Why Don’t More Employers Value Gen Y?
Updated June 27, 2012
I’ve worked in the areas of labor markets and human capital development for over 30 years. Many of the issues now being debated, not just in North America but in Western Europe, were hot topics when I was a young, greenhorn economist in 1982.
How things change – and don’t.
For younger people reading this post, North America’s labor market back in 1982 was an unmitigated disaster. Unemployment soared, especially for youth. Inflation was high double digits, with corresponding sky-high interest rates, something of which today’s Gen Y is clueless.
Fast forward to today, where I’ve started a new career after three decades in government, have four adult kids and three grandkids. I’ve seen a similar scene before: high unemployment for youth. University grads, replete with scary-as-shit student loans, desperately trying to secure a footing in the labor market.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we Baby Boomers, so-called purveyors of the future, are absolutely full of crap.
Read my post on Nouriel Roubini’s book Crisis Economics to understand how Baby Boomers almost destroyed the world’s financial system. Indeed, who do you think is involved in negotiating how to address the U.S. debt ceiling? Yes, it was (and still is) Baby Boomers. Accept it.
I admit to being partially lulled by the demographic “experts” who up to 2008 espoused how Gen Y (and Gen X) would have their way with Baby Boomers. Organizations would have to adapt to the values and work styles of young people. It sounded great as real estate prices soared and as consumers climbed over one another to buy the newest BMW, Apple product or Bose sound system.
Except that it was all BS.
A tad of common sense would have instilled in these crystal-ballers that events don’t always pan out the way you expect.
The Great Recession has had a devastating effect on young people. BusinessWeek, many months ago, wrote a piece called The Lost Generation. Canada is not much better off than the U.S. Canadian politicians stick their heads in the sand, speaking out of their other ends, expecting the public to suck up platitudes and irrational logic.
The Chinese love us North Americans. They’re eating our lunch.
North America’s labor market has changed profoundly in the span of just 10 years. Technological change, globalization and the increasing self-aggrandizement of those leading organizations have dramatically altered the employment opportunities for young people. I won’t delve into the supply-side aspects, such as vocational training and university education. I’m looking at the demand side for labor.
It seems that we’re riding a downward escalator towards the lowest common denominator, where youth and Gen Y work for minimum wage, suffer abhorrent management and must balance two or more jobs while studying or building a career.
My youngest turns 23 this summer. A new college graduate who is working with at-risk teens, she worked part-time since senior high school and throughout college. Indeed, since graduating from college she was trying to hold down three parttime jobs, but due to typical employer inflexibility she recently had to drop one job. It’s a VERY tough labor market for young people.
Of course, there are those who argue that employees are hired at the whim of employees. First off, that argument is absolute BS. If the employer-employee employment contract is not reciprocal, then you face wild swings during labor shortages and surpluses. Achieving the economist definition of equilibrium is a fool’s exercise in labor market futility.
Furthermore, what are we trying to teach young people? That it’s every man and woman for himself or herself in today’s economy? That model is void of leadership and any semblance of trying to co-create organizations that are based on loyalty, shared vision and customer-focus.
When I read business articles or see ads where organizations brag that they’re employers of choice, I start doing the math. It’s fascinating to see how many Canadian companies, including government departments, rank in the top 100.
Don’t think so.
So what’s the implicit message that we Boomers are giving to Gen Y?
While writing the original post I came across an excellent blog post written by Tina Paparone, co-founder & CEO of the unique gift company BeMe, which creates products to inspire girls to embrace their individuality. (Her letter appeared in Under 30 CEO).
Tina gave me permission to reproduce her letter, which contains important messages for Baby Boomers.
Dear Baby Boomers, a Message from Gen Y:
I know you’re not my biggest fan. I’m one of those pesky GenY twenty-somethings that you’ve called “cocky,” “lazy,” and “incompetent.” It appears our generation has hit a nerve, really gotten under your skin. Well, I am writing to you because I feel like we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Please hear me out.
I’ve thought long & hard about what it must be like from your perspective, and I have some theories about your frustration. I will have to generalize, but from the many papers & articles published about GenY as a whole, I think you will understand. Here it goes-
Many of you were raised the sons & daughters of hard-working middle class Americans & first-generation immigrants. Growing up, you watched your parents make sacrifices & work incredibly hard to realize the American dream, even when fair employment was rarely offered to those not educated in America. As young men, you faced drafts & as young women you had to break down the barriers of inequality in the work place. You did not have it easy but you were determined to succeed. Many of you were the first in your families to receive higher education and entered the workplace hungry for success.
For years you worked diligently, providing a lifestyle for your family that you could only dream of as a child. All of the things you had to work so hard to achieve, you happily handed to us, your children.
We gladly accepted the opportunities provided to us and as youngsters, always sought your advice. However as we enter adulthood, many of us having graduated college; masters programs; and/or started promising careers, some of us are turning away from the path that has been so carefully laid out before us. As a result, you feel betrayed, taken advantage of, and ignored. You might assume we are lazy & unwilling to work hard to achieve success the way you did. You think the environment of positive reinforcement you raised us in has created an epidemic of spoiled, self-involved young adults.
Am I close?
If it sounds at all familiar, I think we can clear a few things up. First of all, please know that we are grateful for the sacrifices you made for our generation; we recognize everything you did and know that we could not be where we are today without you help. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
That being said, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could consider the below:
1. You are right that many of us do not want to work the way you did, BUT by no means does that imply we do not want to work hard. While we may not be following the standard 8am-6pm cubicle job, modern technology allows us to be productive from anywhere at anytime and we are taking advantage of it. You may not consider tasks like utilizing social media or blogging “work” but believe me, if you are contributing anything valuable, it is!
2. We have different definitions of success than you do. Many millennials are placing greater importance on quality of life than monetary success alone. After receiving top educations & gaining valuable experience, we are passing up some very lucrative, respectable careers, but we prefer to be passionate about our jobs and are willing to make financial sacrifices to get there. I understand your frustration- tuition costs have skyrocketed and you want to get your money’s worth. However, instead of judging the worth of our education based solely on our starting salaries, please try to look at the whole picture. You’ve given us the background to find careers that not only support us but more importantly are fulfilling. Perhaps we are starting our own business or following another, non-traditional career path, but trust that whatever we do, we are not treating it lightly. With the constant restructuring of modern businesses, we are concentrating on building our individual worth by pursuing careers we are passionate about with the hopes to achieve long-term success.
3. (The one that really gets to me.) We’re tougher & more grounded than you give us credit for. When you have gone through such lengths to prepare us for the real world, how is it that you so quickly assume we are making foolish decisions? We don’t expect success to be handed to us on a silver platter; give us a little credit & maybe even a chance to prove ourselves.
4. And finally, we’ve learned from watching you. Like every generation, we observed your trials & tribulations and have learned from them. Perhaps we saw marriages fall apart or witnessed our fair share of mid-life crisis among the neighbors. Whatever it was that influenced us, it is time for us to start our own journeys, make our own mistakes, and eventually give the generation after us their very own list of problems to avoid!
The best way for us to understand & maybe even help each other is through open communication. I hope this is a good start.
If you’re a Gen Y, please take a moment to share your thoughts or experiences, especially possible solutions.
A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. – John Le Caré
Photo by Sue Butler
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