You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
“If you want to know how a man thinks, imagine the world when they were young.” – Napoleon
A while ago, I had a discussion with another Gen Y-er about the significance of different generations in the workforce. He claimed that everybody is unique (not surprising, since he is himself a Gen Y-er) and that the pronouncements I make about generational differences are as illuminating as looking into a crystal ball, as defining as your weekly horoscope. I find both horoscopes and generational differences entertaining, but that’s where the similarity ends for me.
I agree that generational pronouncements are generalisations and that although they may apply to a large group of people, they are not necessarily all applicable to all individuals in a particular age group. Every theory has its exemptions and outliers, and you can always find somebody from one generation who exhibits the characteristics of another. So it would be better to think of it as a generational “mindset” rather than a generational age.
These generational stereotypes have not been made up by some management guru who just wanted to sell a book or two. What most people don’t know is that generational stereotypes are actually based on a complex combination of birth rates, economic and demographic figures, historic events, changes to the educational system and other social trends such as upbringing, etc. And of course, the differences in these figures and events lead to different generational behavioural patterns across countries and cultures, though the differences may be less obvious for Gen Y because of the globalised and wired world we currently live in.
If you eavesdrop on a typical conversation about Gen Y employees at work, you might hear things such as, “They are demanding and they have unrealistic expectations,” or “They are impatient, narcissistic, never satisfied with what they get,” or “They really need to change their attitudes to be able to work in this world!” Not surprisingly, these are not the words Gen Y adults would choose to describe themselves.
On the other hand, there seems to be a small but growing group of people out there who do see the potential that a Gen Y-er can bring to the work environment. These people would probably say something along the lines of, “They are talented, innovative, energetic, and digital… and they want to – and can – make a difference!”
Gen Y is the largest generation so far, representing one third of the global population (though less in Western Europe). Worldwide, we are a significantly larger generation than our Generation X bosses (born 1965–1979) and even bigger than our Baby Boomer parents (born 1946–1964). The size of our generation means that we can be very influential as we represent a huge consumer market and pool of employees. In 2010, 20 per cent of the UK workforce was drawn from Generation Y, and within financial and professional services organisations you will find numbers as high as 50-60 per cent.
Moreover, we are the first generation to grow up as “digital natives”, rather than “digital immigrants”. Encouraged by the Internet, English is at least a second language for most of us. We have friends all over the world, some of whom we meet in real life while travelling or studying abroad, some simply online. As a consequence, we are accustomed to diversity across all aspects of human life: culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, morality.
It is also interesting to consider the implications of longevity. Here in the Western world we have a life expectancy of 100 years with 60-80 active, healthy ones. I know this isn’t a popular thing to say, but if that’s the case then it is ludicrous to retire at 65 as an office worker, and that is why I think it’s so important to have a career you love. There is enough time for multiple careers, to go from employee to self-starting entrepreneur, taking time out again to study, investing in our families, or “giving back” to make the world a better place. Compared to our parents, we don’t have to do everything by the age of 30. We have a less hurried life plan. We can take a gap year and take more time to pursue our studies and many, many interests before finally, “settling down”.
These figures and numbers have influenced the way we are and how we live, but other events and social trends like 9/11 and the rise of working mums have shaped us too. To learn more, watch out for Part II next week.