The Next Wave of Young Workers

The Next Wave of Young Workers
By Heather Neely, M.A. Organizational Psychology
Reprinted with permission from Heather Neely
How can it be possible that another generation is emerging into the workforce? Wasn’t it only yesterday when we were reading about the Generation X invasion into our career centers and corporate campuses?
If you are a baby boomer born between 1943-1962 you are already familiar with generational shifts. You remember all too well the day you went to work and realized that half of the people working in your office looked like they were too young to have drivers’ licenses. Who were these kids and when were they going home? Much to your chagrin, they were not going home; they, like you, were employees. And just when you’d made adjustments to your work in order to attract and retain these Generation X rising stars, here comes the next wave of young workers.
Who is Generation Y?
In looking at future generations, like the emerging Generation Y, we must not forget that each generation is an expression of the social, political and economic world in which they were raised. It is up for speculation how the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 will impact Generation Y, but it is an undeniable fact that the ramifications will be profound. Yes, even Gen Y’ers are going to seem different from us and for a good reason. World events make a lasting impression on generational groups and shape us in unique ways. Don’t forget-this does not automatically make other generations broken, wrong, stupid, lazy, or projects for us to fix. Instead, look at Gen Y’ers as perfect products-accurate portrayals of the world they have seen. Our task is to learn what makes them tick so we can maximize the talents they possess and help develop them in areas where they are under-skilled.

Who are those emerging citizens?
According to our research at RainmakerThinking Inc. and documented in our book, “Managing Generation Y: Global Citizens born in the late seventies and early eighties” (HRD Press, 2001) by Carolyn A. Martin, Ph.D. and Bruce Tulgan, we define Gen Y as an American demographic group born between 1978-1984 which has approximately 29 million members. Y’ers are self-confident, independent, goal oriented, hard working and look to their parents as role models. This is a generation raised in a society with an intense focus on achievement. Some experts say the American society has taken on a “winner takes all” mentality and Gen Y’ers have been caught in the crossfire and are doing everything they can to keep up. While at one time children enjoyed free time, now their free time has been replaced with a frenetic, never-ending race to fill their resumes up with super human activities. As small kids, Y’ers spent a good number of years being shuttled in the family mini-van to and from sports, music lessons, dance and a variety of other after-school activities including part-time jobs. Studies show that stress levels among teens are at an all time high and there has been an increase in eating disorders, alcohol abuse and other stress related problems.
So, what can we expect to see from Gen Y in the workplace and career centers? First and foremost, don’t be surprised if you find yourself interacting with the parents of your Gen Y students and employees. We’ve heard dozens of stories from corporations and universities all over the United States of parents showing up on job interviews and career counseling appointments. Parents don’t stop at the interview process or the first counseling appointment. Parents have done it all from attempting to negotiate stock options and move packages to calling managers when their child failed to receive a favorable review.
Out of the many characteristics of Gen Y, here are a few to consider:

Gen Y’ers are independent and collaborative.
Even though Gen Y’ers have enjoyed a great deal of parental involvement, like Gen X’ers, they too are a latchkey generation and can be fiercely independent. Many are confident beyond their years and have been in the role of teaching their elders how to make technology work. They believe in their skills and are not shy about taking risks.
Don’t misunderstand your Gen Y’ers confidence and assume that they don’t want to be told what to do. They want the direction and support that you can provide but what they are also looking for is the freedom to get the task done at their pace utilizing their own creativity.
Gen Y’ers are a walking contradiction.
While they can be independent, they also possess an intense desire for collaboration. Research shows that Gen Y’ers work well alone but work even more efficiently with others. Remember that Gen Y’ers have been working in close collaboration not only with their parents but also in schools on project teams. The challenge for managers and counselors is to strike a balance and build in enough time so that your Gen Y’ers can work independently and in collaboration with others.
Gen Y is the first generation that can claim technology as a birthright. To say that they are comfortable with computers is an understatement. For many Gen Y’ers, using a computer comes as naturally as breathing.
Be open to learning from your younger employees.
One seasoned career counselor told us that while she recognizes she is an expert in the domain of career counseling, it occurred to her a few years ago that her students were experts on accessing online career information. Rather than getting upset at her lack of updated information, she saw it as an opportunity to work with her students to learn from them. Since she opened herself up to be taught by Gen Y’ers, she has since compiled hundreds of useful online resources that can be shared with future students.
Keep in mind that Gen Y’ers see technology as a tool and want to use it but more importantly they want to create with it. For example, 36% of college students have created their own web sites or home pages. They are continually customizing how they gather and share information. Your new hires will be curious about your culture, mission, products, etc. but what really grabs their attention is the technology that you use to support them.

To a large extent, people from across the generations have become accustomed to technology in some form or another. Gen Y’ers, however, have very high expectations of technology. Your younger workers will be looking to see how your company measures up against other companies with regards to technology. How is technology used within the company? Is your company willing to expand job responsibilities to capitalize on new technology?

The Gen Y career mindset
Like many people shaped by the information revolution, the best Gen Y’ers are independent, techno-savvy, entrepreneurial minded, crave responsibility, demand instant feedback and relentlessly pursue work that gives them a sense of accomplishment. Our research tells us that there are three major reasons why Gen Y’ers select one career over another.
* They want to do meaningful work that makes a difference
* They want to work with committed co-workers
* They want to meet their personal and financial goals

The key to retaining all good employees and especially your Gen Y employees comes down to the quality of relationships they have with their managers. Managers are the ones who can help their Gen Y employees attain job factors that matter to them. The one-size-fits-all approach to management, once tolerated in workplaces, is out; customization is in. Your Gen Y’ers won’t stick around if you don’t get to know them as individuals. Be open to customizing career paths, training and projects.

The newest generation has arrived! The next time you run into a Gen Y’er, stop and ask yourself what you see. Oftentimes what we see first is our own judgment. Don’t pass off Gen Y’ers’ behavior as unimportant or annoying because it is different from your own. We need to remember that Gen Y’ers are showing us the future; they possess a blend of characteristics that represent our historical, social and economic conditions. The opportunity to collaborate with them will create amazing new possibilities for your organization.


Heather Neely, M.A. Organizational Psychology. Heather Neely is a keynote and workshop speaker specializing in generational diversity in the workplace. Heather is also a corporate and life coach who works with professionals of every generation to help them achieve professional and personal excellence.
Work Phone: 650-462-1845 • e-mail: • web:

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