finally, that companies should waste no time in jumping on the Gen Y bandwagon. This means going to their territories like the networking site Facebook. If your company is not ready to recruit on these sites, you’re already far behind the times.
*Audrey Trotereau is Communications Manager, Sodexo Group, France.Excerpt from “Le défie Génération Y”, first published in French in Business Digest, May 2008
**According to Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San DiegoState University and author of Generation Me, Free Press, 2006.
***Interviewed in the book Millennial Leaders, Bea Fields, Scott Wilder, JimBunch, Rob Newbold, Morgan James Publishing, November 2007.