The Kid in the Corner Office

Are Gen Y workers worth all the coddling?


| November / December Issue


Generational strife has struck the U.S. workplace.

Nurtured on a steady diet of self-esteem, the swaggeringly confident children of the ’80s and ’90s are flying the nest and starting to land in the workforce. They’re clamoring for quick feedback, meaningful involvement, and pumped-up recognition—and roiling old-school colleagues who dub them impatient, needy, and arrogant. The kids are frustrated too: Entry-level duties are a far cry from the dream jobs they’ve been made to feel are their birthright.

Business headlines have chronicled the fallout from this culture clash, wagging their fingers at the naïveté of youth while casting a sympathetic eye toward the flummoxed managers who are forced to navigate the newbies. But for all the calls to knock these cocky kids down to earth, there are signs that this generation could change how we work—maybe for the better—and employers might have little choice but to play nice.

The key is understanding what’s behind Generation Y’s bad rap. Young adults who grew up with too much praise may struggle with workplace relationships, according to Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before (Free Press, 2006). Rigid business hierarchies and managers who aren’t willing to inflate their fragile egos can come as quite a shock.



“There’s disappointment. Sometimes depression happens,” Twenge says, noting that depressive disorders, once associated with middle age, are now more common in young people. “Also, young workers, when they’re faced with a job that disappoints them, will simply leave.”

Job hopping contributes mightily to the image of a self-centered generation, but recent research indicates that there’s more at work when young people jump ship: They may not recognize their ability to learn and improve over time, reports Stanford (March/April 2007). Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says we’re too focused on results with young people, and it has taught them to value performance instead of process. They stop thinking of themselves as hard workers or creative thinkers, for example, and start identifying themselves as inherently gifted individuals who always deserve a blue ribbon. Consequently, they give up easily and avoid situations in which they might fail. In other words: They run only the races they know they can win.

jakegreene
1/20/2008 12:00:00 AM

Interesting article. As a twenty-something myself, I believe some of the frustrations with Gen Y at work occur because many of the productive qualities we bring to the office are misconstrued as bad habits. For example, the members of Gen Y are extremely comfortable editing work on the fly. Having grown up in the computer age, we are used to checking in and making modifications mid-composition to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our bosses, teachers, etc. For typewriter-trained Baby Boomers, however, this working style can come off as "needy". Their expectation is that employees will take projects, lock themselves away and complete full drafts before presenting their work for changes. After all that's how they did it (even if it is less efficient, especially when employees misinterpret directions) because editing on the fly wasn't an option in the whiteout era. That said, young professionals should go out of their way to learn about managing the boss' expectations when they begin a new job. Communication is the best way to avoid the misunderstandings of the generation gap. Best, Jake www.jakeonjobs.com


jakegreene
1/20/2008 12:00:00 AM

Interesting article. As a twenty-something myself, I believe some of the frustrations with Gen Y at work occur because many of the productive qualities we bring to the office are misconstrued as bad habits. For example, the members of Gen Y are extremely comfortable editing work on the fly. Having grown up in the computer age, we are used to checking in and making modifications mid-composition to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our bosses, teachers, etc. For typewriter-trained Baby Boomers, however, this working style can come off as "needy". Their expectation is that employees will take projects, lock themselves away and complete full drafts before presenting their work for changes. After all that's how they did it (even if it is less efficient, especially when employees misinterpret directions) because editing on the fly wasn't an option in the whiteout era. That said, young professionals should go out of their way to learn about managing the boss' expectations when they begin a new job. Communication is the best way to avoid the misunderstandings of the generation gap. Best, Jake www.jakeonjobs.com















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