Friday, March 7, 2008

The Generation That's Simply Misunderstood

After reading Kelli’s blog post in her blog PRos in Training (one of my favs!) and the somewhat defensive responses from 3 of her students, I felt compelled to also join the conversation.

In his article Getting To Know Gen Why, Marshall Goldsmith marks us as the “What’s in it for me” generation. My initial reaction to Mr. Goldsmith’s article was, naturally, one of disappointment. After all, I am a proud Gen Y’er and I believe we are hard-working, compassionate and eager to learn as ever. It always disappoints me when people are quick to classify the younger generation as lazy, immoral, and disrespectful, because obviously there are exceptions to every stereotype.

However, through his rant about the kids who “don't want to pay their dues, play by the rules, or give their best to any project unless they are sure it will get them a promotion, a raise, or some kind of recognition;” I admit that some of his points are spot on.

We Gen Y’ers have been raised in a society where “anything is possible.” Therefore, it is hard when we graduate from college and immediately find ourselves in, as Alexandra Levit best describes it in her book They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, a ‘quarterlife crisis.’ (aka, the realization that, “hmm, maybe not quite everything is possible… yet”) We graduate from college with a kick-a** degree and a few professional internships under our belt, only to find ourselves thinking, “now what?”

Eileen’s blog response to Mr. Goldsmith’s article points out that our generation is more hard-working, active and dedicated than ever, but perhaps that’s one of the qualities Mr. Goldsmith’s slightly negative opinion stems from. We are hard working, we are busy, we are determined – and that’s why we believe that we deserve better. In other words, we don’t quite fit into the corporate hierarchy. “I mean, come on, I graduated top of my class with 3 majors and 2 minors, not to mention the 4 internships I held and 7 student groups I was a part of… Why should I have to start from the bottom?!” We have dreams, goals and life plans, and it is quite the reality check to graduate and move onto that amazing job… at the bottom of the totem pole.

But is that necessarily a bad thing for corporate America? This is where my opinion differs from Mr. Goldsmith’s. Yes, it’s probably true that the typical college graduate is more likely to do their time for 6 months then move on to the next best job. Although I personally chose to follow the typical Baby Boomer approach to my first job (which I am quite content with; I was one of the lucky ones to land a great job), I believe that it is important for recent college graduates to dip around a bit and see what else is out there. (Plus, as an employer, you'll find that these entry level employees will have a well-rounded perspective to bring to your company). I had several internships throughout college before I settled into my current company, and I’m very glad I did because I believe I learned important, vital skills at each and every one of them. When Mr. Goldsmith says that managers will need to change their approach when dealing with Gen Y direct reports, he is correct. My manager, for example, does a great job of this. She constantly asks what my goals are and makes sure that I am working on projects I feel I will benefit and learn from, while offering constructive feedback along the way. As a result, I am continually growing and learning, and although I do get stuck with the occasional media list every now and then, I am more apt to do a good job because I know that her ultimate goal is to make sure that I am always growing. If managers enter into an “I’m your boss, you do what I say, and oh, by the way, get over yourself” relationship with their direct reports, then yes, they will be “toast.”

So perhaps we Gen Y-ers are just misunderstood. I once asked during a 401K training how long we had to be with the company to be 100% vested, and I cannot tell you how many awkward stares, gasps and open jaws the question received from the room full of baby boomers. Hey, I was just askin’!

Let’s face it – times are changing. Are we lazy? No, we’re just bored and we come into jobs expecting to use the high-level skills we learned in our PR campaigns and planning classes… only to find we’re doing the media lists. Do we want recognition? Yes, but not because we want more money or ‘the next big promotion.’ We want to know that our work on the team is truly valued because we genuinely care about the well-being of our companies and clients. Will we bolt for the next job when we’re not happy? Probably. But not because we’re not happy, but because it’s one step closer to the job of our dreams.

So, what is my advice to my generation? Reach for your dreams (trust me, I’m a big advocate!) but don’t get ahead of yourself. You might have a fresh perspective to bring to a company with your pretty college degree and knowledge of new media, but you’re not going to start out as the company’s VP. If you pay your dues and prove yourself as an entry-level employee, trust me, you will be noticed and become one step closer to reaching your dream.


Kelli Matthews said...

Andrea, this is a great post. I think you're right on. I think each of the "traits" that a GenY'er has can be positive or negative. It depends on the individual (the GenY'er) and their supervisor/instructor/manager. It will take some shifts in management style, but I think those who get it, will have a much more productive, and loyal, workforce.

Eileen Chang said...


I think this post is a great analysis of our generation.

A couple people commented on my post and made some good points about the perspective we, Gen Y'ers, are making.

First of all, Eric Chestler is just one of many "employers" and negative interpreters of Gen Y.

Secondly, every generation is misunderstood, especially by the generations before. They believe the way they grew up is the "right" way, when in reality, it's all relative. It depends on how society has changed and how we react to it.

Maybe something else we need to think about is how we just want to get our hands on learning things with substance. Yes, we do have to pay out dues, but we want to do it while learning the ins and outs of our company, industry and society. We're forward thinkers.


BTW - I'm counting down the days until I join you at WE. (If you can't tell, I'm extremely excited.) I'm also figuring out how to keep up my blog after this course and pretty much working full time. =)