The one with a rant about Gen Y

You can’t open a newspaper, magazine or Twitter client these days without hearing talk of Gen Y and for those of you who err towards the puerile end of humour, read this brief blog post from @garyfranklin

Like anyone else peddling their wares in HR these days I am aware of that apparently we need to change the world to engage with generation Y and that the baby boomers are going to break the pension pot.

I must confess I bandy the phrases as well as the next ware peddler but until I indulged in a little light wiki’ing recently I didn’t know the specifics of all the generational definitions and as I work in L&D indulge me momentarily in sharing some recently acquired knowledge:

  • The Lost Generation was originated by artist and write Gertrude Stein to describe those lost in the First World War
  • The Greatest Generation is a phrase originated by NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw for those born between the turn of the 20th century up to 1924.
  • The Silent Generation has been used to describe those born from 1925 to 1945. Clearly whoever coined the phrase had never met my Mother…
  • The Baby Boomers we all know about and they were born between 1945 and 1964 and embarrassingly I learned about the term because there was a specific edition of Trivial Pursuit (the shame) and with some exceptions they are running the world at the moment and at one time or another have all lived in a yellow submarine (kidding!)
  • Generation X are those born between 1964 and roughly 1980 (definitions vary) and interestingly are the first generation to earn less than the one before them even though their defining era likely involves Thatcher & Reagan, yuppies and red braces but also at least 3 recessions.
  • Generation Y are those born between 80/82 up the early mid 90s (again definitions vary) and have grown up with the internet, generation X parents and according to many sources (including the above linked blog) expect a lot more from their employers (reward, recognition, feedback, involvement, development, advancement etc) and if they don’t get it they will leave.

I won’t even discuss the ‘digital natives’ or generation Z but it does worry me that people who think it’s perfectly acceptable to write ‘coz’ will be running the country when I am receiving palliative care.

So is there a point? Well it’s more a rant than a point but again I beg your indulgence…

I only have two 1st cousins and both are significantly younger than me. The eldest is Gen Y and during a conversation with her at the weekend she talked about how finding friends in a new environment was difficult (she is going from undergraduate to postgraduate) and that she felt that people were only interested in her for what she could give them rather than building a meaningful relationship just for the sake of friendship. This spun off to a conversation about some of the traits of gen Y and how she felt alienated by it and the following thought struck me…

Are the lunatics taking over the asylum?

Did Nurse Ratchet think “McMurpy’s not happy let’s change the rules until he is?”*

Do school teachers change the rules of classroom discipline because the kids complain about it?

With major corporations training senior managers on how to engage gen Y employees are we allowing the preferences of a group to influence the way businesses are run, despite at times it being counter to the espoused values of the business?

It strikes me (and this is probably where my rant shows me up), however draconian it may sound that WE (whether that be a boomer or Gen X) need to stand our ground and actually manage consistently across the organisation to “assist” those of a different generation to understand and appreciate what the expectation is of them… What will get them reward and recognition and advancement…  rather than expending energies understanding what rice krispie treats they want and how to win the oft quoted “war for talent” by superficially making our businesses more attractive.

….steps down from soapbox

Now who wants a game of foosball? It’s gr8!

*for any Gen Z people reading this, that refers to a film called “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” starring an actor called Jack Nicholson. Watch it – it’s brilliant 😉



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5 responses to “The one with a rant about Gen Y

  1. Love the rant and the serious observations!

    Generational differences need to be appreciated but it can’t be one sided. Each generation needs to appreciate the other and the perspectives and environment that has formed them.

    I think this goes beyond “expectations of the job”. For me it is part of building greater appreciation of others in the workplace. Too often the focus is on the process not the people…

  2. Maybe Gen Y and Z (what happens after that BTW, is it like car number plates?) will have to get their heads around the generations that went before them too as they will be managing the older generations as we work til we drop 🙂

  3. Bob Marris

    Hi Rob – long time listener, first time caller.

    I’m not in HR but it still made for interesting reading, loved the Cuckoo’s Nest reference.
    I’m in agreement. As Sir Humphrey once said, “We have standards to maintain”.

  4. Sarah Durbridge

    I always enjoy reading your posts, Rob; and this one did not disappoint.

    It’s late in the day and I have little energy (I am a Gen X, trying to parent a Gen Z and it’s been a tough few days) but whilst I am here I did want to comment.

    It goes without saying that we should manage consistently, regardless of the generation we are managing but taking some time to understand preferences/what makes folk tick is important too, isn’t it? Even though teachers might not change the rules of the classroom discipline, they may change the way they teach if the kids are not learning via traditional methods.

    Your gripe focuses on how Boomers and Gen X’s manage Gen Y’s. We have a young workforce and have many Gen Y’s managing fellow Gen Y’s, which is a whole other ball game!

    As I think about this I am reminded of something a friend said to me when I was “with (aforementioned) child”. She said: “this child will change your life and dictate what you do, but only as much as you let it”.

  5. Rob

    Being generation x myself, and the comment about Regan and Thatcher, just made me think of that sketch on Not the 9 o’clock News…

    “I believe”

    Still makes me laugh! Sorry – this is supposed to be a serious blog!

    Lara Lakin

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