Social scientists have had Generation-Y, also known as “millenials”, under their microscopes for a while. Born between 1982 and 1999, Gen-Y is now coming of age and becoming a force in the workplace displacing aging “boomers” as they retire to the hills. So, researchers are now looking at how Gen-Y is faring inside corporate America. Remember, Gen-Y is the “it’s all about me generation”; members are characterized as typically lazy and spoiled, have a grandiose sense of entitlement, inflated self-esteem and deep emotional fragility. Their predecessors, the baby boomers, on the other hand are often seen as over-bearing, work-obsessed, competitive and narrow-minded. A clash of cultures is taking shape in office cubes across the country as these groups, with such differing personalities and philosophies, tussle within the workplace. However, it may not be all bad, as columnist Emily Matchar, argues below — corporate America needs the kind of shake-up that Gen-Y promises.
Have you heard the one about the kid who got his mom to call his boss and ask for a raise? Or about the college student who quit her summer internship because it forbade Facebook in the office?
Yep, we’re talking about Generation Y — loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 1999 — also known as millennials. Perhaps you know them by their other media-generated nicknames: teacup kids,for their supposed emotional fragility; boomerang kids, who always wind up back home; trophy kids — everyone’s a winner!; the Peter Pan generation, who’ll never grow up.
Now this pampered, over-praised, relentlessly self-confident generation (at age 30, I consider myself a sort of older sister to them) is flooding the workplace. They’ll make up 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025 — and they’re trying to change everything.
These are the kids, after all, who text their dads from meetings. They think “business casual” includes skinny jeans. And they expect the company president to listen to their “brilliant idea.”
When will they adapt?
They won’t. Ever. Instead, through their sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem, they’ll make the modern workplace adapt to them. And we should thank them for it. Because the modern workplace frankly stinks, and the changes wrought by Gen Y will be good for everybody.
Few developed countries demand as much from their workers as the United States. Americans spend more time at the office than citizens of most other developed nations. Annually, we work 408 hours more than the Dutch, 374 hours more than the Germans and 311 hours more than the French. We even work 59 hours more than the stereotypically nose-to-the-grindstone Japanese. Though women make up half of the American workforce, the United States is the only country in the developed world without guaranteed paid maternity leave.
All this hard work is done for less and less reward. Wages have been stagnant for years, benefits shorn, opportunities for advancement blocked. While the richest Americans get richer, middle-class workers are left to do more with less. Because jobs are scarce and we’re used to a hierarchical workforce, we accept things the way they are. Worse, we’ve taken our overwork as a badge of pride. Who hasn’t flushed with a touch of self-importance when turning down social plans because we’re “too busy with work”?
Into this sorry situation strolls the self-esteem generation, printer-fresh diplomas in hand. And they’re not interested in business as usual.
The current corporate culture simply doesn’t make sense to much of middle-class Gen Y. Since the cradle, these privileged kids have been offered autonomy, control and choices (“Green pants or blue pants today, sweetie?”). They’ve been encouraged to show their creativity and to take their extracurricular interests seriously. Raised by parents who wanted to be friends with their kids, they’re used to seeing their elders as peers rather than authority figures. When they want something, they’re not afraid to say so.