There’s an interesting article on Generation Y and how it will change the web on the website ReadWriteWeb. It raises a number of important issues about Generation Y, but the most striking thing to me was this paragraph, on Generation Y’s attitude to work:
Work Isn’t Their Whole World: Sure, they’re going to go to work, but it had better be fun. For Gen Y, work isn’t their identity. It’s just a place. Gen Y sees no reason why a company can’t be more accommodating, offering benefits like the ability to work from anywhere, flex-time, a culture that supports team communication, and a “fun” work environment. They’re also not going to blindly follow orders just because you’re the boss. Sometimes dubbed “Generation Why?” they need to “buy in” as to why something is being done. Old school bosses may find their questioning insubordinate behavior, but they would be best to just change their management techniques and adapt. Gen Y hasn’t known much unemployment and they’re not going to put up with being treated poorly just for sake of a paycheck. (Bosses, your survival guide is here).
I’ve seen similar remarks made about Generation Y in the context of the tools this generation will use in the workplace. Instant messaging, text messaging, social networking and other technologies, and not email or phone calls, are the way this generation prefers to communicate, but the most controversial assertion for me, which is repeated in the excerpt above, is this idea that companies, and not these junior employees, are the ones that will need to change.
When the rest of us older folk (relatively speaking) arrived in the workplace, we were handed the tools we needed to do our jobs, which likely included a desktop PC with email and (depending on how much older we are) Internet access, and a deskphone, and told where the stationery cupboard was. We didn’t expect to use our personal tools in the workplace, and absolutely expected to conform to what our employers told us and not what we thought we should do. Why should this generation be so different?
The negative reason seems to be that this generation might also be called Generation Spoiled. Parents, teachers and others have bought into the ethic that there’s no wrong answer, that children need always to be nurtured and given positive feedback and not criticism, and so on. I worry that this attitude to giving Generation Y what it wants in the workplace is a continuation of the spoiling of this generation, and that they’re going to go through life with a sense of entitlement as a result. Will they in turn pass on that same attitude to the next generation (Generation Z?) ?
There are two better reasons for this attitude. The first is that, in order to attract the best and brightest among this generation, companies feel they have to offer the most flexible and congenial working environment possible. To an extent, this actually makes a lot of sense, since they will be actively competing with other employers for those employees, who will choose their first employer partly on the basis of their perceived enlightenment on these matters. In practical terms of course, the companies which are most attractive to these candidates probably already have practices which meet these criteria - think Google, Yahoo! and others.
The second reason is that this trend is part of a much bigger shift in power and in the flow of technology. In the past, including when most of Generation X joined the workforce, new technologies were often experienced in the workplace, whether fast computers, Internet access (and then broadband), mobile phones, email, and so on. However, many of the more recently available technologies have been experienced first in personal life - instant messaging, even faster Internet access, social networking, mobile messaging, video calling and so on. Because this is a much wider shift, although Generation Y may be the first to have grown up in it, all subsequent generations will bring the same experience with them, dragging their personal tools into the workplace because their personal lives are where the innovation is taking place now. We might call this a “c2b” trend, reflecting the fact that technologies are moving from consumers to business rather than the b2c model we’re more accustomed to.
Most of what I’ve said in these previous two paragraphs applies more narrowly to the technology tools Generation Y will expect to use and not as broadly to their attitude to work in general, which still strikes me as more spoiled than enlightened. I think there are some good reasons for empowering these younger employees to use the tools they will work with most effectively, but I’m not convinced that we need to mollycoddle them. In a time of small or even negative economic growth, it seems to me that these employees need jobs at least as much as employers need bodies, and they should be treated accordingly.