In Praise of Generation Y


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc.  Author of Diversity and Inclusion On A Budget:  How to have a more engaged and innovative workforce with little or no dollars.

Hey there, Evelina!”, the e-mail salutation reads. Do I know this person? It seems that they must know me, right? Because they are so familiar? Nope. I never met them in my life! Probably a Generation Y’er  I figure, who is sending me this in their casual and unassuming way.

Born during 1981- 2000, Generation Y’s unique characteristics have stirred up a lot of turmoil in the workplace especially when it comes to their Baby Boomer bosses and co-workers. Whether it’s their tattoos, piercings, flip-flops, self-care or their need to be wired, connected and  informed  — the workplace will never be the same. Sorry Boomers! Laden with labels like: “disloyal”, “uncommitted”, “self- serving”, “techno-savvy”, “fun-seeking”, “lazy”, and “immature”; these children of Baby Boomers have  experienced more freedom, less responsibility, little in the way of criticism, and some would argue too much praise.

Consequently, employers complain that they don’t take work seriously, can’t handle criticism and feel they are entitled to privileges and rewards that others do not get and that they do not deserve. The disconnect begins here. After all, how do we get four generations to work together for the first time?

As a Generation X’er, I understand the harsh criticism bestowed upon Generation Y’ers; but at the same time I think that our generation understands them better than the Boomers. Generation X’ers were the first generation to dispel the myth that getting a university education will automatically land you a “good job”. We were working in call centres, as clerks and service jobs with our university degrees when the first recession hit in the 1980’s. But Generation X’ers approach to this phenomenon was a little bit different. Because of fewer jobs, our “latch key” socialization meant that we looked for solutions within ourselves. We decided to make our own jobs, creating the largest generation of entrepreneurs ever.

Generation Y’s solution to the shift in the economy is different. Strategically, Generation Y put their cards on the table right at the beginning with their prospective employers letting them know what they need from them, instead of what they can offer. Taking a completely different approach from previous generations, the Generation Y’er can come across as self-serving. That is where some of the conflict and misunderstanding begins along with many other disconnects in workplace values.

I am not a big fan of theories of generational differences although I believe there are some merits to the observations about various age groups but I don’t think they are absolute. I strongly believe that social class, birth order, and cultural differences play larger roles than age. The research in this area is arguably centred around privileged white youth who live in the suburbs, so it could be unrepresentative.

Despite the criticism lodged against Generation Y’ers, when it comes to diversity they really get it. Parented by those who lived through civil, women, and gay rights movements, Generation Y’ers have had a strong initiation into equality. Attending inclusive schools with children who have disabilities, exposure to more cultural and racial differences as well as a variety of family  compositions: this generation is more socially and environmentally aware. Of all the generations, they will have more of a propensity toward social justice and want to know the impact of their work.

When it comes to helping your organization develop a diversity strategy, ask a Generation Y’er. You can bet that the strongest supporters of diversity and inclusion in your workplace are Generation Y’ers. Not only have they been more exposed to a
rapidly changing diverse world —it is natural to them and they embrace it.

So, before you reprimand your Generation Y’er for not wanting to work overtime hours for free: relax; let your hair down; plug in your iPod and put on a pair of your favourite flip-flops and recognize the positive attributes of this deeply misunderstood  generation.

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