Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Over the past year or so, I have heard my generation (Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, whatever you want to call it) characterized in many ways.  We are the generation who:

  • Expects an award just for showing up
  • Is incapable of hard work
  • Is unwilling to put in long hours to gain the respect of coworkers and superiors
  • Changes jobs every two years
  • Is totally internet and tech-savvy
  • Lives with their parents longer
  • “Fails to launch” – puts off growing up as long as possible
  • Wants to work to live, not live to work
  • Doesn’t understand why they can’t wear flip-flops to work

Are these based on real-life examples?  Probably.  Are some of them true of me?  Of course.  (Some other day I’ll support the stereotype by ranting about my incredible hatred for office dress codes).  Are they all negative traits?  I don’t think so.  But they are, overall, negative.

And again, this past week, I was at a conference where generational marketing was the topic of discussion.  And again, I had to listen to a baby boomer tell me about how Generation Y has no brand loyalty and expects total transparency from organizations because they don’t trust them.  At least this time, the presenter acknowledged that some of this was due to age (for instance, how many twentysomethings can afford to be loyal donors or have any brand loyalty?).

But honestly, I’m a little tired of it.  I know for a fact there are kids my age who suffer from all of these traits, but we aren’t all like that. If you really want to know how we think, whether you’re in marketing, fundraising, education or whatever, here’s what you need to know:  (Obviously, these are generalizations and not necessarily true for all of us).

  • Save your stamps.  We do everything online or via text.  If you want to reach us, use email, Facebook, Twitter, text message or some other form of communication.
  • We expect lots of feedback.  It doesn’t all have to be positive, but it needs to be frequent.
  • We want to be judged on the work we produce and not the way we produce it.  If we can do the same work in flip-flops and jeans as we can in a suit, then why spend money on an uncomfortable suit?
  • We have always been told to do the things that make us happy.  We will not spontaneously forget this mantra when we turn 22 and graduate college.
  • Contrary to what you might think, we are capable of hard work.  But we’d rather work just enough to live comfortably than work crazy hours so we can retire early.  Here I will admit – as a general rule, we have a hard time thinking long-term.

We don’t expect the world to mold to our expectations, but the bottom line is that everyone will need to bend a little now that we have three distinct generations in the workforce for the first time in many years.  Okay, fine.  We won’t wear jeans and hoodies to work, but in return, maybe we can work from home every once in a while.  If you are uncomfortable with social media and all things web 2.0, we can help you get your company online.

I know nobody’s perfect and I’m definitely guilty of expecting companies to understand my way of thinking, but I can’t help but wonder who the slackers are that started all the stereotypes I’ve encountered.  What’s particularly disheartening is that there were enough of them that they weren’t written off as outliers.

The other thing, though, is that I think our reactions are sometimes read incorrectly.  For instance, in my first job out of college at The Company, I had to work long hours and travel about a third of the time for not a whole lot of money, which wasn’t worth it to me.  Was this because I expected lots of money for 40 hours per week?  No.  It was because I wasn’t willing to give up my personal time (and my personal life) for a job.  I didn’t expect to be paid more, I just knew what my priorities were.

Has anyone else experienced this, either from my viewpoint or from the outside looking in?  Am I totally off here?

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8 Comments

Filed under Deep Thoughts

8 responses to “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

  1. Liesl

    I love this topic for discussion, and I think it’s an important one in terms of defining and articulating our generation’s “identity.”

    I, however, am terribly biased. Training to be a psychologist (particularly at a professional school) means working A LOT and not getting paid for one minute of it for many, many years. Before grad school, I was volunteering 20-25 hrs/week at a community mental health agency. In first year of grad school, I was only “volunteering” 8hrs/week, but this time they called it a non-clinical practicum. Still, I was free labor for the hospital where I worked. Next came a 16hr/week placement, except this one was 52 miles north of my house, meaning four hours of each week were spent on the road, NOT making money to put gas in my tank. This year and next, I’m working 20 hrs/week at another community mental health agency, again: for free. Maybe starting in July 2011 I’ll get paid, but at the most I’m expecting 24,000 per year. Of course there’s a chance I’ll have to take ANOTHER unpaid internship, this time 40hrs/week.

    Oh, and I’m expected to adhere to a “business casual” dress code this whole time, if not wear a suit.

    Also, one can only work part-time in a bar for so long to support oneself while also taking full-time classes and, oh yeah, working 20hrs/week and not getting paid.

    So to all those Old Timers and their disdain of us free-wheeling Whippersnappers: Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my scuffed Target heels, the ones I can’t afford to throw out because I don’t get a paycheck. Also, how are your 401Ks?

    Truthfully, I think they’re just jealous, and this lady will back me up: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/11/15/stop-worrying-that-your-twentysomething-is-lost/

  2. SUCH a good post to reference, Liesl. That Penelope Trunk always describes things so clearly.

    I also had a hard time not making this post a list of things I’ve done that go against the stereotypes. Luckily (or not), I don’t think you and I are the models used to create them. :)

  3. Amen sister! Why is it a bad thing if I want a better work/life balance than my parents had? And as long as my work is good, who cares what I wear while I’m doing it? (Or where I’m doing it? Or, as someone who is most productive from the hours of 10pm to 4am, when I do it?) I know other generations complain about our lack of loyalty (to brands, to jobs, to goals) but they have to understand that things change faster now than they used to. Items go from cutting-edge to obsolete in mere months now. Staying with one thing just because that’s the way you’ve always done it just isn’t practical anymore. In fact, I’d say the ability to be constantly reassessing needs and having the flexibility to adapt to those changes is a positive thing that will only help us as we age.

  4. I would just point out that those expectations about how employees should behave were based on a world where we could reasonably expect to work for the same company for thirty years and retire with a pension. I think Generation X/Y learned to take what we can get in terms of work/life balance because chances are your employer will shit on you at the first opportunity, no matter how “loyal” you are.

  5. When some of these topics come up, I always wonder what people did in their 20’s before us? Did they not bounce around a little until they found what they were looking for? Did they not chafe at wearing dress clothes (not that I mind it, but I think I’m a bit of an outlier there)? Did they not struggle with wanting to leave the office at 5 to go grab a drink or go home?

    I’m pretty sure this is what most people did in their 20’s. Almost every person I meet older than me (and I meet A LOT of people older than me in my line of work) all talk about wandering a bit before they find their path. But they’ve gone on to be successful in so many different ways and mostly on their own terms. I think people are freaked out because we’re clued into that latter bit a lot earlier than they were, so we’re seeking out our own terms before we’ve “earned it” even though we know that’s not something you earn, but something you strive and work for even now.

  6. I have to agree with Michelle about employers expecting those things of us while they’re planning to implement a pay freeze, slash workforce, send our jobs overseas, reduce our benefits, and not contribute anything to our retirement.
    A lot of the things described as flaws with our generation are responses by our generation to the society we’ve grown up in. Why would we dedicate ourselves to our employers or go above-and-beyond when we know that our employers would never even consider doing the same for us?
    Why wouldn’t we want our suspended adolescence when we see what the other options are?
    Why would we work overtime for, essentially, free? Especially when the “bonus” for doing so is that it becomes expected of us to do so?
    Don’t want us to leave? Give us another option!
    I have a great job with a great employer, but it took me a lot of work and a lot of jumping around to get here.
    I’ll work. I’ll work my ass off. But only if I see some advantage to doing so.

  7. Hi! I just showed up at your blog.

    Where’s my award?

  8. TKT

    Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’ve got something to say. Fret not. This happens to every “so called generation.” With 16 years on you I can tell ya the same was said about me and my cohorts when we were in our 20s. The only difference is the technology aspect. Although my generation was more interested in playing Nintendo than working. Consider it backlash from the older folks who have lost their youth. And as far as dress codes are concerned… if Nike can become a multi billion dollar company with workers in jeans and workout clothes, then what’s the problem?!

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