4 Things You Might Not Know About Generation Y


Sure, Gen Y is voting for Obama, but this doesn’t mean they are trailblazers. In fact, they are, for the most part, living out the values their parents gave to them. Not only that, but Generation Y is more comfortable being part of the crowd — identifying themselves by their group of friends, their teams at work, and the consumer brands they love most. Here are some traits of Gen Y that might make you think twice about the preconceived notions you have about those young upstarts in the workplace:

Gen Y is fundamentally conservative.

This is not a rebellious generation. This is a group that moves back home with their parents after college, something you could never think of doing if you were going to, say, spend a decade using drugs and hanging out at Woodstock. The helicopter parent phenomenon is also a sign of a generation that is not rebelling. They let their parents help choose their college and their clothes. And when it’s time to get a job, they let their parents help negotiate their salary.

One of the things that makes young people look like big risk-takers is their propensity to job-hop. People in their 20s change jobs every 18 months. But the impetus for their constant job-hopping is learning: Their parents drilled into their kids that learning is the most important thing: “Get off the sofa! Stop watching TV! Do something productive with yourself!” And this is the generation that is steeped in SAT tutors, Spanish tutors, and private soccer coaching. So they expect to be learning every step of the way for their whole life. When Gen Y sees they are no longer learning a lot at work, they leave. Because this is what their parents told them: Get off your butt and learn something!

Gen Y is full of great team players.

This generation grew up on soccer teams, where everyone is a winner and no one is a star. School taught kids on the playground that you can’t say you can’t play, and kids translated this into a worldview where everyone plays together. They went to prom in teams and later they applied for jobs and quit their jobs in teams.

Today’s executive teams understand that work environments that use teams well outperform those that don’t; however, older generations are leaders and loners, not teammates. Gen Y is appalled by a lack of team structure at work, and often they feel like they are not accomplishing anything until they are working as part of a team. Gen Y is so team-oriented that the place they really need help is in learning how to be leaders — something that comes so naturally to Boomers that they never even expect to teach it in such a fundamental way as Gen Y needs.

Gen Y women have more power than men.

For the first time in history, women in their twenties are out-earning men. This is true in every major city in the U.S., and the disparity persists until women have children, and then men earn more. Other generations might leap to cry sexism, but this generation understands that women have power to make their own decisions, and women are deciding on their own to downshift their career when they have kids, which means they are making an intentional reduction in earning power. Women in Gen Y feel empowered to get what they want in life, and they feel secure enough at the office to know that downshifting is fine.

Gen Y is more productive than everyone else.

While baby boomers are using their in-boxes as a to-do list, Gen Y is largely bought into the idea of an empty inbox. And while the idea of a constantly empty inbox might not seem defining to some, it is: For one thing, it means that Gen Y has more control over their priorities than everyone else because they are not choosing what to do by what is coming into their inbox, but rather, what their goals for the day are.

The other thing that an empty inbox signifies is Gen Y’s ability to slice and dice productivity software to get where they want to go. The key to an empty inbox is turning your email into a searchable database rather than a file system, which requires a good set of email tools. Gen Y chooses their own productivity tools, rather than waiting for the IT department to download them onto the company laptop. Gen Y’s productivity is so much higher than everyone else’s that you can assume that someone who is texting and watching a movie and listening to their iPod is still getting more done than you are.

– Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk is a Boston Globe career columnist.

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