Stop bashing Gen Y workers!

I try to read everything in the news about Generation Y and careers. This means I regularly find myself plodding through frustrating stories about how the Millennials are “entitled,” “coddled” and “disloyal.” Friday’s article on MSNBC.com is yet another maddening example.

When did the Baby Boomers mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30” turn into “Don’t trust anyone under 30”?

Why, during the worst economy in over 60 years, would anyone tell our youngest workers—our future leaders—that they are “not special” and “woefully unprepared”? If we said this about any other type of worker, it would be discrimination. Why is it okay to bash young workers?

I acknowledge that many Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 90s) are not as prepared as previous generations when it comes to some very important areas of work, such as writing skills and professionalism. I would argue in return that they are significantly more prepared in such very important areas as technology and globalization.

And yes, many young workers like to change jobs frequently. But this is a natural and understandable result of growing up in a time of unprecedented economic expansion, the dot com revolution and rounds upon rounds of corporate downsizings. Millennials know they’ll never work at one company for 30 years and retire with a gold watch. They’re not disloyal; they’re realistic. And, when they find a company that has adapted to the new realities of the workforce, such as Zappos.com, they do stay.

It’s important for a news outlet like MSNBC to report that younger workers have been especially hard hit in the economic downturn. It’s another thing entirely to basically blame it on the young workers. Criticizing Millennials is a total waste of time and energy. Instead of disparaging the young people quoted in the article, why not offer them some tips to land jobs, or balance the piece with some stories of Millennials who are succeeding despite the recession?

Most of the organizations I know that employ Millennials have some complaints. But, those employers tell me, once they provide some coaching and adapt their training and management practices a bit, they are generally thrilled with the productivity, creativity and hard work of their young workers. I’ve seen the same with the Gen Ys I know and work with.

I’ve seen:

young people, like Marissa Davis, who are starting organizations to solve social problems

young people, like BusinessWeek’s best entrepreneurs of 2008, who are starting profitable ventures

young people, like Aaron Schock, who are running for Congress — and winning

young people, like Nuzhat Karim, who are working diligently to contribute to the success of their employers.

What is the point of this rant? It’s this: I challenge anyone who wants to criticize young workers to do three things:

1) Talk to a Millennial and ask that young person how he or she sees the world.

2) Tell that Millennial how you see the world.

3) Repeat.

Stop bashing Generation Y. We’re all in this together.

31 Responses to “Stop bashing Gen Y workers!”

  1. Working Girl

    BBs bash Millennials mainly because they’ve forgotten how clueless THEY were when they entered the workforce. All new employees need to be trained. Even if they have a B.A., master’s, or law degree, or whatever. This has been true always.

    And also I think BBs resent Millennials a bit because, in general, Millennials are more confident and less abashed. When we (yup, I’m a BB too) started in the workplace we were, in general, more on the timid side. It’s how most of us were raised. So I think that now many BBs are just jealous.

    This is only my sense of it. Have “studies” been done? I don’t know.

    Reply
  2. Cassandra

    While I admit there are some clueless people in my generation (the millennials), I honestly cannot fathom why older generations think we’re lazy, self-entitled and unprofessional.

    Most people I know are dying to work in a professional environment and they’re willing to work their butt off to get there.

    As for being confident (or arrogant, depending which side of the fence you’re on) – many of us were raised to believe that without confidence, people (and employers especially) won’t take notice of you and you won’t get anywhere in life. We grew up on carpe diem. We’ve been brainwashed to think unless we’re aggressive go-getters there’s no hope in hell for us.

    I think our parents’ and grandparents’ generations reaped what they sowed in terms of how the millennials turned out. I agree with you Lindsay, we’re really not bad, and I’ve also been getting sick of all the age-ist literature that’s been coming out lately.

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  3. Cassandra

    Sorry, I meant Lindsey not Lindsay.

    Reply
  4. Andrea

    Thank you for this post, Lindsey. I’ve never understood the sweeping generalizations made about Generation Y. There are lazy, entitled people in every generation just as there are hard-working people from each generation. I think that as we get older it becomes harder to remember how we were in our teens and early twenties.

    Reply
  5. Chandlee Bryan

    I could not agree with you more. This is a common tale, and seems to happen with every generation.

    I’m a Gen X’er who uses technology like a Millennial and remembers all too well the “Gen X bashing” of the mid-90’s post “Reality Bites.” My co-workers and I would sit around our lunch room and mock the slacker stereotype, “I’m angry. I’m really angry. I don’t know why but I’m just so angry.” Then we would laugh and go back to work; we were productive.

    The stereotype for our angst wasn’t based on sand: The challenge for “Gen X” was that we were raised on “Free to Be” and many of us graduated from college without realizing that economics placed some limitations on our choices. Thus, the “angst.” Many of my friends and I simply were not fully aware of our options.

    For nine of the last ten years, I’ve worked directly with college students and recent graduates–otherwise known as Millennials. A vast majority of the students that I have worked with have been hard-working, diligent, and frequently overwhelmed by the process of landing their first job and internship. Occasionally, they’ve asked for greater assistance with the job search process than I would have expected, but after meeting with over 2,000 students and recent graduates—I think I understand why.

    Millennials, by nurture, have a greater pre-professional than Gen X: they’ve been raised with internships. While co-ops have been in existence for over 60 years, there has been a sea change in terms of pre-professional development: Where internships were once the exception, they are now the rule: in 1997, the Census Bureau conducted a survey which found that roughly 20% of employers offered internships. In 2008, 69.8% of internships reported to the National Association of College Employers resulted in a full-time job offer.
    Given the trend for job offers on the basis of the “junior year summer,” Millennials face increased pressure to pick a profession, a job function and an industry fast. They know full well that many employers will make full-time offers for new graduates exclusively from the internship “pipeline,” and that the process is highly competitive. It’s a pressure cooker, and one which can breed anxiety and the “herd mentality.”

    I recently met with a first year student at an Ivy League school. She is bright, articulate and averted her eyes when I asked her how her first semester went. “I didn’t do well,” she said. “I studied harder than ever before, made a bad grade in Econ., and it’s going to be hard to achieve my goals now.” It was a B- and, to her, it represented the end of her potential career in the business world.

    To me, this is the unspoken challenge that many members of Gen Y face: They are overwhelmed because they have high expectations of themselves, a condensed time frame to achieve the (widely accepted) goal of employment, and a (occasionally) limited view of the possibilities that lie before them as they may see only what they’ve experienced before.

    As Lindsey urges, it is time to stop the bashing, and time to start seeking to understand one another. Our economy has the equivalent of a bad grade and given the unprecedented number of industries affected, it’s going to take the strength of a multi-generational workforce to pull us out.

    Reply
  6. Jacob Summers

    As a young person entering the workforce at the end of this semester, I know that I am certainly NOT coddled. I know a lot of my peers who are, but the idea that one would think this about me, blame it on me, and maybe not hire me over it is depressing.

    Reply
  7. Carl

    You can help people become more prepared for what they need to do. You can train willing people once they hit the workplace.

    I believe the most disturbing thing that is seen is the lack of common manners and the complete unreliability. That is not a sweeping generalization to be applied to all millenials – It is true that millenials are typically more likely to be wholly unreliable than they are to be reliable, and that is disturbing at best. How do you create a work team based on unreliability?

    Reply
  8. Vicki

    As someone who was born right on the cusp of the BB and GenX generations it has been interesting through my career to see the differences in each generation. When I started working, we all thought that the work world was waiting for us with open arms and had a harsh reality when we learned that we were also part of the first wave of “disposable” workers. Because we were raised by a work force that did stay at companies for 30 years, we worked hard and stayed loyal even if the company had no loyalty to us. Generation X did come through with that sense of entitlement and I still see that in so many 30+ somethings today. Generation Y grew up on technology and was. Conditioned for the instant gratification that technology gives. The Gen Y workforce just needs to be reconditioned (as we all had to be before) because your work and career will not give you that same instant gratification that technology does, no matter how much we use it in our work. I agree with the posts above, we need to stop pointing fingers and learn from each other and work together.
    Division in the workforce will make it harder for this economy to move forward.

    d

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  9. Tammy

    Hi Lindsey, This article presents an argument that is so inconsistent to what I’ve heard from more seasoned employees in my workplace. They actually fear that younger people are going to replace them, because our salaries are smaller.

    This part frustrated me too:

    “Another factor keeping the jobless rate high among younger workers may be their unwillingness to accept any job that’s offered, says Todd Steen, professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

    “When you’re younger you’re willing to look a little more, maybe move around or live with parents,” he says. “If you’re 50 with a mortgage, you’ll do anything to work hard.””

    I think it’s true that young people look more for jobs that will fulfill them and make them happy, because we don’t have to support a family and we do have our parents’ support if we need it. But to say this means we are resisting hard work – that is so untrue!

    I could see how this article would incense you – me too! I’m grateful you’ve come to Gen Y’s defense. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Lindsey Pollak

    Thank you to everyone for the very thoughtful comments. It’s great to see so much dialogue about generational issues.

    I do take issue with @Carl’s comment that all Millennials are unreliable. I think many of the Gen Ys who commented on this article are proof that is not the case.

    I hope we’ll all keep talking about this issue.

    Lindsey

    Reply
  11. Miriam Salpeter

    It seems to me that the lesson to emphasize here is that we should learn not to overgeneralize and use stereotypes to make decisions. Haven’t we learned that these broad-stroke approaches fail?

    Yes, some Gen Xers were “angry,” some Boomers don’t know how to use technology and some Gen Yers behave in ways that make older workers think of them as lazy.

    But, have you never met a lazy Boomer? A tech-averse Gen Xer? A talented and dedicated Gen Y? Of course!

    When everyone focuses on judging the individual based on that person’s presentation, we won’t need to rant one way or another about stereotypes that many use to cloud their judgements about the person standing in front of them!

    Reply
  12. Trace Cohen

    While I am a Gen-Yer (and proud of it) I wanted to read the articles you mentioned and others online to better understand your frustration and stumbled across some interesting and thought provoking posts. The one thing that stuck out the most was a comment that someone made basically saying that the people “bashing” the Gen-Y workers are mainly the Gen-X, aka our parents! Times have changed drastically from the days when Gen-X once stood in our shoes, and we’re the product of them trying to cope with it while still trying to be loving parents. We have names for them too! I have heard them called “Helicopter Parents,” always hovering over us to make sure that we’re safe and sound, giving us the support and encouragement that unfortunately a lot of them never had. Calling them hypocritical wouldnt be the right word, they’re just trying to give us everything they never had which can come off to some as “entitled,” “coddled” and “disloyal.”

    This is all the more reason like you mentioned for Gen-Y workers to prove to ourselves and the world that we are capable of working hard and producing great results and inciting change. We need to change our brand image of how everyone perceives us by branding ourselves based on each and every ones unique expertise and skills. We need to stop being defined by our jobs and start being defined by what we do.

    Reply
  13. zak

    the irony of Gen Y bashing by boomers? They raised us.

    Reply
  14. Lance Haun

    Most of the love AND hate for Generation Y is without merit. What is funny is how often people are willing to embrace positive stereotypes without question while rejecting negative stereotypes as “outliers” or “there are always a couple.”

    In talking with my peers in HR, the overwhelming perception of Gen Y has been that they are average contributors. Some are great, some are bad, most are mediocre… just like every other generation. When it comes to adding value and performing for an organization, Gen Y is probably average. When you’re talking about millions people, that’s the reality. Many of my Gen Y friends are successful. Many of the Gen Y’ers I’ve encountered in my job have not been.

    Reply
  15. GenYer

    That MSNBC article is way off base.

    First of all, I’m in the Gen. Y and I worked a part-time job throughout most of high school, while doing extracurricular activities and getting As in AP classes. The same goes for college. So please don’t generalize my generation and tell me that I wasn’t raised to work hard.

    On the issue of the recession, I think it is unfair to say that Gen Yers are shooting themselves in the foot by not taking any old jobs that comes along. If you have saved up enough money to live off of for 6 months and don’t have any dependents, why should you take any old job? I think it would be more beneficial to your career to wait until a good job comes along, if you can do that.

    Of course people with more experience would do better in a recession. Isn’t that stating the obvious? A lot of senior level employees are getting laid off and are in a better position than their junior counterparts to get open positions, even if they are less pay and require less experience than there last job.

    Reply
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  17. MarissaB_SyracuseU

    Once again, you are helping us Millennials out Lindsey; I appreciate your attempt to clear our bad reps! I understand that many of my peers are unprofessional and lack any sort of respect, but there are some of us out there who work hard and do everything according to the book. People forget that these slackers are who we, as student leaders must work with in campus organizations, and believe me, it only makes the rest of us work harder. Thanks for supporting the idea that we cannot all by lumped into one category, and explaining that now is when you must give young, basically free workers a chance to shine. Syracuse is fortunate to have you as a mentor!!!

    Reply
  18. Myra

    What a refreshing read! I started following Generation Y in the media a couple of years ago and was astonished by the negativity. All of my peers and I, with the exception of VERY few, all seemed to hit the ground running after high school. Many of us are home owners, myself included, and have fantastic reputations at our collective employers. I am starting to see a small change in the negative perception of us as Entrepreneur magazine has had several targeted ads about us in recent months that, I felt, were far more accurate. I think the down economy, coupled with our aiding Obama’s victory, has really given us a chance to shine. I feel that where we were once viewed as the “bling bling” generation, we are now proving ourselves to be mature, ethical, and deeply interested in creating a more ethical and socially-conscious world.

    Reply
  19. Evelyn Van Til

    What a great conversation! One of the elements that really resonates for me and that I deeply appreciate is the call to work as a community by engaging in open communication and collaboration so the economy strengthens and opportunities for all abound.

    As a Gen X’er and someone who works with Gen Y’s on a daily bases to help them find their career path and negotiate the world, I want to commend Lindsey for raising the bar and for everyone else for participated.

    Let’s ALL find ways to practice our purpose with passion!

    Reply
  20. Lindsey Pollak

    @Evenlyn Van Til,

    Thanks for the nice comments and adding to the conversation!

    Lindsey

    Reply
  21. Lindsey Pollak

    Thank you to all of the commenters for the very insightful, honest and open dialogue. I hope we’ll continue the conversation!

    Lindsey

    Reply
  22. Brett Hummel

    I think this matter of Millennials being entitled is simply a misinterpretation of our actual desires by older workers. Many older workers did not grow up in a time with constant feedback or results, and so are not prepared to deal with a person who has constantly adjusted their skills and output based on feedback. Older workers incorrectly assume that when Millennials are questioning certain processes or are looking for new ways to operate (i.e. use facebook or im at work) that they are somehow trying to show disrespect or acting entitled. What these people fail to understand is that when Millennials ask questions or try to bring new tools into the workplace, they are not acting entitled but demonstrating how involved they really are. The actual problem comes when Gen Ys stop asking for feedback from their managers because then they have disengaged and are only going through the motions.

    With regards to our loyalty and expectations at work, study after study confirms that young professionals do not have any less loyalty or productivity than their older counterparts:

    Article from the Globe:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080414.wlmillennial14/BNStory/lifeWork/home

    Study by Price Waterhouse Coopers:
    http://www.management-issues.com/display_page.asp?section=research&id=5342

    I completely agree though with the theme of the post that every article seems to say Millennials are ‘trophy kids’ who are spoiled and entitled. There are many problems though with these articles. First, many of these articles only ask ‘experts’ who are 10-20 years older than this generation to analyze us, and second many of the articles never seem to survey or directly ask any Millennials their opinions on what they want at work. It would seem to me that this would be the first stop for a journalist looking to examine Gen Ys. Finally, I would like to point out an odd trend that I noticed regarding stories about Millennials. When you look at articles about Gen Ys aged 12-21 you hear about how amazing they are balancing school with community service, sports, clubs, and other activities, and then all of the sudden when you look at articles about young professionals (aged 21-30 or so) all you hear is how disloyal, disengaged, and lazy the generation is. How do young people who are so intimately involved in their communities suddenly and in just a single year all of the sudden become lazy and disengaged??? The simple answer is they cannot.

    I think it is important to note though that Gen Ys must listen and work with their older counterparts. These older workers have an incredible amount of leadership and wisdom to pass to our generation, and we would be foolish to not work with those who are willing to work with us.

    Reply
  23. Lindsey Pollak

    @Brett Hummel – Many excellent points and helpful links. Thank you for joining the conversation and I’m glad to know about your work.

    Lindsey

    Reply
  24. JWatts

    “How do young people who are so intimately involved in their communities suddenly and in just a single year all of the sudden become lazy and disengaged??? The simple answer is they cannot.”

    Excellent point. That was the first question this article flagged for me as well.

    Count me in as another Gen-Y with a top 15 college degree, dean’s list GPA and national academic awards, all produced while working part time during the school year alongside extracurriculars and full time (sometimes two or three jobs) in the summer.

    “The actual problem comes when Gen Ys stop asking for feedback from their managers because then they have disengaged and are only going through the motions.”

    I’m very careful to conduct myself properly in the workplace and don’t mess around with Facebook, texting or IM at work. The problem I’ve actually had with management runs the other way. When I’ve offered new ideas or asked for suggestions to get off the ground on a project or for feedback on my work I’m more often than not shooed away and given a look saying “Who asked for your opinion?”. I’ve been told to come with a solution first, and then ask the question (which I do), or been greeted with total disinterest, as if to say, I don’t care what you’re doing, just keep yourself busy and surprise me.

    I’m ready to learn, but who is willing to teach?

    Reply
  25. Lindsey Pollak

    @JWatts – thanks for the thoughtful comments. I wish I could hire you — you sound like a terrific employee!

    I think the workplace is going through a major generational transition right now that is exacerbated by the troubles in the economy. Unfortunately, people aren’t as willing to mentor and train (or even listen) because they are scared about their jobs and company results.

    I’d encourage you to reach out to mentors outside of your company for advice, leadership, coaching, etc. There are many experienced professionals who are eager to connect with young people — it just may take you a while to find them.

    Good luck!
    Lindsey

    Reply
  26. JWatts

    @Lindsey Pollak– Thanks for standing up for us GenY folk. I think your assessment of the generational shift in the workplace is dead-on.

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  27. Anthony Dineen

    this is a new topic that I have just recently been subjected to. I had no idea that the older generations are looking down on us like this. The more I learn about this, the more I want to prepare myself for my future in the job market. Thanks for the heads up and keep spreading the word, and I will absolutely be twitting this article.

    Reply
  28. Lindsey Pollak

    @Anthony – glad you found this article helpful. I think it’s smart to prepare for the possibility of some “Gen Y backlash.” Thanks for sharing on Twitter!

    Lindsey

    Reply

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