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Generation Y: Similarities or Stereotype?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on July 3, 2007

Kudos to Mark Harbeke, the manager of content development at the Winning Workplaces site, for poking a few holes in all the consultant-fueled stereotypes around managing Generation Y. In his column, he chastises Fortune (ok, yes, a BW competitor) for what he describes as painting his generation as a needy, entitled group of iPod-toting texters interested in little more than being heaped with praise. While as a writer, I personally liked Fortune’s species-oriented take on managing the Millenial generation, I agree that this massive group of kids is suffering from being painted with too broad a brush.

Granted, it’s important for businesses to make sure they don’t try and treat 20-somethings exactly like 40-somethings. They’re inevitably more technology oriented (the CEO of defense contractor Raytheon calls them “the thumb generation”), and they do communicate differently (one PR woman I spoke with told me her daughter tried to quit her job via email). Many of them do look for more of a corporate conscience than their elders did in the companies who hire them. And yes, the differences will inevitably lead to conflicts in the workplace.

But most of the Generation Y folks I meet (I’m part of the tiny stuck-in-the-middle group of Xers) are industrious, extraordinarily hard-working, and not exactly hanging around waiting for a bunch of praise. I’ve never seen a “helicopter parent,” as their too-involved parents have been labeled, hovering around. There’s even a couple of interns out of the 18 or so we have at BW this summer who—shocker!—don’t own an iPod. (And no, they don’t hail from Mars.)

We’ve discussed here on multiple occasions how to tackle the story of the growing generational shift in the workplace as the huge Millenial population moves in. Some question if this shift is really all that different from when we Xers moved in, with our supposedly lazy, aimless approach to our careers and our lives. Others note that while the Millenials may change the workplace, it’s more likely that the workplace, with all its pressures and politics, is going to change them. What do you think?

Reader Comments


July 5, 2007 4:03 PM

When 20-somethings enter the workplace, it seems that the 40 and 50-somethings already there, see them as children and project negative experiences with their kids onto the incoming generation Y. The assumption that 20-somethings are just lazy good for nothings who don't know anything about interpersonal communication and hide behind e-mails and iPods has to come from somewhere and having listened to many parents ridicule their 18 to 25 year old kids, the gripes sound eerily familiar.

The biggest difference between the 40 and 50 somethings and generation Y is the 20-somethings' desire to make a mark on the company to which they give their time. They're simply not content to sit in front of a computer all day and collect a check every other Friday. To them, the only reason to join a company is to get things done and make an impact. Otherwise, they see their time as wasted. To the many baby boomers used to the status quo and an attitude of serving the company simply to collect their paycheck, the ambitions of the younger generation seems like an entitlement complex.

Articles that aim to present generation Y as technophilic hoodlums come off as a personal gripe about one's children rather then objective opinions. But then again, many writers practice gonzo journalism; even in business magazines.


January 12, 2009 6:47 PM

I think its ridiculous to think that Gen Y kids wont be able to become accustomed to a workplace be cause they endlessly need praise or will clash with gen x. We sort of over look the fact that their parents are gen x in many cases, or at least some relatives are. So the kids arent walking into an alien work world having to deal with people with social skills that they haven't seen. many of them, including myself adapt quite well.

the only difference I see is that my bosses have all underestimated my work ability, which causes to some extent apathy. I have had no troubles in the workplace, other than needing more work. Gen X thinks they can just give me something and leave...except its done in an hour when they expected 8 hrs. While this gives me a lot of free time, it also doesnt make me want to stay at work at all.

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