Generation Y Moves In — by A. K. Ward

“I am a Generation Y. ” This statement seems harmless enough, until you find yourself planted in a room full of baby boomers fed up with the millennials, the whiney, egocentric, group of fickle youngsters filing into the newly unstructured world of work. We are the facebookers, the job-hoppers, the demanders and questioners who want a raise NOW with a company car and a key to the executive washroom. Never mind that we’ve only been working for two months. True, the Y generation may be a bit spoiled and tend to expect rewards somewhat prematurely, but we do have a few good traits that could encourage you to work with generation differences.

Take, for example, my job history. In the three years between college and grad school, I had three different jobs in three COMPLETELY different fields. Typical of my cohort group, I just knew that it was up to me to ‘save the world’. My knowledge and skills surely exceeded those of my coworkers, who had usually been out in the real world a couple of decades or so before I came along. Why listen to them when I already knew everything? If I failed, it was because the directions or training were inadequate, or my supervisor was too incompetent to understand my intentions. Something was wrong with the organization itself “Why couldn’t they see that I was the one they needed to fix it?’ In my mind, they should have been grateful for my presence and eager to learn from my expertise. It took several years for me to understand that wisdom trumps all, which still leaves me waiting rather impatiently at the bottom of the totem pole.

So how did we turn out this way? I had a leave-it-to-Beaver-style childhood with supportive parents, a fantastic (free!) education, anything I could ever want or need. Didn’t every generation have it this good? And THAT is the root of the problem. Our parents were raised by the strict, frugal hands of depression-era survivors and were taught to appreciate bare minimums because of what their parents were forced to endure. We are a product of the baby boomers break into a lifestyle of leisure and indulgence. They gave us the luxuries for which they had been forced to work, cars and college included.

The best part, to me, at least, was the freedom. While our liberated mothers and career-oriented fathers were out working diligently, as their generation still does, we were sitting at home in front of a computer, with access to any information we wanted across the entire globe. Being the multi-taskers that we are, we could talk on the phone, e-mail, watch TV, and pretend to be doing homework all at the same time. And, since the baby-boomers were attempting to make up for their own childhoods of strict tones and spankings, we received nothing but praise and trophies.

Now that young Generation Y is growing up, we are beginning to leave these fairytale lifestyles to venture out into the real world. Throughout our childhoods, we were constantly complimented on how great we are at everything and were rarely scolded or told that we weren’t the best at what we did (I remember hearing a story last year about schools that have banned dodge-ball so that children will not have to face the embarrassment of being the last one picked!). Imagine our surprise when we enter the workforce, only to discover that other people think they are better at their jobs than we are! They scold us and tell us what we do wrong: how dare they?!?

So what is our reaction? We leave. We move on to another job where we can get the respect we deserve (or so we think). We do this because WE CAN. Since marriage and babies are put off indefinitely, there are no attachments to keep us in the same town, state, or country. Through social networking and technology, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, we have contacts all over the world to help us jump across the globe in search of a new fairytale life.

By now, I like to think that I have learned my lesson. After living in Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, and China, working in counseling, human resources, sales, training, and teaching, I am finally starting to see the difference between those who actually can make a difference in their work and those who only think that they do. To me, it seems as if the key lies in a combination of experience, self-awareness, and openness to others. Improvement cannot occur until we truly hear what it is that we are doing wrong, but this message is often blocked by our defense mechanism of overconfidence. Generation Y does bring an incredible array of gifts to the diverse workplace, such as language fluencies, innovation, technological knowledge, and cross-cultural interpersonal skills, but we must learn to respect and listen to those with experience before we can mold our talents to the task. So, the next time you find yourself pulling your hair out from having to work with generation differences and the new interns’ mistakes, remember that, eventually, they will learn. It may take awhile, but one of these days our brains will finally catch up to our egos.


AK Ward-Bartlett PhD
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