Generation Y Should We?

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Everyone has their opinion of what each generation wants, what the generation is defined by, and what they’re headed towards. I’ve seen some really interesting articles on this, and I’ve seen some poor ones. The articles run the span from “Engaging Gen Y in the Workplace” to “Bridging the Generation Gap”.

But as I sit in my large, pretty cubicle in my flipflops (ok, thong sandals, but close enough) wishing I had more to do, more challenging work that I knew the purpose of – like most of my friends do as well – I start to think, maybe they’re onto something.

I think I’m part of the laziest generation possible. We take little or no initiative, and when we do ANYTHING we expect it to be applauded, because hey, we put in the effort and we didn’t have to.

My birth year is considered the cutoff for generation Y – therefore I’m one of the oldest Y’s. My mom’s a boomer (hi mom!) but my father’s actually considered too old to be in that group – so perhaps that’s why I understand all of the generations and their conflicts. My friend’s older siblings were gen Xer’s, with their huge hair and huge ruffles and huge depression. I never felt part of that crowd. The angst seems a bit much, and perhaps today’s hipsters are an ode to the stereotypical Xer’s – but we can revisit that another time.

Back to ME. Because in gen Y, it’s all about me. We’ve been fostered with ideas that “We can be anything that we want to be, we can do anything that we want to do,” (Yes, actual lyrics from a Blue’s Clues Song), and that’s great. That there are no stupid questions, trying is just as important as achieving, there are no losers, and blah blah blah *insert white noise as we tune out.

Somewhere down the generation line we’ve been progressively losing respect for elders. It used to be believed that the older someone was, the more they knew. But that idea was from back in a day when most people died well before their 80’s.

The stereotypical knowledgeable elder had gray hair, read a lot of books, retired and lived off good investments, and perhaps smoked a piped. Then he died, either from a heart attack from all the rich foods he ate or from an unknown cause.

It wasn’t today’s pitied grandparents living 75-100+, generally with memory decline, poverty, and little to no desire to adapt to technology. No one’s going to great grandpa in the nursing home every day with a notebook to collect his musings on the state of the world. Today’s youth believes that knowledge increases with age, then it plateaus, and then it declines.

We also have lost the respect for protocol. I’ll never forget the trouble I stirred up at my first job out of college. I was bored out of my mind, and had a nasty supervisor. She led a bitter life and took it out on her coworkers. When I was ready for my next challenge, I knew I’d never get it from her, so I went to the friendly owner/CEO of the company who I saw regularly to ask if there was anywhere else in the company that I could move to. I was promoted and given a new assignment with a happier team.

Then next morning as I went to collect my belongings I was greeted with sneers and nasty comments. I had no idea that I might have done something wrong, but apparently it was a no-no to go out of the chain of command (but it was fine to act like an unprofessional petulant teen-ager – I also learned to learn office culture for ‘what flies’ where).

According to protocol, I should have asked my supervisor, who would have brought it up with the manager, who would have brought it to the attention of the CEO at the next monthly meeting, and then I would have been promoted and kept everyone happy…as if that could have actually happened. It never would have made it past my nasty supervisor’s head, and no one would have felt one person at the bottom of the totem pole wanting to do more would have merited visibility at a meeting. Unfortunately this company has since closed, but to me this type of process is seen as archaic to my generation – not logical.

Perhaps that’s where the divide truly lies. When the Boomer’s were in their 20’s in the workplace, they respected and revered those closer to retirement age, and learned everything they could from them. When Yer’s see someone close to retirement, we start fixing up our resume for their position, because we believe we could do their job better and more efficiently leveraging technology – which is often the case.

As was pointed out in a great article from the Harvard Review, the Yer’s are living in the most unstable generation yet. I entered the workforce post 9/11, then saw the tech bubble burst, and now am seeing the 3rd round of mass layoffs with the current recession in my less than 10-year work life-span.

Now for the flip-side, as that I have no pity for my generation – we’ve also seen the birth of start-ups succeeding wildly, and the young getting very rich very fast. It’s now not seen as an unrealistic ambition to start and own your own company well before 30. Write some software, invent an app, get on a reality TV-show & behave disgustingly shocking (*yuck) and you’ve made it.

So learn what you will from those of us under 30 – even those that don’t make a ‘30 under 30’ list, but we want progression. We want growth. We want to work intelligently towards a logical goal. We don’t care for how things always have been done. We get bored quickly (which some of us love and some of us loathe). We want to be allowed to text, tweet, facebook, myspace, and work productively at the same time. We want to use 2.0, if not 3.0 technologies in the office for work. We want our office to be at home if there’s no reason we need to be in a centralized location for it. We want to work flexible hours, not watch the clock – if our work is done, why does it matter how many hours were sat in a seat?

*Sigh* dare to dream…

So now for words of advice to my younger brethren from someone who understands you – respect your elders, not for their knowledge of technology, but learn from their street smarts and experience. Obey the chain of command at work, managers tend to have big ego’s and not like it when you go over their heads. Will you be stuck in a dead end job then? Suck it up and move place of employment, and leave on good terms. Never burn bridges with former employers, or anyone for that matter. Be conscious of everything you post online everywhere, because someone is watching, or will be when you grow up.

And get a job, move out of your parents’ house, support yourself, and figure out who you want to be. Don’t let anyone else do that for you. Stop wearing jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts to work. And stop playing Farmville & do something productive!

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