One of the hardest parts of managing your career is getting clear on what’s most important to you in the work you do. And it’s ironic that the true-but-cliched exclamation from new parents — “the kids force me to see what is really important in my life” — comes after we have navigated a big chunk of our careers. So a great strategy to find out what you should be doing in your career is to look at research about how you are likely to parent.
To this end, I am happy to report on the first few studies I’ve seen about what Generation Y is like as parents. The best part about generational research is that you can see yourself from a different perspective, and in a larger context. Your generation is never a perfect mirror of you, but it’s usually fairly accurate. Otherwise people wouldn’t continue to pay for the research, right?
Parenting styles reveal one’s true values, so reading this research is like giving yourself a jump-start on self-knowledge that usually comes after you’ve slogged through your twenties. Based on research about values that guide new millennium parenting, here are three things to seek out in new millennium work.
1. Look for good flow of information.
Generation Y sees information as a personal differentiator. As parents, Gen Y does not hesitate to give advice, and they feel confident that they have the right information at hand to make the right decisions for their kids.
And as employees, having access to premium information in their field, and being able to share it in a productive way, is very important to feeling fulfilled.
This is a hard nut to crack in the workplace because other generations conspire against you. For example, it is much more important to Gen Y than Gen X to be perceived as someone who gives good advice. Gen X is skeptical of all expert advice. And Baby Boomers think good advice comes only with age.
So stay away from offices that have hierarchy as a way to make people feel useful and important—it will mean a constipated flow of information. Companies that are truly good at creating team environments will probably provide rich information environments because not only do these companies encourage sharing ideas, but they value the flow of information enough to have shifted away from the focus on individualism of earlier generations.
2. Make sure you can customize your environment.
While Generation X is largely cynical about consumerism, Generation Y is known for fitting in by standing out and using consumer products as a means of self-expression. This generation has been choosing the color and style of their phones forever, and they have been customizing the colors on their Nikes.
Gen Y brings these values to their kids in the form of products like Webkinz. These infinitely customizable toys allow Gen Y’s kids to express themselves through kid-friendly consumerism. And the studies about Gen Y found that “Moms admitted to logging onto their children’s Webkinz accounts after their kids went to bed to help them earn more virtual currency and give them more fuel to further customize their virtual pets’ rooms.”
In the workplace, customization is a must in order to feel like you are being recognized for your authentic self by co-workers. The most common request in this arena is flexible hours, but you should also look for a company that focuses on playing to your individual strengths.
For example, ask someone to match you with the perfect mentor, or to help figure out what training you need and find you the right coach to do it. You won’t feel like you are making an authentic connection with your workplace if the workplace does not make an effort to address what is different about you.
3. Surround yourself with people who have faith in the future.
Members of Gen Y are optimistic parents. They worry much less about the future than their Gen X counterparts; Gen Y deals with the uncertainty of the future by living more in the present.
For example, while Gen Y has less tolerance for debt than other generations, they are saving less for college and retirement, figuring that the money will take care of itself. Another example is that Gen X parents care a lot about what their kids eat on a daily basis in order to establish good eating habits in the future. But Gen Y parents figure that the eating habits will work themselves out later on, and they don’t pay as much attention to daily food choices.
Gen Y also have more trust in kids’ abilities to learn all the time than other parents. For example, when it comes to media, Gen Xers want everything to be labeled officially “educational,” but Gen Y believes more in “invisible learning” — the idea that kids can learn from any media they use (with a caveat for violence).
In the workplace, these values play out in the quest for lifelong learning. Paying dues is out because the reliance on the certainty of pay-off in the future does not make sense in today’s workplace. Instead, focus on finding work that has payoff on a daily basis since you can never know what will come next in your work life.
Make each day one where you learn and have fun because putting that off for some maybe-payoff (like making partner at a law firm, or getting a fat paycheck) will make you feel like you’re not being true to yourself. Also, don’t be derailed by the cynicism of older generations. There is no rule that says they see the world more clearly than you do.