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Understanding All the Hype Over Gen Y

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 16:31 -- Archive

By: 
Prof. Floyd Ormsbee

What is the big deal about a new generation of workers joining the workforce? Generation Y is here already and building steam as an employment force every day. The big deal is that over the next 15 to 20 years, they will become the majority generational group in the workforce. The popular press has many "experts" who claim that it boils down to the age-old "generation gap" and that things will even themselves out.

I would argue they are dead wrong. This is an issue that is far deeper than the superficial descriptions we see in the popular press. Sure, there certainly may be differences among the generations as we have seen in past generations - but the differences we see in "GenY" aren't the same. Some even argue that there aren't differences among the generations, it is simply age.

Well, if those differences do exist, they exist for a reason - and that reason is that each generation has had different formative experiences and perceive the world differently. Make no mistake; GenY has had very different experiences than their predecessors. The things they experienced differently include having information technology at their disposal from the time of their birth (making it a part of their identity), an over-abundance of information at their disposal through the Internet and having that information in lightning-fast time (leading to the need for instant gratification), having parents and teachers who have praised them and told them how special they are ("there are no losers"), and having "snowplow" parents (parents that push obstacles out of their children's way) who have protected them to a fault.

Additionally, sometimes the generations are stereotyped or labeled based on some action or behaviour other generations see them exhibit. The problem is that these labels are often assigned without a full understanding of why that group behaved, acted, or made decisions the way they did.

For example, many have labeled both the GenX and GenY as being disloyal to their employers because they are willing to leave their jobs for better opportunity. If you look at the situation objectively, there are some good, viable reasons these groups have had to leave their jobs. Primarily, many have not had the opportunity to move ahead in their present organization due to a lack of openings and had to leave to advance. This has primarily been due to differences in the sizes of the generational groups. For example, the Boomers are a much larger group than the GenX and the GenY who have already entered the workforce. Therefore, the GenX often had no opportunity to advance, as many GenY who have been in the workforce for a while have also experienced.

The popular press claims that there is and will continue to be tremendous friction between generational groups. More so than substance, I would argue that most of the generational friction results from misunderstanding or a lack of good, credible knowledge. In essence, this is a diversity issue - and the best way to tackle problems associated with diversity or conflict resolution is to build bridges, foster communication, through learning, and by acquiring understanding. This can be accomplished through any of a number of ways such as training programs, focus groups, roundtable discussions, or other methods. Now is the time for everyone to do a little studying and learning to open their eyes to this issue.

To learn more about improving generational co-existence in your company, contact us at 613.342.2200 or at info@bizxcel.com.

Renée Eaton is a Communications Specialist for the business consulting company BizXcel which publishes Generating Greatness, the bi-weekly ezine for business professionals.