GenY Needs a Whuppin’

whuppin.jpgNow in my mid-40s I read folks of my generation complaining about GenY and their attitudes towards work. Generally the story includes complaints about their work ethic, their commitment, the attitude toward authority and the general lack of fundadental knowledge they have about the electronic devices they use everyday. He is my short list of the reasons us older folks should wake up because for a lot of reasons I think GenY actually gets it. [Sorry, I knew the title would get your interest quicker than saying in some ways I see their predicament]

1. Demise of the Employer-Employee agreement. This is well-trodden ground but suffice to say there is no such thing as life-long employment in the US these days. This phenomenon is of our fathers’ generation. And with a very few exceptions, companies these days not only trim workforce for business cycles but rank-rating systems, popularized by GE’s Jack Welch, trim the bottom ten percent performers each year. This may make many corporations more competitive but it has also led to GenY workers (among others) to question institutional loyalty. Managers often forget, loyalty is a two-way street and without it flowing out is doesn’t flow back.

2. Equity. And speaking of two-way streets, things in the technology industry are different today than twenty years ago in 1987. You didn’t work at a high-technology company in those days unless you received stock options when you were hired; or at least you certainly expected to get some very soon after you got hired. Nothing changes a person’s perception of ownership more quickly than becoming a owner him or herself. Not only do you perceive your responsibilities and value differently, more importantly you expect others to step-up their game as well. For various reasons this incentive has fallen out of favor, so when workers walk out the door promptly at 5pm and management questions their loyalty I hope they’re asking themselves would they stay late if they too had the same to gain from a leveraged buyout – nothing.

3. Management.
For my father’s generation, management in corporations was a profession. Today many managers are the successful front-line workers of last year. They demonstrate a can-do attitude and commitment to major projects and they are rewarded with a management title, an office and a raise. That’s great and I have personally benefited from this trend, but does success on the front-line ensure success behind the management desk? Many professional managers today lack the leadership, strategy, trouble-shooting, and interpersonal skills needed to identify new talent, orchestrate a team, define a thoughtful strategy and review the progress of subordinates. If you don’t get good direction, how are you suppose to be successful? And lastly I’ll add, my generation of managers, including myself, haven’t been the eager mentors we could be for incoming talent to our organizations.

4. It’s generational. My dad always said I was lazy and didn’t work hard enough. I think we all do this; we think people our own children’s age need parental pushing to grow. Our fathers are shocked most of us can’t repair our own car, or a lawn mower for that matter. That many of us write a check to get the house painted or faucet fixed. My mother lived in homes without indoor plumbing, reliable electricity and screen-less windows. While only a child, the black and white photos for the home-front of World War II, were the real live color memories of our parents. We have it good compared to them and we deserved the stern tone. So another generation ages and looks at those at the 20s much the way our parents did us. It is only natural.

5. Longtails change what is important. But the seismic change that so radically changes the attitudes of many GenY’ers is how the long tail allows for shared experiences of unconventional views. The “mainstream” is hard to define and in many ways has become an oxymoron. The mainstream is there is no mainstream. Interested in unicorns, renewable energy and the latest installment of Survivor? You can go online and find groups of people that share a common view. Thirty years ago this was an impossibility and in 1977 we were all watching Laverne and Shirely, getting our first glimpses of Pong and listening to the Eagles. We had a broadcast society, not a narrowcast one. Back then we got confirmation of our value and normalness from institutions; today we can get it from a random set of total strangers online.

In the end, and many of my peers will disagree, I think the attitudes of GenY are healthy for our society. They look us square in the eye and challenge us to show them why they should care. Maybe the real issue we haven’t done a good enough job of that. Perhaps we really should learn to take responsibility for how how things work. Oh no, there we go again, I’m starting to sound like my father.