My Letter to Gen X & Boomers: The Debate is about Expectations, not Respect

I’ve been writing, blogging and speaking on Gen Y issues since 2006 when ERE gave me a blog called Gen Y’d (See my 1st post). As one of the “old” Gen Y’ers – I have watched the evolution of “us” in the workplace from the eager recent college grads entering the workforce as our nation was reeling from it first major terrorist attack, the mini-boom of “the talent war” and the current state of record breaking unemployment. I have seen the reality of the “why” we are distrusting of corporate America, less loyal than the boomers to a corporate setting and the reason so many of us strive to be entrepreneurs.

To a degree – the debate shouldn’t even really exist – we are a lot like our counterparts were when they were in their 20’s – we want the same types of thing of out life, have the same goals and dream the same dreams they did.

The difference lies in Expectations.

Our generation has been raised in a “me” culture, a world full of immediate gratification, instant access and always being told we can do (and be) anything. We’ve had computers in our homes since elementary school, cell phones & internet access since early in our high school years and only know about punch cards because of what Gen X’ers tell us.

Our reality and immediate need for gratification has shaped the way we do business, interact with our friends and live our lives. It has built amazing social networks, changed the history of news and impacted the way companies market, interact and work. Gen Y’s expectations are changing our culture (or are a subset of the culture we live in one can argue).

We want it all, and we want it now. And we see nothing wrong with that.

The vision that we all had of “having it all” when we grew up was built out of the defining moments we watched on television, read about on the internet and heard about via friends we may never meet. We want to have what our parents have (or more) by the time we hit 30 – not 50.

Prior generations would wait their turn. Be patient. Accepted that life doesn’t move as fast as we want. In the workplace they accepted (and understood) the idea of promotion and compensation based on tenure not performance. That you have to “earn” the right to have an opinion.

Our generation wants to learn – everything – now. We want to prove ourselves and be promoted and compensated based on our success and value – not how long we sat in our cube in a week. We want to show you a different way to look at things.

We want you to understand that our expectations don’t take any value out of what you have done in the workforce. We don’t want you to look down or discourage us. We want to learn from you and evolve (Rapidly). We don’t think we are better, faster, stronger, smarter than the generations before us. We don’t think we are “entitled” to it. We just aren’t afraid of expectations.

We want YOU to have expectations of US to do something AMAZING!

Cross posted from my blog -

On Thursday – I’ll be in London speaking alongside Lucian Tarnowski the founder of Brave New Talentand a noted Gen Y’er (1 of UK’s top 5 up & coming entrepreneurs, StridingOut’s Future 100, Courvoisier Future 500) at the TRULondon event - Sponsored in part by and my company We are going to be talking about how companies can harness what differences there are to make amazing teams and success stories in the workplace.

Views: 179

Comment by Jon Jenks-Bauer on February 18, 2010 at 1:21pm
As someone who has managed recruitment and development of entry (Gen Y) talent, what resonates most with me from this article is the following:

"To a degree – the debate shouldn’t even really exist – we are a lot like our counterparts were when they were in their 20’s – we want the same types of thing of out life, have the same goals and dream the same dreams they did."

I think high talent Gen Y are just like any other high talent in many aspects:
-Are self-aware and expect feedback from managers, mentors, and peers
-Want to be stretched and challenged in what they do at work
-Are ambitious, and will invest extra initiative to demonstrate they can optimize/innovate when given the opportunity
-Expect to be rewarded for going above and beyond
-Don't tolerate environments that do not offer opportunities to grow/develop/advance

I think where Gen Y differs is they are accustomed to a much higher degree of multitasking (thanks to living through their formative years listening to their iPod while texting and doing homework simultaneously); they are much more accustomed--and comfortable with--working collaboratively (and many universities have embraced this in their curriculum, especially in Business programs); and they are very accustomed to being highly programmed with short- and long-term activities pre-planned (think course syllabus or overall degree path). These things need to be taken into account when developing your recruiting strategy and communication plan, and also when developing an internship or FTE talent development program.
Comment by Nancy Ford on February 19, 2010 at 3:37am
I think the bottom line is that we can all learn from each other. Gen Y'ers - sorry, but you do need to learn to have some patience and you do need to know when to speak up and when to hold your tongue. Boomers - it's beneficial to catch some of the Fire In The Belly that the Gen Y'ers have and adopt their "can do/can learn" attitude about technology instead of complaining that things are moving too fast, you can't keep up, etc. Gen X'ers, we are the Sandwich generation which means we'd better be good at interacting with all sorts of people! Pulling the best out of each group and learning from everyone is what's going to make the workplace dynamic.
Comment by Laurie Bell on March 19, 2010 at 7:31pm
I get where you're coming from. I'm a Gen X/Y "cusper" and I think every generation needs to stop being so hard on the other. Each generation is a product of the Tug-of-War of pressures and expectations set by previous and future generations. Each has something unique to offer, so EVERYONE just needs to suck it up and learn to appreciate the other without feeling threatened or like they have something to prove to the old or young set. There's always something to be learned from everyone you do business with. Hospital nursing units do it well, where they purposely try to balance the staff ratio of young with experienced. You don't want to have a unit only containing only 20 year veterans nor one with 20 newbies. Both sets need each other. Great post!


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