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Is the Recession Putting Gen Y in its Place?

Posted by: Lindsey Gerdes on March 24

Sarah Horne of The New York Post recently penned an op-ed column entitled “A Slice of Humble Gen Y,” noting that the economic downturn might be a helpful wake-up call for a coddled generation that formerly “felt secure enough to brashly knock on their bosses’ doors and demand better assignments, better titles, better salaries.”

Now that the economy's crumbled, says Horne, these young employees are getting a stern reality check that hard work involves foregoing Facebook breaks for long hours, unappealing assignments, and little hand-holding. The only kudos this oft-praised generation can now expect? Not getting laid off.

And experts like Jean Twenge, PhD., author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled And More Miserable Than Ever Before," say that this downturn could also help overly helicopter-parented twentysomethings finally chart their own courses:

The fact that many of this generation's boomer parents are suffering financially as well could be a positive thing for the youngsters' sense of self, Twenge adds. "The cutting of the apron strings is in some ways a good development. If a parent is looking at their retirement and saying, 'I can't prop up my child's lifestyle forever,' it's a lesson. To have to stand on your own two feet is a good thing."

What are your thoughts? Is Gen Y getting a bad rap? Or is a harsh reality check needed for today's young workers?

Reader Comments


March 24, 2009 01:31 PM

Oh, this is a BADLY needed wake-up call. I read on a message board the other day where a young woman was distraught because her husband was fired for watching DVDs at work. She was angry because don't you think they should have warned him first? I mean nobody told him he couldn't do that and they just came along and fired him.

And the rest of the thread was full of Gen Y kids agreeing with her.

This recession has been a long time coming.

David WIlkins

March 24, 2009 01:31 PM

Why do we react with such glee when enthusiasm, optimism, and idealism get shot down by tired old executives who lack the creativity to treat their workers with respect and the professional skills to anticipate and plan for what should have been an obvious downturn? Instead of taking companies to task for not tapping the enthusiasm and creativity of their Gen Y workers, Horne seems thrilled that they are getting their first look at the harshness of the business world. What a sad outlook on life.

Mary H Ruth

March 24, 2009 01:49 PM

I try to look at the inheritance these young folk are currently getting as a healthy challenge to their inventiveness more than a reprimand. I want to steer their brazenness towards refusing to repeat the old, and determination to create new, more trustworthy, more humanitarian, even more ambitious structures.

John Andersen

March 24, 2009 05:05 PM

This sounds like a bitter diatribe against youth. I think it is clear that some members of every generation grow up spoilt, but to attribute that to an entire generation is irresponsible at best. The talented members of Gen Y are already more productive than most of us can ever hope to be, since they have an innate understanding of the technology running our world. It is a good thing too, because the spoilt members of our generation caused extreme damage to the environment and economy and their generation will be the ones to fix it. If I could afford to retire, I would hand over the reigns right away. Taking glee in the setbacks of the next generation is an attitude that belies a desire to see misery shared rather than progress made. Try mentoring a bright youth instead of denigrating the entire generation that likely contains the very individuals who will repair the damage we did to this planet, bring about social change, and revive the economy, all while paying into a social security system to support OUR retirement.

Molli Sullivan

March 24, 2009 05:19 PM

Thank you, David for adding some positive insight. I have to say, I'm inclined to agree with you. Are some Gen Yers entitled? Yes. Are some Boomers completely out of touch with how to effectively manage people and tap their extremely positive attributes of Gen Yers? Yes. However, why do we continue to focus on the negative? How much time are people wasting by trash talking Gen Y instead of capitalizing on their potential?

Loring Wirbel

March 24, 2009 06:40 PM

David Wilkins profoundly mistakes arrogance and a sense of entitlement for ingenuity. You can spot a humble, ingenious, creative, and non-expectational worker from a mile away - whether they're 20 or 50 years old, they're refreshingly uncommon. The reason Gen Y has such a bad reputation is because the arrogant, narcissistic, entitlement-expecting types significantly outnumber the humble creatives.

Jon Bozeman

March 24, 2009 07:46 PM

Sounds kind of harsh. Not all of "Gen Y" has a bad work ethic nor a "give me, you owe me" attitude.
For those that do, they're a product of a "give me, you owe me" society. Can you blame them for growing up in a credit card nation...where they are told, almost promised, that they can have anything that won't break the plastic cards (or trust funds) that so sadly often defines them.
"Gen Y" has seen a lot of shitty authority figures, and now, experienced broken promises from a powerful government.
Let's hope this generation becomes "Generation Why"....a generation that asks questions before acting.

Joshua Parmenter

March 24, 2009 08:52 PM

To think this is a wake up call for Gen-Y is missing the fact that most of the current economic situation was created by poor economic policy from Baby Boomers. Gen-Y aren't the executives who came up with derivatives trading or poor lending standards. If we criticize Gen-Y for feeling entitled to what they don't deserve, perhaps we should look at who they have as an example.

Adam Bennette

March 24, 2009 11:19 PM

I am 22 years old, and I have to say that this comment is right on the money. My generation has grown up in a "let's give our kids 100 times more than we had" type of world. With that said, the previous generation is just as much at fault for enabling Gen Y to be lazy, unappreciative, and selfish, self-sacrificing, self-centered individuals..Frankensteins, meet your monsters!

Her Every Cent Counts

March 25, 2009 12:23 AM

I'm 25 years old. I think the wake up call of the recession is a good thing. It's easy to float along when the economy is all peaches and cream, but when it takes a turn for the worse, when you see your parent's life savings being depleted, you realize that you really have to get your act together. Now. You can't just wait until later to save. You shouldn't buy crap you don't need, or even stuff you need at marked up prices. Cheap is good. Cheap is cool. And your job may be gone tomorrow. So work your ass off. Keep a freelance gig on the side. Always network. Be one step ahead, and you'll be fine. But don't just expect things to work out.

Vanguard X

March 25, 2009 11:52 AM

When I was a child in the 1970's, my father worked at an auto plant. He wasn't one of the blessed Auto Workers, he was a Rubber Worker. The rubber workers' contract came up for negotiation after the auto workers contract did. The auto makers did it this way on purpose. When the auto workers would go on strike, all the plants would close and the rubber workers would exhaust their strike funds trying to survive the auto workers' strike. Then they wouldn't have any money to strike with when it was their turn, so they usually took whatever contract was handed to them by the company and lumped it. Between strikes and excess capacity, my father was usually laid off six months of the year. Sometimes we had to live on food stamps and welfare. When I went to college, I swore I'd never work in a factory job.

Forty years later, I have a BS. in Business Administration and an MS in Public Administration and all I can get is a government job as an Accounting Clerk making 40,000/yr (w/benefits). And I'm counting my blessings to have that.

I don't think that this will benefit Gen Y so much as the millennials who haven't been to college yet. They'll learn the same lessons we did - that you should always have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong. As for me, I can play the accordion on the street corner or be an assistant teacher at some University if I have to. There's no such thing as job security, but I have the closest thing there is, which is a Federal job.

Noelle Ibrahim

March 25, 2009 05:30 PM

I feel that the previous generation left us with an abominable war field that they have called the ``workplace``. While it is true that young people are almost always filled with hubris and a sense of entitlement, due to not having tasted the vaguaries of fortune, this has to be tolerated because of the fresh perspective they bring. I must say that I have been absolutely shocked to observe the abuses and injustices that your generation has tolerated and passed on in the name of ``fitting in`` at work. I think that the responsibility fo the herd mentality, abuse of power and the selfish lack of social idealism that has lead to this crisis lies squarely in you corner.


March 26, 2009 05:57 AM

Recession does not change the fact that we (GenY) are well educated and equipped to deal with employment risk. If existing business' won't work with us then we'll simply go out and create our own. The existing "norm" of full time work or unemployment is not the only option and we are quick to adapt.


March 26, 2009 11:17 AM

Yes Gen Y is getting a bad wrap from the Boomer powers that be or powers that were. If it is true- and I'm not sure that it is- that Gen y is coddled that is the doing of the Boomers. If they are propping up their children's lifestyle- again who's fault is that?

What Gen Y does have going for it is a truly 'Open Source' approach to life that brings a more collaborative approach to work, life etc. Boomers don't like this because, well they are the older generation and the older generation always resents the one that follows.

No one should gloat at any demographic experiencing hardships. That is a simplistic and in general poor outlook that benefits no one.


March 26, 2009 03:32 PM

The recession is putting Baby Boomers in their place. Gen Y still has time on it's side. Baby Boomers are the ones suffering for the mess they have created. Unfortunately for Gen Y, they may now get stuck bailing their parents out.

Chris - MBA Highway

April 2, 2009 01:00 PM

Many Gen-Yers have grown up in families of Baby Boomer parents who have a desire to provide a better life for their children which was instilled in them from birth. This does not mean that we have been "spoiled," but we have grown up in general good times for most of our lives and have never really had to make horrendous efforts to go after the things that we want.

This recession is a good "wake-up call" in the sense that it is forcing us Gen-Yers to become the creative and entrepreneurial individuals that we should be in these ever-changing dynamic era.

If you need a job, be creative and don't take the traditional route to get one. Try some professional, yet new and emerging personal branding and guerilla tactics. If you want to keep your job, figure out how you bring value to your team with your Gen-Y knowledge, young perspective and Web 2.0 understanding. If you want to start your own business, use every trick in the book and then some.

The recession is not desirable, but make the most of this forced learning opportunity and you will ride the wave to success when the economy and job market do turn around.


April 6, 2009 08:19 PM

I am 24 and graduated just over a year ago. I have had a job since I was 14 years old. I worked till midnight or later in high school on school days when I had to be at school by 8. In college I was a full time student and I worked as much as 40 hours a week juggling three jobs all at the same time. I worked weekends sometimes till 4am. Despite having 3 jobs in undergrad I was able to graduate in 4 years. Finally I would be able to work full time, make enough to pay my bills, and not be overwhelmed with school right? No! I graduated right into a recession. So far I make 8.25/hour working part time because thats all the hours I can get. I have not had health care for over a year and frankly am worried that something could happen. I want to work full time! 24 year olds are not lazy we are motivated! I'm not asking for luxury I just want to pay my bills and live in my tiny apartment and feel like I am contributing to society but I feel like nobody will let me or give me a chance because no matter what job I want there is somebody older with 5 years experience who is competing with me.


April 7, 2009 12:11 AM

Awesome post. I love stuff like this.



September 25, 2009 05:00 PM

As a currently unemployed member of gen y, my best advice to my contemporaries is not to trust boomers or the businesses they've propped up as the only solution to living in the street. They've created a destructive economy and a destructive society. They've raised us to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt that life was going to be smooth ride, "life is about having fun" is what I heard all my life. Your have your degrees, start your own shoe-string budget businesses. Work from home. Use outdated equipment. Network with your peers, band together. When you need advice, ask a Gen X'er, they have a lot to say. Take notes. Its not that boomers don't care at all, they just don't care unless its their own kid. The 1950s Cadillac-poodle skirt-root beer float avarice never really left them. Stop supporting their bad ideas with your hard-earned dollars. Plan your lives, start families late. Sell antiques, boomers love buying their old broken crap a second time. Grow your food on your windowsill, livestock in your backyard. My brother has six chickens in his backyard, so check on your local farming laws. Yes, I do have my tongue in my cheek a little bit, but I think you get my point. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go figure how to make dinner from rice and potatoes.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Read daily reports and special features from BusinessWeek editors and reporters Lindsey Gerdes and Louis Lavelle about companies, careers, and other topics of interest to young professionals.

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