What Boomers Don’t Understand About Gen Y Will Hurt Them

What Boomer’s Don’t Understand About Generation Y Will Hurt Them

As a member of Generation Y, I often hear about how different we are than people only ten, fifteen years older – some positive, some negative.  Let me take a stab at shedding some light on the myths and facts.

Fact: We love technology.

Yes. We love computers, cell phones, pda’s, iPods, gps, and anything else that will beep, ring, or buzz. We like getting news as it breaks, having instant communication at our fingertips, and the ability to buy movie tickets in the car on the way to the theater.

Point: We like to stay connected. We like to network.

I realize that watching your kid text their friends or check Facebook at the dinner table is annoying.  Sorry. I apologize. But as we enter the workforce in droves, employers expect – demand – that we be at their beck and call.  The good thing: we don’t generally mind being in constant contact or increasing the flow of communication with our employers.  As kids we ran three, four, five instant messaging conversations at a time while we listened to music, had the TV on, and worked on homework. We’ve learned to multi-task.  Those of us that have become entrepreneurs feel the pangs of success, and we don’t want to miss that one important phone call or see that email we’ve been waiting on that lands us that new, long-awaited account or client.

So, I feel your pain – I find it to be annoying when friends text while we’re out together, but I understand because believe me, when my boss calls, I’m answering it.

Myth: We’re lazy.

This complaint is usually in conjunction with griping about how Gen Y wants flexibility.  Guys, flexibility does not equal laziness. Flexibility is adapting for maximum affect.  Laziness is simply non-productive.

Most of us were latchkey kids. Having a parent stay home was almost unheard of for those of my generation. We came home after school and had time to ourselves. Sure, homework and chores had to be done, but no one was standing over us as we did them. It was expected that we would just handle it. We learned to be independent, self-motivated, and solve our own problems at an early age.  Each of these attributes is a consequence of the way our generation was reared.

This mentality still exists within my generation. We know what has to be done and when, but we don’t need someone watching our every move. So when we ask to come in at 10:00 a.m. or if we can work from home, it’s because that’s what we’re used to, that’s how we work best. We embrace the freedom to be creative and appreciate being trusted to fulfill our duties, but within our own space.

Please, do not misunderstand; those of our generation seek the guidance and leadership, or mentorship, of our superiors in the workplace.  We need the support and the praise that all humans need in order to feel needed, to belong.  However, we respect those who respect us and those who are sincere in their leadership role.  We are not easily impressed with one’s position, but we do have tremendous respect for one’s integrity, work ethic, honesty, and all of those attributes that every generation honors.

That said, we are not wholly unopposed to traditional settings. We did sit in classrooms just like you, after all. Generally, we’re just asking for some space and to be flexible.

Fact: We’re overachievers.

Perhaps this goes with the “lazy” myth. We might work nontraditional hours, but our hours are long. Some of my best work is done at midnight, so why shouldn’t that count towards my “day”?

Just because we were latchkey doesn’t mean that our parents didn’t check up on us or hold us accountable. Our parents were generally highly educated, or at least knew enough to ensure that we realized that education was important, even critical to our future success and ultimate pursuit of happiness. We’re also the first generation to have “helicopter parents” who called our teachers and read over our term papers – to the extreme. They demanded that we strive to exceed their level of accomplishment in the working world and in life.

We’re trying.  That’s what motivates us to answer the phone in the middle of the night when our boss calls or why we work when we can’t sleep. For those in our generation, there is no second best – second place is the first loser.

Myth: We feel entitled.

As a consequence of our upbringing and technologies that provide instant access to a world of knowledge, we were a generation of kids with not only adult responsibilities, but also adult knowledge.  We watched ourselves, and often our siblings. Instant access to a world of information allowed those of our generation to learn about adult subjects at a much younger age. We had all the information we needed and wanted at our fingertips.  We learned about new and ever-changing technologies as quickly as they appeared on the market, and eagerly anticipated the introduction of new devices months before they appear in the market place.

We’re accustomed to those responsibilities, and as we enter the workforce we want to continue to be treated like well-educated adults.  We don’t feel entitled to acceptance, understanding, and respect, but we do feel like we are capable of earning those things.

So what?

Let us be ourselves. Understand that although we are perhaps different from you, we know that we can learn from you – much like you learned from your parents. Boomers, you were radical compared to previous generations, give us room to do the same.  (After all, we will one day be running your law firms and owning your businesses.)

Not to sound harsh or indignant, but: You made us this way.  And we should thank you, because you taught us well.

5 thoughts on “What Boomers Don’t Understand About Gen Y Will Hurt Them

  1. S. Wiltern

    Interesting blog, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Since most GenYers are the offspring of GenJones, not Boomers as well as the fact that there are far more Jonesers than Boomers, it’s even more important for Jonesers than for Boomers to understand GenY.

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten lots of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978
    Generation Y/Millennials: 1979-1993

    1. haleymac Post author

      Duly noted, and a very good clarification. The specificity certainly adds more to the debate, but I think the general argument still holds. For instance, my parents still fall within the definition of Baby Boomers that you provide.

      Perhaps there would be a different argument to be made that Gen Y is an amalgamation of three radically different generations?

  2. Reauxdom

    You make an important point regarding those core values that each generation holds in high esteem, things like integrity, honesty, justice, fairness, all of those components which comprise ethic. Behaviors attributed to each genereation are impacted by many social factors but the core goals which all generations aspire to achieve are the pursuit for happiness, puruit of goodness, seeking truths with the understanding you may have to destroy what is believed in order to find real truth. These are honorable efforts and goals that noble and intellegent beings embrace, regardless of the time in which they are born.

    The “good old days” are today. Tomorrow brings a more interesting adventure. Yesterday is best used to provide direction and guide us into the future, assisting us in avoiding the same mistakes we made “yesterday.” “Yesterday” is a reference and was not meant to be re-lived. Those in leadership positions that choose to live in the past, pretending it was some romantic and perfect time, believing that people were somehow “better,” are those who are contributing little to new solutions for old problems. These are leaders who are simply not equipped to live in the present, much less lead into the future. As a babyboomer, I have seen many leaders who possess this cursed attitude. I am sad to say, most are of my generation. Avoid them at all costs for with them, there is no clear direction to tomorrow.

    You see, your generation are the recipients of what babyboomers learned and what they want you to know, “Trust Yourself, be Independent, ask WHY!” Your knowledge is your freedom from being enslaved.

  3. Baron Von Quixote

    I concur in your analysis that Gen Y is not “lazy” and is in fact curses with the desire to “overachieve” in certain areas due in large part to esoteric ideas of competition. The rallying cry of a generation of Americans seems to be “I have 1,000 friends on Facebook,” “My undead mage is level 60 on WoW,” or “My Blog is the Most Read in Cincinnati.”

    Accomplishing such feats is not the province of the lazy; this is true. It does take work and a certain level of dedication. But what I suspect may be lacking from our current batch of hatchlings is self-discipline and experiential patience.

    The sheer level of information flow that has been a virtual constant in the lives of Gen Y has created an illusion that individual members have the capacity to use that information responsibly. Many of us heard the immortal words of Ben Parker when he said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Generation Y learned of global warming, drugs, sex, politics, 9-11, chat rooms, text messages, and Colombine without the filter of life experience, parental provision, or emotional maturity. We were information demi-gods and latchkey kids.

    Leaving the keys to a minivan and a manual on how to drive for a 12 year old to find may give that kid the impression they can drive but it doesn’t make it reality. It is a transient illusion of capability that only comes shattering down when things go horribly wrong. A Generation Y moves into the work place, gets jobs, spends money, and has its own children its perceptions about the world are going to bump into three other generations that have a vastly different understanding of “the rules.”

    Then again, perhaps I’m wrong.

  4. The Paralegal

    I’m part of Gen X and I have to say that all you attribute to your generation can be said of mine as well. Perhaps we did not grow up with all the technology and “immediate need” your generation did but we had to quickly learn to cope with the speed at which it was being “thrown” in our faces. I sometimes feel like I’m standing on a fence and juggling both generations. Have grown up like the previous generation but being young enough to deal with the “upcoming” generation. Great article. I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you for posting.


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