Why we should be grateful for Generation Y

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What’s the point of baby boomers complaining about Generation Y at work? First of all, it’s a cliché, because people over 40 have been complaining about “young people” since forever.

Even worse, it’s a losing battle. Generation Y is huge. It’s one thing for boomers to verbally squash Generation X — that was no problem. Gen X is tiny and the baby boom was huge.

But in Generation Y, baby boomers have met their match. And in the demographic catfight of the century, Gen X aligns itself with Gen Y over baby boomers, which means that the workplace gripes boomers have about young people are going to be moot in a matter of years.

Generation Which?

So maybe the over-40 crowd should spend less time talking about trying to “bridge the generation gap” — which is really a euphemism for “get Gen Y to be more like us” — and more time celebrating the great things that Generation Y brings to the workplace. Gen Y isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not like they’re about to conform to baby boomer demands.

But before you continue reading, understand that the world doesn’t actually adhere to demographer datelines: The generation you fit into is more a function of the choices you make than the year you were born. So if you want to know where you truly fit along generational lines, take this test.

And if you want to know why baby boomers should ease up on Generation Y, consider the ways that these youngest workers are making life better for everyone:

1. They won’t do work that’s meaningless.

These kids grew up with parents scheduling every minute of their day. They were told TV is bad and reading is good, and are more educated than any generation in history. They just spent 18 years learning to be productive with their time, so they’re not going to settle for any photocopying/coffee stirring job.

But that’s good, because we all want meaning in our jobs, and we all want to understand how we’re contributing to the world at large. Why should anyone have to wait until retirement age to start demanding that?

These days, the workplace can be restructured so that we all do a little coffee stirring in exchange for each of us getting to do some meaningful work. And if work can be in some way meaningful for all of us, then the workplace in general will be a better place to spend our time.

2. They won’t play the face-time game.

We’ve known forever that it isn’t necessary to be in the office from 9 to 5 every day to get work done. But many of us have missed family events only to sit at a desk all day getting pretty much nothing done because of the stress of missing a family event. And there didn’t used to be any option — if you wanted a successful career, you made sure co-workers saw that you were putting in the hours.

Generation Y wants to be judged by the work they do, not the hours they put in. And what could be more fair than this? In fact, a good portion of the workforce has been requesting flextime for decades, but the requests have gone unheeded.

We have Gen Y to thank for forcing the switch, because if Gen Yers can’t leave the building whenever they want, they’ll walk out the door and never come back. Face the truth: Boomers weren’t willing to go that far, but they sure are benefiting from it. Now they have more opportunities for flextime, too.

3. They’re great team players.

If you’ve climbed a corporate ladder your whole career, then it’s probably inconceivable to you that Gen Y doesn’t care about your title. But it’s true — they don’t do rank. Chances are they saw their parents get laid off in the ’80s, so they know how ephemeral that special rung you stand on is and they don’t want to waste time trying to get there.

Generation Y played on soccer teams where everyone participated and everyone was a winner, and they conducted playground politics like diplomats because their parents taught them that there’s no hierarchy and bullies are to be taken down by everyone. And Gen Yers take these values to work — they expect to be a part of a team. Gen Y believes that no matter how much experience an individual has, everyone plays and everyone wins.

Maybe it’s annoying to you that you don’t get to be team captain, or worse, the bully on the playground. But you’ve read the Harvard Business Review’s decades of research on how essential workplace teams are and how older people have little idea how to be good team players, so relax: Gen Y is doing the teamwork for you. In fact, there’s no way to work with Gen Yers except on a team. They go to the prom as a team, so they’re certainly going to go to product reviews as a team.

That makes us all lucky. We don’t need any McKinsey person coming to our company for $10 million a minute telling us how to promote teamwork. We can just follow Generation Y.

4. They have no patience for jerks.

Generation Y changes jobs every two years, typically because the work isn’t a good fit, or the learning curve isn’t steep enough, or they don’t like their co-workers. And Gen Yers will disengage from a jerk before trying to get along with him or her, according to a report by Stan Smith, national director of Next Generation Initiatives at consulting firm Deloitte. They have no desire to bother with somebody they don’t like.

This is really how we all should function. After all, according to research by Stanford professor Bob Sutton, the cost of putting up with a jerk in a company is about $160,000. Moreover, Harvard researcher Tiziana Casciaro found that people hate working with high-performing jerks so much that they would rather work with someone incompetent who’s nice.

Nobody likes having to deal with jerks, but we’ve always believed it was asking too much to have a workplace full of decent people. Generation Y sets a new standard for this, and companies are having to dump jerks quickly or risk losing their ability to recruit and retain Gen Yers.

Don’t Fight the Future

So let’s get off our high horses and stop evaluating whether or not we like working with Generation Y. Its members have incredible leverage in the workplace right now, and they’re not going anywhere.

It’s time to admit that the workplace is changing and that we’re lucky to have a group as optimistic and self-confident as Generation Y leading the way.

63 replies
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  1. JG
    JG says:

    My oldset kids are technically Y’s and I’m thrilled for them (according to Fortune article I read last weekend — 1995 and 93). I, am by nature a Y but by DOB I’m an X. I can whip out a few hours of work in the morning and be done for the day with my job. I can do it at Beaners or at 6am in my jammies. As the manager of a mortgage company, and with your information sometimes as a guide or reinforement, we are placing ourselves in a position to attract Y’s now and in the future. We’re virtual (we all love), we’re technology driven (we all love), we don’t work 60 hour weeks (we all love), we’re fast as heck (we all love)… on and on. Thank you Y’s :)

  2. J Altorfer
    J Altorfer says:

    Greetings Penelope,

    As a new member of corporate America (and a member of Gen Y), this article resonates quite deeply. You highlighted the fact that we grew up immersed in technology, and having done such, have a completely different take on life than our predecessors. So much of the infrastructure and hierarchy of corporate (and political) America is antiquated and massive and a disheartening inheritance. Moreover, we thank those who came before us for the plight of our economy–from Social Security, the welfare system, and ever-nationalizing health care–and will only be content when population demographics shift. Many of us already have plans to ‘jump ship’ upon accruing experience in the corporate world, pursue grad degrees, and embark into the unknown. By this point, America will face a more fiercely competitive global economy and will be forced to streamline–Gen Y will be ready for it.



  3. Me2 the SQL
    Me2 the SQL says:

    Sigh, I should have expected that putting something in brackets would cause a problem. The sentence should read

    I don't care when someone was born or if they can use (the latest web fad thingy).

  4. Me2 the SQL
    Me2 the SQL says:

    Whom are you kidding with this? Generation Y used to be called the slacker generation but somehow now they have become the saviors of the American way, baseball and apple pie. You are feeding into their feeling of entitlement. “I deserve $150,000 a year out of school and I don’t have to actually earn it.” Who is going to be doing all the paperwork for these gifted wonders? Heaven forbid they have to book their own travel arrangements.

    Everyone learned in the 80’s that company loyalty was a no-win game for the employee. What hurt a lot of boomers was the failure to upgrade their skills and processes. The ones that did are now ordering their $4.00 Starbucks from that Gen Yer behind the counter.

    Boomers had to do the face time thing because, SURPRISE, that was where the work actually was. How many accountants were taking ledgers home with them in the 70s? Who was logging in to update their project plans in the 80s? The technology did not exist to support anything else but actually showing up.

    I don’t care when someone was born or if they can use the latest web fad thingy. I care if they can get the job they were hired to do done. If they are too much of a prima donna to make copies if that is what it takes to accomplish that then they qualify as a jerk. And they are gone.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi. I understand that it’s annoying that gen Y is not putting up with all the BS that older generations put up with. But the truth is that Gen Y probably doesn’t need a job from you. The unemplyment rate among college grads is less than 2% right now, and 70% of human resource exectutives say they have to convince people to take their jobs.

    Here is a post about how gen Y is in the drivers seat when it comes to hiring:


  5. Bill
    Bill says:

    I think there are people who are slackers in every generation just as there are those in very generation who can and will work hard. It is smart for businesses to make adjustments to attact and retain employees in general. If most of those are from Generation Y, adjust accordingly.

    That test was fun. I am 46 but tested out as (barely) Generation X.

  6. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Penelope, this is a brilliant post!

    I’m so glad someone finally gives solid reasoning to why we act the way we do and real explanations for why it won’t be so bad.

    “We’re big, so get over it,” hasn’t been working so well for us up to this point.

  7. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    “What's the point of baby boomers complaining about Generation Y at work?…it's a cliché, because people over 40 have been complaining about "young people" since forever.”

    It is like soooo easy to turn the tables on that one. Young people might as well stop criticizing the the baby boomers. First of all, we know that they are just trying to take shots at their parents. It’s also well known that young people are inclined to make pompous statements based on a lack of experience.

    But it’s not a generational thing. When we see secular and religious leaders make pompous statements on the world stage and we want to take shots at them too. It doesn’t matter how old they are. And it’s never going to change.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Hm. This is an interesting point. I have to think about it. Here is what I think of first: That it’s not a generational thing, it’s a pomposity thing. I think you’re saying that if someone thinks they know what’s right for everyone then people get angry. I have to think about this. My first thing I think of is that I am really happy that I write about all the problems I have in my career on this blog because people who dish out advice as if they are perfect annoy me, too. But I think it’s different one person making pompous statements and a whole generation doing it.


  8. MarilynJean
    MarilynJean says:

    I’m technically a Gen Y, but I am (thankfully) a Gen X’er at heart. I might be the only Y that thinks my peers are mostly idiots (harsh, I know). I read these posts about/from “my” generation and I see the comments left by what I can only presume are old(er) white men and I find myself agreeing with them.

    Most of the Gen Y people I meet are self-centered, smug and driven by the almighty dollar. The difference between them and people who are older is their approach. I will admit, I like being a team player, I have no tolerance for jerks and I also hate doing meaningless (And what exactly is meaningless?) work, but who doesn’t? I actually hate working with Gen Y people on teams because most of the time they end up being the jerks, and they create more meaningless work.

    And don’t get me started on their approach to diversity, women’s issues and other progressive lines of thought. Many of them are so archaic in their thinking about race and other issues that they might as well be from the “Greatest Generation” or whatever Tom Brokaw called them.

    I think every generation pissed off the generation before them. I think each generation has created, theorized, pushed boundaries that the previous one never dared to do. That is human nature. I don’t think Gen Y is doing anything soooo dramatically different that it is worth the dialogue.

    To each his own when it comes to work styles and preferences. We all as workers in a GLOBAL economy need to explore how we are part of the changing face of industry, markets, communities, etc. Like how can your corporation and my nonprofit can work together to create systems that work for…dare I say it? Everybody? That question can transcend generational differences. It has to.

  9. MS
    MS says:

    I see a lot of concerning similarities between todays rush for Gen Y workers and the demand for tech workers in the dot-com era. When demand outstripped supply, the techies were getting all kinds of perks; taking pets to work, crazy stock options (okay, those were mostly worthless), 25-year-olds C-level execs, etc. Once the bubble burst, however, many of those workers were suddenly in a “don’t call us – we’ll call you” position. (I know, I was one of them)

    Will something similar happen to Gen Y? I don’t know. A big part of the answer will rest on how much value they can bring to the workplace. Their technical savvy and creative thinking will be an asset here. Another piece of it will be the alternatives that companies have. If there’s someone in Bangalore who is just as talented and is willing to play by the company rules, then that could be a problem for the Gen Y worker who wants to define their career their own way.

    My guess: Gen Y will cause the workplace to drift toward a more lifestyle-friendly approach, but not quite as radically as some people are predicting.

    Disclaimer – I fall dead-center of the X generation in temperament and age.

    * * * * * * *
    Here’s the difference between the boom that X-ers lived through and what’s going on now. X-ers could charge a lot of money for their services becasue so few people knew what they were doing on the Internet. But X-ers always worked for baby boomers and generally had to starve if they didn’t want to work for baby boomers. On top of that, if X-ers who started Internet companies needed a lot of funding, an that came from boomers, so even the X-er entrepreneurs were working for boomers.

    Today, gen Y can say no to corporate life and live in their parents’ basement, they can say no and start a company. These are not permanent moves, but they are ways that gen Y gets leverage to be able to say to bad offers, “i’d rather be unemployed”. Gen-X was unemployed for too long before the internet boom. Gen X was always dependent on boomer instituations — corporations of venture capital firms.


  10. Richard
    Richard says:

    I think the main difference is maturity. The boomer’s have more life experience than X and Y.

    My guess is that as X and Y age and mature they will start acting more like the boomers. I am curious to see where this debate is in coming years. My guess as X and Y mature, marry and accumulate more “Life experience”, they will change.

    * * * * * * *

    Gen X is too old to say that now. Their kids are ten years old. We are seeing how Gen -X parents, and it’s totally differnt than boomers. Gen-X is not having latchkey kids, they are not having 60-hour weeks, and the divorce rate for Gen-X marriages is enormously less than the rate for baby boomers — if you compare marriages of the same length.

    Here’s a post I wrote about this issue:


  11. Me2 the SQL
    Me2 the SQL says:

    Not to be annoying but where are you getting the 2% college unemployment rate from? Can you tell me what percentage of Gen Y is going to and graduating from college? What is the percentage of unemployment for Gen X college graduates? Does that 2% figure mean that they are employed in their field or just at any job that will pay their bills?

    I don’t find it annoying that Gen Y is not putting up with the stuff Boomers put up with. I do find it annoying that there is an expectation for everyone to bow down to them. Playing WOW for 12 hours straight in your parents’ basement does not qualify someone to be the network administrator for a fortune 500 company yet they often seem shocked to find out they are not entitled to that.
    Some things have to be earned, they are not a birthright. Most people of any generation realize that. The ones that don’t are the ones we all consider to be jerks.

    * * * * * * *
    You can search the Bureau of Labor site for the 2% statistic.
    But it doesn’t matter how many gen y college grads there are, it matters that if you want to hire one, they are not desperate for your job.
    Gen Y is not playing video games in the basement. They’re starting companies. Gen-y is, on the whole, incredibly productive in ways that other generations could not dream of. That research comes from Deloitte – in the study I link to here:


  12. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I think that Gen Y may give Gen X and Boomers a little more credit than you think. I do, at any rate. I’m very aware that all the unique things happening in our world right now that are influencing what my generation is and how we are being defined wouldn’t be happening without the social, technological and workplace shifts Boomers and Xers have brought. That said, no one can deny that Gen Y is entering the workforce at a very interesting time. You can read my latest post for more on my take on this.

    The very study of generations is an interesting animal. As people, of course, you can stereotype and generalize between all types of artificial segments, including age. However, the timing of when our lives are taking place does affect who we are. That's why we talk about generations to begin with. Each of us, no matter what generation we were born into – €“ or as Penelope suggests, we live in – €“ is in some ways a product of when and how our lives are taking place.

  13. wayne
    wayne says:

    It’ll be interesting to see who is going to do the ‘suck’ work in an organization full of people who can just quit because they live in their parents house rather than do the ‘suck’ work. All the generals in the world can’t win a war without boots on the ground.

    The Gen y guys I know on a personal level are pretty full of themselves. Still love them like brothers. What is it that makes their 140 IQ superior to my 140 IQ? I still can’t quite figure that one out.

    * * * * * *
    Remember when there was no email? Secretaries typed all communications. Now we all type. Why can’t that happen with everything? We each do a little suck work. It’s part of life.


  14. gt
    gt says:

    Hey Penelope,

    I’m curious where you fall on the spectrum: What generation were you born into and what do you test out as? I’m a tail end Boomer by birth, but from the test I’m right in the middle of the Gen X.

    At this time, I think the test is an indicator more of whether or not you have embraced technology yet (internet, wireless, etc). Many previous generations defined themselves more by their music. I find it interesting that my kids, aged 10 – 19, all find a great interest in the music from my high school and college days (please, don’t mention disco). Although many my age may avoid technology, there as just as many who embrace it.

    * * * * * * * *

    GT, the reason that testing people by the technology they use works is that it reflects the choices they make, the people they associate with, and the opportunities they have had. Even someone who is 20 and “not that into technology” will test as gen Y. But a boomer who is “really into technology” would probably not test as gen Y by dint of not having enough free time. I like how all that works out.

    I am an older member of gen X and I tested one point under generation Y. I think that’s where I belong. I’ll always be gen X.

    Here’s a funny story:

    My dad told me he took the test. He said, “I gave myself an extra point for emailing my parents.”

    I said, “How could you? Your parents are dead.”

    He said, “Yeah. But I would if I could. The test isn’t fair.”

  15. Suze
    Suze says:

    Penelope, another great post. I think you’ve been hitting them right out of the park lately.

    Gen X should own the culture, both within the workplace and out of it. It is their time, frankly.

    I’m almost always amazed when I read the comments on your blog because I don’t think you say anything that should engender such defensiveness, particularly on the part of my fellow boomers (or Gen Jonesers).

  16. Chuck Westbrook
    Chuck Westbrook says:

    Here’s the root of the matter, in my opinion. The baby boomers have worked their entire lives to get something many Gen Y types don’t want: a fancy title, a window office, a 4% annual raise, and ulcers.

    All Gen Y really wants is for what they do on the job to be meaningful and enjoyable. It must be frustrating to have the tens of thousands of hours you’ve put in to get where you are cast into doubt about whether it was the right way to spend such a huge chunk of a life.

  17. gt
    gt says:

    Thanks Penelope,

    My wife is an older Gen X depending on who defines Gen X (she was born in 1961), but she would definitely test as a Boomer with only one point total (for emailing her father). Maybe that’s why she has a harder time relating with our children while all our 3 boys and I can enjoy many of the same things together. Maybe it’s a male thing as she says, but I think it also has a lot to do with where we all are generationally, at least in our minds. Maybe that’s where the phrase “act your own age” comes from or “you are only as old as you feel/think..”.

  18. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Regarding ‘suck work’ – it’s not that younger people refuse to do any, they just don’t want to be stuck doing everyone else’s, to the point where it’s their entire job.

    Penelope’s example about e-mail was perfect.

    An executive should be able to sit down, using Word or e-mail, and type his own correspondence. In the time it would take for him to dictate a letter, or write something down on paper for someone else to type, he could type up his own letter and send it out yesterday. Typing pools are a thing of the past. The work doesn’t go away, but everyone does his own.

    Another example – budget monitoring. A budget manager should be able to sit down at his computer and pull up a report showing his actual vs. budgeted expenses, current month and year-to-date, and explain any large variances. There is no reason for someone in the accounting department to go through this tedious process for all the departments, and they are not the people responsible for what goes into the budgets anyway. The only thing standing in the way is an old-school mentality among some managers which says that such work is beneath them, and they can’t be bothered to spend fifteen minutes learning how to run a simple Crystal report.

    Personally, I like to be given a project and then have responsibility for the whole thing, top to bottom – the high-level analysis as well as the grassroots grunt work. I despise the idea of carving the grunt work out of all the projects and shoveling it all onto a young person.

    At my first job out of college, I worked for a mortgage company in the area that set up trust accounts for new loans. There was a department of about fifteen of us, and at first we were each responsible for all the branch office activity in our assigned states. We did the dull things like deposit the checks and pay invoices, but sometimes unusual things came along, too, and those were opportunities to research a problem and learn more about how the process worked.

    Then some great geniuses decided to stratify all the work. So some of us had to sit and prepare check deposits all day, some of us had to sit and pay invoices all day, etc. There was no longer any variety to our jobs whatsoever. We hated it, and we hated the bosses who did it to us. Even the people who did more of the research-type stuff were totally burned out and hated their jobs, too.

    We had started out feeling some ownership toward the branches we worked with. We got to know the employees who worked in them, and there was some commitment to providing them with good service. With all those relationships taken away, all ownership taken away, and our jobs reduced to as much monotony as they could possibly be, the only thing anyone wanted to do was leave.

    Now that I think about it, our managers’ goal seems to have been to turn ALL the work into grunt work.

  19. madaboutmoney
    madaboutmoney says:

    You constantly talk about how Gen-Y does not value money, only time, but a lot of the information you cite (like the Deloitte report) says that money is extremely important to Gen-Y. I often get the feeling you use whatever information suits you to buttress your arguments and ignore the rest. But anything to get readers – it is all about that, isn’t it.

    * * * * * * *
    Yes. Very good point. The issue is relative — how people weigh time vs money and how that ratio stans in relation to people who came before. Today time is ranked more important than money and it used to be time was very very far below.


  20. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    In response to the above comment, Gen-Y is concerend with money, just like anyone else, but in different ways.

    First, money is not the most important thing. I’d stay in a non-profit, making non-profit level money if I felt like I was doing something meaningful that I could be passionate about, even though I could do corporate work for probably twice the salary.

    Second, we don’t want to be paid little today with promise of more in the future when we’ve put in our time. We don’t plan on being around that long, because we don’t trust the company that much. We’ve seen others before us be screwed too many times.

  21. Me2 the SQL
    Me2 the SQL says:

    in response to your comment
    “A budget manager should be able to sit down at his computer and pull up a report showing his actual vs. budgeted expenses, current month and year-to-date, and explain any large variances. There is no reason for someone in the accounting department to go through this tedious process for all the departments, and they are not the people responsible for what goes into the budgets anyway. The only thing standing in the way is an old-school mentality among some managers which says that such work is beneath them, and they can't be bothered to spend fifteen minutes learning how to run a simple Crystal report.”

    That is exactly the attitude I get from some Gen Yers. The only thing they feel they should have to do is click the button and cash the check. My budget manager’s time is better spent managaging the budget not developing a Crystal Report (instead of just running one.). Someone actually has to create, test, debug, test that crystal report and validate the numbers. That REALLY is the job of the accounting department (and IT).

    I am lost that you think otherwise. I don’t expect my accounting department to write their own version of Quicken, I don’t expect my pilot to fix the jet engine. Those are better left to the specialist that are much more qualified to do those things.

  22. gt
    gt says:

    Pirate Jo makes some good points. The company I work for is a small to medium size company. I think because of our size, many of us must assume multiple roles for the company to thrive. Most larger companies get stuck in the bureaucracy of layers and therefore subscribe to the my job – your job attiutude. I have been criticized for not delegating enough work even though I get all my work done on time. I refuse to pass along correspondence for anyone else to type for me because I am constantly editing myself as I go along. It would take more total time for me to write, have it typed by someone, read and edit, retyped by someone, re-read again… The skills of the modern worker I believe demand each be able to do more of the “grunt” work themselves. What is the possible backlash? Fewer secretaries? Maybe those fewer secretaries will be able to do more themselves for the company than be stuck in a position that may be leading them nowhere. Have fewer workers and train them to take on more responsibility (not hours).

    About Gen Y hopping jobs more. It’s actually good for the individual as well as the companies they work for. Too much turnover is an indication of a poorly run organization (or a fast food restaurant). As long as the company is successful, I’m not sure if there is a “too little turnover”. Turnover brings in new ideas, a different way of looking at things. The key is to treat and train your employees well so they will be good contributors to the bottom line, now and in the future. You may lose a few, but as I heard Zig Ziglar once say: “I’d rather train an employee and risk losing them than to not train the employee and keep them.”

  23. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    “Someone actually has to create, test, debug, test that crystal report and validate the numbers. That REALLY is the job of the accounting department (and IT).”

    I agree – I don’t feel any differently than you do.

    I am actually talking about department managers who will not even RUN a Crystal report. The accounting department already does the testing and debugging of the numbers loaded into the system. You know what else they do? They go through all the departmental variance reports and try to explain the budget variances to the Controller or CFO. Tracking down fluctuations in the actuals can be done – it is just tedious and time-consuming. What’s difficult is when you don’t know what went into the budget numbers. Then you have to … go to the budget center manager!

    It takes an accountant ten times as long to explain these things, because they don’t know what went into the budget, haven’t seen the invoices that went through, and don’t know what’s going on in that manager’s department as well as the manager. So why doesn’t the manager of the department just do it? Because even learning to run a Crystal report is “beneath” most of them, and they think they are too important for “that numbers stuff.” It’s also no surprise that as we get close to the end of the year, they “suddenly” find all kinds of things that were coded to their departments’ budgets by mistake.

    The entire exercise is dull and futile. The process has no hope of approaching anything resembling a useful management tool until the managers take ownership of it. But yeah, that would mean doing their own grunt work.

  24. Philip Paccione
    Philip Paccione says:

    Penelope: what a hideous pile of “feel good” crap. I would love to see Gen Y negotiating with the mullahs in 15-20 years, talaking about self-esteem and quality of life.

  25. Nina
    Nina says:

    "These kids grew up with parents scheduling every minute of their day."

    They also grew up with parents subsidizing every turn. Some mention above that this generation doesn't care about money – but they should care! They don't need to care about how much they make, but they should at least care about how they spend it. The typical twenty-something has an unhealthy relationship with money.

    Susan Berfield wrote about Generation Debt awhile back in Business Week. This is "the first generation that came of age with the Internet, grew up marketed to at every turn and they could be the most indebted generation in modern history."

    "Two new economic realities are at work. Many had to borrow serious money to attend colleges that are ever more costly. And as soon as they entered school, they were offered credit cards. When these students start out in the working world, many use their credit cards to fund a richer lifestyle than they can afford, get by between jobs, or cover emergency expenses."

    So their "sense of entitlement" might be making life better for everyone in the workplace but I would argue that their spending habits will ultimately hold this generation back.

  26. Mary
    Mary says:

    I find it fortunate that we are able to have such a conversation about the work world. Only one hundred years ago, people were breaking their backs working the fields and factories, children were laboring in sweatshops, and only a small percent of workers were in “safe” jobs (clerical, lawyers, etc.) People worked 6 days a week. And health benefits, social security, etc — no such thing. It’s due to technology and a few beneficial government policies we can sit around today fiddling with our Blackberries and moan we don’t have any time.

    It’s not so much about the personal qualities of Gen Y (sorry) that are shaping this generation, rather it is the availability and usage of communications technology that is shaping them in the workforce. As you said, now everyone has to do some “suck” work — because of the ease of use of technology — which means that everyone can also do non-suck work. And so, of course, that’s what Gen Y wants to do. Who wouldn’t? And that’s why they can be in the basement setting up their companies without Boomer venture capital. Technology makes it possible — hence the gen quiz.

    I was looking for a quote from John Adams in which he says how his generation had to fight the revolutionary war in order for its sons and daughters to be able to have lives that allowed for arts and architecture. I couldn’t find it — probably it was some other forefather. But I did find the following that I liked, and seems applicable to the discussion:

    There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. — John Adams

    P.S. Why do the people who call your observations “feel good crap” always make so many spelling and grammar errors in their posts? Are they so angered they can’t hit the right keys? Maybe they should out-source their hate mail to someone in the developing world who has studied English.

  27. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    I love this article. By birth years I am a Gen Xer (1971). My husband is a Gen Y cusp (1976). He keeps me thinking (and acting) young. By your test I am a Y.

    I have four Gen Yers, 1992, 1998, 1999, and 2000…yea, I know what causes that.

    I work in a company FULL of Baby Boomers. I value their experience but cannot stand all of the meetings to make a decision.

    Gen Y truly gets a bad rap, as Gen X did a few years ago. Generation Y is the next great generation. They aren’t lazy, they are technologically savvy! They are DOers. Sure they want to know they are doing a good job, who doesn’t. The difference is..they will ask for feedback…instantly…not annually.

    Generational speaking we are influenced by things that happen around us and Generation Y has had some major stuff happen i.e. school shootings, 911, The War in the Middle East, etc. They will (& should) question everything. It’s all in how you choose to view them.

    We have helped mold this gereration into what they are. We scheduled everything FOR them, we have given them ALL ribbons and trophies for participating, we have completed their college applications for them…heck sometimes parents even call employers to find out why their kid wasn’t hired.

    Generation Y will be just fine. They outnumber the Xers by 30 million or so and they are only 4 million behind the Boomers. We’d better get used to them, they aren’t going anywhere but up. I respect the Boomers hard work and dedication and I will also gladly align myself next to a Y. We are the ones who will have to “get it done” in the next 30+ years.

  28. l.h.
    l.h. says:

    "But I think its different one person making pompous statements and a whole generation doing it." What a gross generalization. Penelope, I love your blog but your intergenerational warfare undercuts your credibility.

    Is your goal to create a true dialog, highlighting the contributions of Gen X and Y, or merely to reinforce a group's self indulgent perception of itself?

    Each Generation thinks that it is unique, that it has somehow overcome the faults and limitations of prior generations. But your gains are made on top of the gains boomers made and on top of the gains that prior generations have made. This is an evolving process. No one group is going to get it right. Our children will make further improvement. Too often you reduce your narrative to Gen X = good; Boomers = evil.

    You points can be made without the hostility to boomers that frequently accompany them. You are only alienating those you are attempting to convince.

    * * * * * * *

    Thank you for your comment. I want you to know that I hear you. I walk a fine line. There are very few voices in mainstream media expressing the frustrations of gen-x besides me. So I feel like that's really important to do. Most baby boomers who read my blog assume that they are more open minded than the baby boomers I complain about. And, in a large part, I think that's true. I also have a large baby boomer management contingency that reads the blog to understand what is going on in young peoples' minds. This cannot be a blog for everyone in the workplace – €“ no blog can be that. So I have to be a blog for people with a certain mindset. And in fact, I think that mindset is independent of how old someone might be – €“ anyone can be open minded, curious, willing to toss out old rules, and passionate about really honest with themselves about what they want and what they need to do to get it.

    I hope you'll keep reading even though I annoy you sometimes. I think I annoy everyone sometimes, no matter how old they are. Just each blog post annoys a different person.


  29. wayne
    wayne says:

    I want to say that I wasn’t talking about suck TASKS so much as actual suck jobs – no autonomy, regulation riddled, unimaginative jobs. And sometimes it will fall to the Gen Y-er to do that (more than) seemingly meeningless job, that nobody notices and seems to has no real significance, in the persuit of their dream. And that dream *is* the same dream that Gen X-ers have been frustratingly chasing since we joined the workplace. I’ll align myself with anybody that thinks the corporate mentality needs to change, that thinks work should be balanced with life, and that something may actually be more important than work. Or maybe thats going to far? Me thinks not. Life is for living. But it’s not always as easy to do as it may appear. Still, I’ll never stop trying.

  30. Pat Derus
    Pat Derus says:

    I really don’t understand all this “I’m better than you are.” “No, I am.” We all are just trying to do the best we can (I hope.) I was born 2 years into the boomer generation (1950) and when I was growing up there were no computer, no calculators, cell phones, digital camera or caller ID. And since there was nothing we could do about that, we just worked with what we had at the time.
    Now, the Gen Y kids are coming into the workforce. Most of them have never known life without the above mentioned technology. I always knew that Gen Y would do amazing things because we all know that this technology has transformed our lives beyond our wildest dreams and Gen Y would be the generation to really bring it into the workplace and make it perform to the max.
    But to insinuate that Boomers lived their lives all wrong because they worked long hours – something you had to do to get the job done when there was no technology to work with, or that Gen Y is going to work miracles because they are somehow extraordinary when it is really because they have all this technology at their disposal, is to overlook the fact that we are all products of the times we were born into.
    The Boomers are getting old and will start to retire out of the workplace. Then it will be Gen X and Gen Y’s turn. They will change the workplace because of the technology they will employ, and then they too will get old. Remember this conversation when your kids enter the workforce and ask how you ever managed with the “primitive” technology you had to work with.

  31. Dean L Heaton
    Dean L Heaton says:

    Have we forgotten that it was the Baby Boomers that produced gens X & Y? It is the basic principles of life that we learn from our parents, so is it not therefore rreasonable to say that the Boomers are actually responsible for what they have sown????

  32. Ryan Geist
    Ryan Geist says:

    Gen Y is more uneducated than any previous generation in personal finance. Ramit Sethi realized this and began a hugely successful personal finance blog. It's true that we've had our parents managing our money our entire lives – €“ and I will admit that many times we take it for granted – Our entire lives we witnessed "money growing on trees", despite what our parents told us every time we asked for a new toy. Two points here:
    a. Point 1: We need a "life skills" class to be taught to all college Seniors. It should be a mandatory class offered by all universities teaching personal finance, benefits and insurance, time management, networking/relationship management, etc.
    b. Point 2: There is an upside to Gen Y taking money for granted – €“ they focus on the more important things in life. As always, the 80/20 rule applies. There will be 80% of Gen Y that will sit back and enjoy life, family and friends with less career ambition. That's fine. The remaining 20% will comprise Gen Y's achievers, and it is this 20% that will make unprecedented contributions to global society, the advancement of technology, and US economy and quality of life in the workplace.

    How are we so sure that Gen Y's contributions will be so significantly different than other generations? Well, many people mention the computer and it's influence on us. Clearly, that is true. But there is a much more powerful invention that has truly changed the face of the entire world – €“ and Generation Y controls it. You guessed it! Al Gore's bastard son: The Internet.

    Generation Y (in my humble opinion those born 1982 – €“ 20??) is the first generation to have the computer and the Internet seamlessly integrated into our daily lives during our primary developmental period – €“ psychologically, emotionally and cognitively speaking. It is part of us. If the technology existed, we'd be fucking cyborgs. THIS IS THE INHERENT DIFFERENCE THAT IS WORTHY OF ALL OF THE HYPE. I could go on for years about the implications of this, but if you're looking for an answer to "what makes this generation so special?", there you go.

    Are we more sheltered than previous generations? Yes. We haven't directly felt the trials and tribulations of other generations. What we did experience was our Baby Boomer parents being laid off from their jobs, coming home after a hard days work and spending all their time with us (sometimes in leiu of each other), constant coddling, empty nest syndrome, and the emergence of the nuclear family (and a higher divorce rate as our parents' affair with their careers took over their marriage). This is just the way it was. We didn't ask for it. So to all you haters, get over yourselves.

    If you couldn't give a shit about these generational issues and have not experienced any conflicts or hardships due to the influx of new and dissonant values that the Next Generation brings with it, then that's totally cool, but to be honest you probably shouldn't be wasting your time reading this blog entry. On the other hand, if you have any feelings of angst, aggression or frustration with Generation Y, chances are that you are envious of what they have and what they seek to achieve.

    Baby Boomers: You are the product of the Great Depression-stricken Veteran generation. You were taught to climb the corporate ladder and be fiscally conservative. You know how to manage money and you play by the rules. Aside from technology, you are the primary influencers on Gen Y's values. So,

    1. Take a step back
    2. Think about it
    3. "A Ha!"
    4. Think about your own kids
    5. Return to work tomorrow treating every Gen Yer like your child (teach them how to develop into the great person they want to be, don't reprimand them for being bratty)

    Gen X: You tried, you failed. It's OK. Yes, Gen Y is actually achieving everything you wanted to – €“ embrace it! It doesn't mean you are any less competent, only much smaller in numbers. I warn you: DO NOT BECOME DICKHEAD MANAGERS. You fought hard against the old school Corporate Culture of conservative and impersonal values, inflexibility and unnecessary facetime – do not undermine the further advancement of your cause. Every time you find yourself thinking, saying or feeling, "I didn't have the same opportunities as this kid – €“ he should BE so lucky to be here! For the amount he's being paid he should be doing whatever is asked of him. When I was his age – " Whooooooa, Nelly! Step back, get out your iPod, turn on your 3 favorite songs. Listen to the lyrics. Apply them to this situation. Repeat as needed.

    The truth is that this situation is not going away – €“ every single summer more and more college graduates will enter businesses. You can't stop this powerful tide. What you can do, is learn how to flow with the tide and by understanding it's characteristics you can shape it, direct it, and make it work in favor of your company. Ever minute you try to fight it you are one minute closer to drowning. Need some more proof?

    The most important thing for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to keep in mind is this:

    DON'T KILL DREAMS. What are you trying to prove?

  33. Nina
    Nina says:


    I agree with Point 1: We need a "life skills" class to be taught to all college seniors – however, the skills with how to use credit and manage debt is something that needs to be taught to high school seniors.

    Why?? The moment they set foot on college campuses for orientation, they are bombarded with credit card offers. I can't find the exact number to reference, but the average credit card debt now held by college students hovers above $3,000 – that's in addition to their student loans. They need coping skills before they arrive on campus.

    Here's an interesting article filled with scary examples: Generation Y Seeks Financial Freedom

  34. Greg
    Greg says:

    As a kid (I am 44, tail-end of Boomers) I heard a preacher talk to the Silent Generation that the typical goal of retirement (stop working or being productive, sit in a rocking chair and do nothing) was why many kids became hippies and dropouts. Life's goal is to sit around and do nothing? Why wait until 65? Hang out, smoke dope, and be useless at 18 instead.

    The Y-ers seem to be doing the same thing. Life's goal is to have meaningful work and make a difference? Why wait until 65? Get work, waste not time, and find meaning at 18 instead.

  35. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    That’s a realy good point, Greg. I’ve never really thought of it that way, but this really puts a lot in perspective.

  36. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    I am a Gen x’er (born in 79) but am close enough to the Gen y’ers that I feel the same things at times. I still think you have to pay dues but I don’t think you need to spend 10 years in the same position to prove yourself. If you can’t prove yourself in 2-3 years than either your boss doesn’t understand you or you are not in the right fit. The biggest complaint i’ve had about Boomers i’ve worked with (all relative here) is that they tend not to give up too much information for fear that they will not be the only one who knows something. I like spreading the knowledge to get a more well rounded solution for a problem. I think the biggest problem is the fact that people close their mind to different work cultures. People do twice as much in half the time now days and I believe it angers people of the older generation that didn’t keep up with skills. They see people “slacking” when in actuality they are working smarter, not harder. I like the saying “Work hard to hardly work”. Improve in your job to do it effectively allowing yourself the extra time to take on extra things.

  37. wayne
    wayne says:

    Read Ryan Geist’s monologue, and you’ll understand why I stated in an earlier post that Gen’Y-ers are arrogant. It’s like the kid whose parents bought him a house and he takes credit for owning a home at such an early age – like he actually accomplished something. In his own words, all of us Gen X-ers are failures. Hear that Pirate Jo? And if we do become dickhead managers, so what? Mommy and Daddy will bail you out of that situation just like they’ve done all of your life. I may be a failure but I can survive anything life throws my way. You ryan, on the other hand, are one good power outage away from being helpless.

  38. Dave
    Dave says:

    I think it would be healthy for boomers, GenXers, and GenYers to step back and say “It’s not about me” a few times instead of getting caught up in some imagined generational conflict. I know it is helpful, when you don’t understand why people are behaving the way you want/expect them to, to have a theory you can apply, but there is no vast boomer conspiracy to thwart the ambitions of the young.

    Who has time to worry about all these people issues? Adapt until it works.

  39. Mary
    Mary says:

    Is it me? No one else seems to be having problems with grossly generalizing people based on age (I know there was that tech quiz, but really people are keeping to the birth year definition.) I feel like the comments for the most part are rampant stereotyping based primarily on personal anecdotal evidence. I’m going to say the irritating point that if you did this based on race, gender, heritage, religion, etc. people would be rightly up-in-arms. I really don’t understand perpetuating that sort of thinking.

    My entire career philosophy has been much more in line what is described as Gen Ys from the very beginning. But I was born in 1963. I used to resist being called a Boomer, because it made me sound old. After reading this debate I’ve decided to embrace the Boomer label the same way that, when Gloria Stenheim turned 50, she told journalists who said she looked much younger, “Yes, but this is how 50 looks.”

  40. madaboutmoney
    madaboutmoney says:

    For all you Gen-Yers,
    I have started two businesses – if you are contemplating starting one, understand you will be doing tons of “suck” work for a long time until it (hopefully!) gets off the ground. Much more than you will ever do at a company – maybe because it is your “suck” work it will not seem so heinous. Don’t let fooled by how easy Penelope and Ryan Paugh make starting a business sound – it isn’t.

  41. Christina Tierney
    Christina Tierney says:

    As a Gen X I have to say, please don’t write us all off. We really led the charge for Gen Y to be as flexible, brilliant, adaptable, engaging, exciting, and free-thinking. While at the same time being extremely devoted to family and core personal vaules as oppossed to blindly drinking big mugs of the “corporate kook-aide”.

    And our Baby Boomer parents started it before we did. The Baby Boomer generation bucked authority and set the stage for all this wonderful technological advancement.

    The real gift here, is that we can all come together because of the cutting edge technology and builder stronger communities, balanced work/life communities.

    All I can say is dont kick us Gen Xrs to the curb yet! Thanks. :)

  42. Tim
    Tim says:

    There is a terrific article-great insight–in the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review: The Next 20 Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve.

    Penelope, this line really bugged me:
    “Gen Y isn't going anywhere, and it's not like they're about to conform to baby boomer demands.”

    One of the biggest complaints I hear from employers is how Gen Y’s seem not to want any insight/advice from Boomers or Gen X’rs. Not good.
    We’re all in this together–we need to learn to work together.

    Harsh Truth: it’s not about Boomers vs other generations; it’s about learning how to work effectively with your boss and them learning how to develop young employees to become their best.

    Success doesn’t come easy. If you don’t act like you want to learn to become a great employee, no one is going to go out of their way to help you.

    I like diversity of ideas in the workplace. It makes better companies, work spaces, and products.

    But Y’s do need to realize there’s a ton to learn about business. When you’re starting out in your career you don’t even know what you don’t know.
    Once you realize that, you’ll be on your way.

    Adaptation from all sides will take place–it may take a tad longer than you’d like, but it will happen.

    I do wish, I as I stated on a different topic, that more companies would adapt employee mentor programs. This would be a great way for all generations to learn about each other and avoid those nasty stereotypes that do no one any good.

  43. John C
    John C says:

    I am a Gen X-er (born 1972). I love the work/life style balance and flexibility that Gen Y is looking for in the work place. I am completely on board with “results based performance” over the old baby-boomer “face-time” model. However, why is it that Gen-X continues to be written off and all of the credit for changing the work place goes to Generation Y?

    Gen-X was the first generation to ask for flex time and flexible schedules. We were the first generation to utilize technology for telecommuting work. And finally, we were the first generation to say no to work that offered no real purpose and/or no significant learning opportunities. What was our reward for being such pioneers? We got called slackers and lazy.

    Now comes the larger Gen Y and they get praised for being the driving force behind changing corporate America. Yes, they do deserve some praise and yes, I do believe that they will continue the fight for changing the way the world views work. But let's be honest and give credit where credit is due – to Gen X for pioneering the fight.

    Again, I have nothing against Generation Y. I agree with everything they stand for and more. And I believe that together, Gen X and Y will finally be able to over-take and change the “face time” corporate culture that still exists as a result of antiquated baby boomer policies.

    I look forward to working together with Gen Y to change the existing corporate culture, more meaningful work/life balance, and continuous learning opportunities.

  44. Tim
    Tim says:

    Actually, Baby Boomers were the first to come-up with, and use, flex-time. They were also the first to come up with telecommuting–using technology–though the technology wasn’t that great.

    Why did they come up with it? Career women had children later in life. They still wanted to work and lobbied management–which may or may not have been baby boomers (could it have been the Greatest Generation that first adapted it for the boomers?) to allow them to work from home. Also, men, too, wanted and got paternity leave. It may not have happened in great numbers, but it paved the way for your generation.

    Many baby boomers went into careers that attempted to make the world better–they said “no” to traditional corporate life. What do you think the sixties were all about? Not everyone from that generation sold-out. They also takled about and worked for corporate responsibility.

    What Color is your Parachute was a boomer career bible. It was all about finding your purpose, passion, etc. and tying that to your career.

    In the meantime, don’t worry about your generation and all the misguided praise or over-praise other generations get. Screw them all–Blaze your own trail!

    * * * * * * *
    I actually think people have been asking for some version flex time forever. People have wanted it forever. Baby boomers may have named it, but they did not quit when they didn’t get it. When Get X had kids, they started quitting when they didn’t get flex time. Gen Y gets credit for forcing massive flex time because unlike the baby boomers, they won’t take No for an answer on flex time. And unlike gen X, gen y has the demographic power to move mountains, quickly.


  45. Daniel Dessinger
    Daniel Dessinger says:

    Wow… At last, you have solved my Gen X vs. Gen Y dilemma. Since a score of 12 or over rates a person as Gen Y, and I scored a 20, I will gladly accept the title of Gen Y.

    You crack me up, Penelope. If you keep up this pace, you’ll have the world singing the praises of Gen Y in no time! ;)

  46. Tim
    Tim says:


    Boomers didn’t just name it, they created it.
    It was established because they demanded it.

    Most forward thinking companies back in the early 80’s were starting to grant flex-time as policy to keep good workers. Job sharing, too, was initiated back then. Baby Boomers pushed for legislation for better maternity and paternity leave.
    (and who were these boomers taking off time for:
    yes, to raise gen x and gen y kids)

    Flex time also started coming to be because it actually could save the company money–shared office space, parking costs, and in So. Cal., a way to comply with the AQMD policies. Companies were beginning to see technology as a way to save costs. I think this is less a generational thing–though I admit generation is part of it–and more of a way business–apart from keeping workers–as a means to save the company money.

    Boomers are more willing to grant it now to their employees because it was granted to them when they needed it. And to those who may have been denied it back in the 80’s, they are probably more willing to grant it now because they wish they were able to get it back then.

  47. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    By birth, I’m either a babyboomer or Gen Jones. According to this tech quiz, I score in the Gen X range. Interesting; maybe I’m not as “out of it” as my kids claim!

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