Gen Y: Meet the Working World

If you’re a member of Gen Y, especially if you’re a new or soon to be graduate, this post is for you.

While searching for more ideas to give me an edge in the currently complicated world of job hunting, I came across Lindsey Pollak and her blog.  Lindsey is an author and career coach helping college students make the jump from school to the working world.  The title of her blog post “Stop bashing Gen Y workers!” quickly caught my attention.

I was dismayed to read the embedded MSNBC.com article. While everyone is having a hard time seeking work in this economic environment, this article takes the opportunity to point out all of the reasons why Generation Y is basically unemployable.

According to the article:

  • Gen Yers aren’t willing to pay their dues
  • “This is the most educated generation, and they were told, “You’re special,’ ” notes workplace consultant J.T. O’Donnell. “Well … they’re not special, and they end up going out into the professional world and finding this out.”
  • Many Gen Y folks are ill-suited to act professionally in the work place because they didn’t hold jobs as teenagers or in college, while their parents encouraged them to focus more on their studies.
  • “… Gen Y is also viewed as woefully unprepared to jump in and work effectively in a professional setting.”
  • Gen Yers are disloyal and change jobs too frequently

The article also points out that while many of us Gen Yers have been told with education we open all of our doors and the sky is the limit, it is obviously not the case.  A lesson I’m afraid I’m quickly learning for myself.  It seems like there are many more complicated and unstated elements to the story.

While the list of those who do not fit into this stereotype could stretch on and on, from those like myself who worked throughout school and during the summers to others who personally financed their whole education while working multiple jobs and sometimes raising kids as well, I’ll resist the urge to start being defensive in this manner.

At the same time that our generation is weekly being lauded by the media for its commitment to education and volunteerism (which I also largely attribute to the pursuit of college admissions and therefore, education), as well as its increased dedication to extra-curricular activities such as sports, it’s being bashed for unwillingness and inability to act professional.

We’ve been programmed from a young age to multi-task and handle schedules.  We’ve been forced to reach accomplishments at higher and higher levels simply to keep up with each other and the college admissions game.  And yet we can’t conduct ourselves professionally in the working world?  I’m afraid I don’t buy into the argument.

As one brilliant commentator, Brett Hummel , on Pollak’s blog stated:

When you look at articles about Gen Ys aged 12-21 you hear about how amazing they are balancing school with community service, sports, clubs, and other activities, and then all of the sudden when you look at articles about young professionals (aged 21-30 or so) all you hear is how disloyal, disengaged, and lazy the generation is. How do young people who are so intimately involved in their communities suddenly and in just a single year all of the sudden become lazy and disengaged??? The simple answer is they cannot.

For her part, Pollak defends Gen Y with an impressive list of achievers, ranging from social activists to politicians to entrepreneurs.  She also confirms and explains some of the phenomena employers complain about.  For example, Gen Y changes jobs because they know they aren’t going to work for the same company for thirty years like our grandparents. That’s a concept I certainly understand after my own father has faced two tough layoffs in the last six years.

However, something else is going on with the recession and the Generation Y worker: the Baby Boomers are staying, and they’re not quite ready to hand over the reigns to the kiddos.

One commenter on Pollak’s blog brought the idea to my attention when she, as a baby boomer, stated that she thinks baby boomers forget the time when they too still needed to be trained for jobs.  It’s not that Gen Y is just clueless and unwilling to work, they, just like all workers, need to be trained.

And then along came this editorial in the New York Times, “The Stump Theory,” examining the recent successes of older folks (including the 10 year-old Sussex Spaniel, Stump, who won this year’s Westminster Dog Show) in the wider world, that say “We’re not going anywhere– yet.”

Gail Collins writes:

My own personal theory is that we’re witnessing a defense mechanism triggered by the current economic unpleasantness.

Since it appears that nobody is ever going to be able to afford to retire, we’re moving into an era in which having your car fixed or your tonsils removed by a 75-year-old will need to seem normal. Meanwhile, young people are going to have to stay in school and keep their heads down since their elders have no intention of creating any job openings in the near future. So it’s better if we readjust our thinking and start regarding everybody as 20 years younger than the calendar suggests. Then you will feel much better when the 80-year-old postman delivers your mail and it includes a request for money from your 38-year-old offspring doing post-post-post-doctoral work at Ohio State.

Ouch, that’s not an easy proposition to think about.  As much as eternal adolescence may be tempting, I’m ready to start making some headway in the world, and I’m sure plenty of other millennials are with me.

Some have proposed that more conversation between ourselves and the Baby Boomers is the answer.  Earn each other’s respect through mutual understanding.

I think that this poses an imperative to every Gen Y worker to be sharper, work harder, be more professional.  Listen and speak clearly.  Show up.  Demonstrate that we didn’t spend our young lives battling for top academics, excelling at extracurriculars, and volunteering for nothing.

What do you think?  Is Gen Y ready for the working world?  If you could catch the ear of some one ready to dismiss our Generation, what would you do to convince them otherwise?

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2 thoughts on “Gen Y: Meet the Working World

  1. You can’t put too much stock in these media bits about an entire generation. Trust me, they said the exact same things about Generation X. Now it’s your turn. In fact, if you pull a newspaper from 1880, it’s the same “kids today suck” kind of thing. It’s as old as the hills.

    I do think you and your peers have the bad luck to be coming of age in such an uncertain, difficult economic climate. They said these things about the class of 1929 too, and those kids grew up to save tin foil and stuff.

    You can’t judge an entire generation in one swoop, and you certainly can’t do it before that generation has had a chance to actually DO anything.

    • They said these things about the class of 1929 too, and those kids grew up to save tin foil and stuff.

      Thanks for the comment Kerry! The tin foil line gave me the best laugh of the day! I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your work.

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