It’s not uncommon to find journalists who proclaim Gen Y as a selfish generation too engrossed in their digital culture to understand the importance of hard work or doing things the right way without cutting corners. At the same time most of these journalists would agree that today’s graduates are entering the working world characterized by an ever more rapidly evolving set of tools and designed specifically to decrease production time, increase efficiency, and make the world a smaller, more connected place. These same technologies that are praised for their revolutionary abilities are at the same time decried for destroying the very things they were meant to disrupt, and often it is Gen Y that gets the blame for this changing of the guard.
I recently read CNN Columnist Ruben Naverette’s piece For the Class of 2013, a Cold Shower in which he proclaimed, “Talk to college professors or human resource managers or employers. Read the research done on the so-called Millennial generation, and you’ll find lots of evidence that …. The young people of today have often spent their lives being coddled, catered to and spared the stress of living up to expectations. People usually tell them only what they want to hear…Not me.” Navarette then lays out ten self proclaimed “provocative” pieces of advice that show little evidence to support his claims, or more importantly, offer any solutions. Instead, he offers traditional maxims about taking responsibility, making quality relationships, and working hard to create a better future. Essentially Navarette leads with a grand flourish on correcting the dire state of Gen-Y, but in the end fails to adequately support his claims, thus perpetuating unfair stereotypes of Gen Y as lazy and overly self interested with little evidence to back this up.
Another article in Time went so far as to offer a quote stating: “Veteran teachers are saying that never in their experience were young people so thirstily avid of pleasure as now… so selfish.” While this quote wouldn’t be out of place in Mr. Navarette’s piece, it’s actually from a writer who published a letter in The Atlantic in 1911 to complain about the youth of that time and how their self-interest will be their downfall. This is just one of many examples highlighting the cyclical disconnect and misunderstanding from generation towards the next.
Perhaps the best analysis I’ve read of the manufactured “Gen Y/Millennial Problem” comes from Monique Valcour’s excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review. Monique’s article points out how very similar the current generation of managers are to their millennial counterparts when it comes to long terms goals, desires, and needs. “Research from the University of North Carolina shows that Millennials want the same things from their employers that Generation X and Baby Boomers do: challenging, meaningful work; opportunities for learning, development and advancement; support to integrate work and personal life; fair treatment and competitive compensation.” By highlighting similarities, Monique directs the argument towards solutions instead of striving to be divisive.
I personally believe that the solution to this issue comes down to first recognizing that the generations are not all that different. Both essentially want the same things from their lives personally and professionally wanting a good job, stable homelife as well as positive relationships. The difference though comes down to how both groups believe is the best way to get there, with one group valuing autonomous, hard work as the best and another viewing collaborative, tech enabled efficiency as the best means. Even with these differences common ground can be found. Young workers need to remember that they are inexperienced and at their entry-level jobs primarily to learn from their managers and support operations, not be the star of the show. At the same time managers need to remember that a large part of their role when managing a college graduate is not making sure they are busy, but teaching them and guiding them with work that builds their confidence and skill set, consequently improving the team and the company as a whole.
It isn’t easy managing recent college graduates; it takes patience and a lot of understanding. Many aren’t acclimated to the work world nor have they learned the professional norms that most managers have learned over years on the job. Consequently, many graduates can come across as out of touch, or disinterested in their work when this is the farthest thing from the truth. Simply taking the time to voice your expectations while also providing the graduate with guidance in order for them to grow professionally ensures a mutual contribution to the overall success of the team and the company. This mindset was summarized perfectly by Brent Saunders, the current Chief Executive of Bausch and Lomb during a New York Times interview in which he stated “You should always try to make the people around you as good and strong and talented as you can, because they make you shine. I think that’s probably the biggest key to success, and it probably comes from my days as a consultant. The most successful partners all had something in common — they had developed a lot of people to become partners, and so that’s what I started to emulate when I was there.”
While it’s in vogue to claim that the problems millenials face are totally of their own making, and differences between generations are insurmountable, this is far from the truth. Millennials are an important and malleable part of the work force, and their impact on a company now and into the future can be greatly influenced by not only their own attitude, but how they are managed and molded as well.
Sean Little is the VP of marketing for FirstJob.com. FirstJob specialized in connecting recent graduates with entry level jobs related to their fields and connecting recruiters with the candidates they’re looking for. Watch his job blog for up-to-date for up-to-date tips and advice on landing the perfect position.
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