Gen Y article:

Can Gen Y – the “entitled” workers – survive the future?

© Wynn Solutions 2008.

By Garrison Wynn


Today’s office is fertile ground for generational clashes and misunderstood mindsets. With people under 30 (known as Generation Y) working alongside middle-aged managers and coworkers, the established older set often finds it difficult to motivate or understand their Gen Y colleagues.

Those who’ve had success report that tactics such as short project phases with tight deadlines and frequent praise along the way to a goal work well to fuel Gen Y.Also, it helps to make sure their work computers are no slower than the ones they have at home.

See, Gen Y children have this expectation of immediacy; this overall air of entitlement even pervades their career paths. It’s not their fault; they’re simply products of an affluent society, modern parenting and the “kinder, gentler” elementary school system they experienced. (Yes, that means we did this to them!)

Some middle-aged managers can’t comprehend Gen Y’s deserve-it-now mindset that’s so different from the prove-yourself work ethic that baby boomers and all earlier generations used to rise through the ranks. Other managers who grasp Gen Y’s conditioning adapt their work culture to more fully engage these younger workers. Yet, even among these managers, I’ve heard lots of concern about the future in the hands of those being coddled.

They wonder what will happen to the world in the hands of a spoiled generation. How will Gen Y survive if the economy tanks and life is not so rosy?

History tells us they’ll adjust – some much better than others. It has happened before. In the roaring economy of the late 1920s, parents struggled to understand why their sons were leaving the farm, why their daughters were riding in cars, drinking and smoking in public, and wearing short skirts. (Oh, the shame of exposed calves!) They wondered: What will become of these spoiled, overconfident, overspending kids under 30 who lack the work ethic they need to survive in the future?

Then the stock market crashed and the depression set in (financially and emotionally). Some found it impossible to cope, and suicide rates soared. Others found it impossible to cope without some sort of outlet: drug and alcohol abuse spiked, and crime rose to an all-time high. In fact, 1931 claims the worst crime wave in recorded history, with John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly all going nuts at the same time – and those are just the newsmakers in an era before television or the Internet.

Even so, not everyone went haywire; many survived. They buckled down and changed their entitled ways, but not before the experience carved an indelible mark in their collective psyche.

That’s why your grandparents give you that weird look when you announce you’ve bought a new house or car whenever your income increases. That image of fortune pulling the rug from under the nation’s feet is hard for them to shake. It’s why they save the rapping paper when you give them a present. 

Of course, there’s a significant difference between the Great Depression and a recession or slowdown (which, by the way, most economic experts say we are not in right now). People who tried to withdraw money during the Depression didn’t get an ATM message telling them “there are insufficient funds in your account.” No, in many cases, they heard something more startling, straight from the bank manager: “Sorry, there are insufficient funds in the bank … er … in every bank.” The unemployment rate was 30 percent in 1930 and people were giving away their children because they could not feed them. Nowadays there are measures in place to prevent such drastic conditions. (If you hear some “ thrilled by the sound of his own voice” radio host use the word “depression,” he clearly does not watch The History Channel.)

So, while it’s not likely we’ll experience the depths of the Great Depression again, it’s good to know that even the entitled youths of that era pulled it together. Most of them changed their ways and made it through. Humans have a good track record for surviving their own self-induced catastrophes, and seemingly they come out better for it in the long run.

As history changes, so do its people. The result is that each generation seems uniquely suited to the world it will inherit. We can spout off all day about how modern young people don’t have the mindset or toughness to survive – and clearly some do not. But many do. Our job as their employers or managers is not to make them think like us so they can brave the future. We’re really just supposed to make sure we can get them to do what they need to do right now to get quotas met and money made.

Sure, these concerns about mankind’s future are important and justified, but they can’t help improve the capable but disengaged 25-year-old’s productivity by month’s end. For that, we should try dividing giant projects into digestible bites, with a healthy slathering of praise as each phase gets done.

Oh, and gadgets motivate too – as long as they’re really fast and free! 

Garrison Wynn is CEO of Wynn Solutions, a consulting firm that provides keynote addresses and corporate training to boost productivity of workers of any generation. managing-generation-y.com