What’s Wrong with Generation Y?
Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are the group born roughly in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the last few years they have gotten a lot of press. Most of it negative, some of it explanatory and lately, a small group are finally speaking out against the bad press.
Generation Y, mostly named this because they follow Generation X, doesn’t have anything more wrong with it than it’s previous generations. Some of the criticisms I hear are: Poor dress habits, sense of entitlement, disorganized and lack of attention.
These stereotypes, many will argue, are rooted in truth. But whose truth? Yours, or theirs? Let’s tackle a few of these stereotypes.
Generation Y’s Poor Dress Habits
I’ve heard on a number of occasions that Generation Y dresses poorly to work and in particular, to job interviews. I’m sure the hippies of the 60’s can relate to the criticisms. Personally, I’ve never really had an issue with someone of a particular age set dressing poorly for an interview. I’ve actually seen it across all generations.
I’ve had people come in dressed in various t-shirts, jeans and footwear and most of them were not Generation Y. Poor dress is not an age-exclusive bad habit. It happens in all age brackets and perhaps the stereotype got started by someone who had seen a run of ripped jeans and sloppy t-shirts at interviews, but I would hazard a guess and say that we can all come up with a variety of stories and not all of them are about job applicants in their 20s.
Everyone, regardless of age, should dress for the job they are interviewing for and if you’re just not sure what to do, put on a suit. But I also caution interviewers. Someone may not dress exactly as you’d like but if there’s no rips and tears, no belly buttons, butt cracks or cleavage, they’re clean and look as though they are trying to make a good impression, ask yourself if they are worth a second interview based on their merits and competencies. If they come back for a second interview, they probably have cleaned up their act.
Generation Y’s Sense of Entitlement
This is probably the number one criticism of Gen Y. “They feel like just because they have a degree they should get the job.” “They assume that they should just get whatever they want.” Sound familiar? It’s a refrain I hear often from managers and execs.
This generation has experienced massive leaps and bounds in technology, health care and pay equality. Post-secondary education is widely assumed as being the next step rather than a privilege and the world is a much smaller place with the advent of the Internet. The cultural climate of North America is such that, Gen Y has never had the obstacles that previous generations have had. And any obstacles they have faced, they have had much more support and tools than their predecessors.
The word entitlement suggests an attitude of arrogance and assumptions. Do they assume they deserve the raise because their manager has done nothing to coach their performance? Have you pointed out flaws or errors? Have you made any attempt to coach them on what type of performance you want from them? If you haven’t, then they believe they are doing a good job, and of course they don’t see why they shouldn’t be rewarded. This would be the same for any employee. Does your employee really feel that simply because they went to school they should have the job? Or is it because they see themselves as a good fit for the job and as of yet, have not been given a reason why they are not?
With the world at the doorstep in the form of the Internet, Gen Y has access to information like no generation before them. Their assumption of success is largely based on messages via marketing, parental and societal influences. Rather than labelling Generation Y as entitled, you may be better to engage them in a discussion. You may find out that the sense of entitlement is actually an inner drive to succeed.
Generation Y is Disorganized
I have a messy desk. There are stacks of folders, papers and just stuff everywhere. But my computer desktop is neat as pin and I can find everything when I need it. I also hate paper and am forced to deal in it far more than I ever care to. Give me pdf’s and spreadsheets, not papers and folders.
Before writing off Generation Y as disorganized, look at your criteria. Are you expecting a tidy desk and theirs is not? Do you want their paper folders lined up with even spacing? Then look at how they organize when left to their own devices. Is their digital space clean? Are they able to find documents on the shared drive when you need them? Perhaps you are both simply used to organizing differently and when required to conform, there’s a challenge.
I’m not saying that you should simply let it go, but take a look at the overall picture first before condemning your employee to the term disorganized. Perhaps there’s needs to be a discussion about expectations, reasons and how both of you can make compromises to satisfy both of you.
Generation Y’s Short Attention Span
I believe it’s the workplace that actually creates the short attention span, not the other way around. As I sit here, I have work email open, a work phone that rings on occasion and a cell phone. I also have a door open, a boss requesting things, often with very little time between requests, plus everyone else in the building that I may end up talking to all while sitting at my desk.
At home, I have just a cell phone and it rarely rings (email and text reign supreme in my personal life) and little else to pull my attention from my tasks. I have written blog posts, edited my website, created newsletters or played computer games with zero interruption for hours. At work though, my days are filled with buzzing and pinging, flashing icons and requests from people. Focus is not something I can look forward to at work.
It has also been said that the short attention span is evident in their work history. With often just one or two years at a company before moving on, Gen Y looks like a group that can’t hold a job. And maybe some can’t, but if you deal with employment in Alberta at the moment, you’ll quickly learn that job hopping is not an age specific phenomenon.
Gen Y has seen their parents and grandparents toil away in jobs for decades only to be laid off, downsized or just unhappy. These ‘kids’ out there are not going to spend years hoping to get to their dream job, they are going to go out and find it. If they aren’t satisfied, they will go elsewhere.
Sure, as a company or department it costs you big dollars to hire then lose these employees. Rather than refusing to hire this generation, why not invest some time and effort into these people and their goals and you will likely see less turnover. It doesn’t require big expensive programs, but it does require a manager to pay attention and an atmosphere of interest in people.
Generation Y is Different
They are different. Every generation is different. Each new set or group that comes into the workplace is different. And the generation before you probably didn’t like you much either. What you did was new and different and outside their comfort zone.
Rather than writing off a generation, why not engage, embrace and teach them. This is your opportunity to mentor and leave a legacy behind. It’s also your chance to learn something new. Open your mind and start a conversation with someone part of this generation. You both have an opportunity to learn and grow and create unity in your organization. Change is inevitable. But if you open up to it, you can be part of creating the new direction, rather than being left behind or forced to adopt whatever is handed to you.
About the Guest Blogger:
KHR is a Generation Y HR pro who is passionate about training, positive employee relations and engagement in the workplace. If you’re looking for a creative, enthusiastic HR Generalist in the Hamilton / Halton Ontario area, please contact Pam for an introduction to her!