josh rosner

THE TROUBLE WITH Y

In Australian Culture and Society on October 19, 2011 at 5:58 am

As an academic who spends much of his time teaching, I frequently encounter those young people labeled Gen-Y. Although the occasional Gen-Xer, and the rare Baby Boomer, sneak into my classes, it is overwhelmingly Gen-Y who dominate the two units I teach – a first year unit in Semester 1 and a third year unit in Semester 2.

There seems to be little agreement on the start and end dates for Gen-Y. Some suggest it begins in mid-1970s and others go as far as 2000. I’d suggest it’s about attitude, rather than birth date, but either way mid-1970s doesn’t seem to fit. I’m more inclined towards a later date than earlier. So, mid-1970s is clearly Gen-X, but for the purposes of this article, I’d put the big bang for Gen-Y at 1990 and onwards.

Regardless, I’m suggesting Gen-Y, who are beginning to enter the workforce and who will over the coming decade enter positions of leadership in business, government and society, have a myriad of unresolved issues which are likely to create havoc in the future.

There’s little point trying to suggest Gen-Y are stupid. Silly, perhaps, but certainly not stupid. They have been offered educational opportunities like never before. And mostly, they have embraced them. Like no generation that has come before them, Gen-Y has been pampered and considerably free of real financial responsibility. I was in my 20s before I began my first proper employment. I chose education first. I didn’t have a part-time job during high school, although many of my friends did. They had a newspaper run or a milk run (milk was once delivered to your door!), whereas Gen-Y work at McDonalds or in retail in large malls.

Gen-Y has been nurtured and programmed since they were toddlers with a never-ending stream of educational activities. Employers are discovering that means they are high-performers. It also means they are high-maintenance. But it has given them an inflated sense of their own worth in the employment marketplace.

It may simply be a generation thing – what generation can claim to truly understand the one that came before it? – but Gen-Y is a difficult group to connect with and by my own experience, difficult to try get to know and even be friends with.

It’s not all bad for Gen-Y; far from it. If I was to list those attributes which are sure to serve them well in the future, they would include, but are certainly not limited to:

They have financial smarts. They seem attuned to the financial insecurity that beset generations before them; particularly baby boomers. They like to spend money – which may be true of each generation as it reaches an age of financial independence – but they also seem to understand the value of a dollar earned.

Work-life balance isn’t just a buzz word. Gen-Y is often accused of being lazy – and by my own experiences in academia, they are – but they also tend to recognise the importance of a work-life balance. Unlike boomer who placed a high priority on their careers, Gen-Y tend to fit their employment around their family and social life.So, they want jobs that have flexible work hours, where technology can be utilised (i.e. telecommuting).

Change is good. Gen-Y has no expectations that they will stay in one job for any lengthy period of time. In fact, they tend not to even see themselves settling into one career for too long. They seem to be skeptical of employee loyalty. They are also a generation of multi-taskers who can juggle email on their iPhones while taking a call and trolling online. They tend not to like being forced to engage on one task for very long.

The great thing is that anyone who figures out how to market to Gen-Y and capture their easily diverted attention are sure to succeed. Those who can’t will undoubtedly be threatened by Gen-Y.

On the downside, Gen-Y are more self-centered, more disrespectful of authority and more depressed than ever before.

They don’t always know what they want, but when they do figure it out, they formulate a plan to get it. But in the process, they really aren’t very nice people to know.

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  1. And usually they chant ‘Ron Paul 2012’ like blind sheep.

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