Gen Y in the WorkplaceIn November of last year I went to Bold Fusion, the largest annual convergence of YPs in the Greater Cincinnati area. It was my second year attending, and it still has me thinking about the Gen Y/Millennial/Digital Native generation. Many senior managers and executives describe Gen Y as entitled, overly confident, unwilling to “work their way up”, disengaged, and easily offended by criticism. To fulfill this stereotype, as a Millennial, I am offended by these accusations, and here is why.

We, as a generation, are not “bad”. We are just different. My mother tells me stories about using slide rulers in a segregated southern elementary school, and how she was the first class of women to ever be admitted into Georgia Tech. I, on the other hand, just naturally use Google as a calculator and in my generation there are more women than men seeking higher education (20% vs. 15%) according to pewresearch.org.

As a species, humans do not like change. Most of us hide from change, and will only make a change when it is absolutely necessary. I believe this is why Gen Y has such a bad rep . We feel comfortable with change because in our few short years on this earth accessing entertainment has gone from A/B cable & VHS, to DVR & DVD, to Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and Blue Ray. Entertainment is just one fraction of life and think of how much it has evolved. Gen Y has the potential to be incredible innovators because we are not just comfortable with change, we bask in it.

The question now is what exactly do Millennials want to change?

Work-Life Balance

According to Forbes.com, the Millennial generation is not the only generation that would like to maintain work-life balance. In fact, both Millennials and Gen Xers agree (at the same levels) that the demands of their work interfere with their personal lives. To quote Emily Matchar of the Washington Post, “the modern workplace frankly stinks, and the changes wrought by Gen Y will be good for everybody.”

In Ms. Matchar’s article from WashingtonPost.com she lays out some pretty shocking statistics. 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
  • 311 hours more than the French.
  • 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.

Respect & Autonomy

Since birth we have been told we are special, smart, creative, a winner, etc. Our parents gave us a lot of choices, and a lot of control around the choices we made. We respect our elders, but also demand respect for ourselves. We are now clashing with the Baby Boomers and Gen X in the workplace, not because we have an over inflated ego, but because the Gen Y generation believes everyone should be respected no matter what their rank in an organization is.

We also believe that everyone can have great opinions and insight regardless of rank and authority. The workplace is already moving to a flat organizational design, but I would predict as more Gen Y’s move up the ladder the organizational structure will start to be much more community driven.

Passion & Engagement in the Workplace

What employer doesn’t want an engaged & passionate workforce!? Millenials understand that a HUGE part of their life will be dedicated to work, and want that piece of their life to be meaningful, congruent with their values, and something they enjoy doing. Millenials are much more aware that life is not comprised of silos. Everything in one’s world affects everything else. If a person is not engaged in their job they are not as engaged or satisfied with their relationships, home life, social groups, etc. 

The next time you come across a Gen Y resume look closely. Is that Millenial just a job hopper, or are they finding an organization and job that they are aligned with? In my limited experience as a manager, when a Millenial finds a job and organization they are engaged in, the productivity of the worker is quite astounding.

I bet you are thinking “so, what exactly is the point of this article”?

Well, the point of this article is – do not underestimate my generation just yet. We are not whining, self-indulgent, self-recognized Princes and Princesses waiting to one day be handed the keys to the kingdom. We are valuable assets in the workforce that can bring innovation, thought-leadership, and calm during the everlasting change storm. And hey, don’t we all want a little more personal time, respect, and passion in our lives?