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. genxer
    genxer says:

    hi penelope,

    you state that unemployment among college grads is 2%. How much of that is under-employment. Generally the under-employed are disengaged from their work and prefer their time outside of work. They do whatever they can to ‘get by’ and quit jobs at the drop of a hat.

    this would explain many career aspirations of gen y.

    * * * * * * *

    That’s a good question. You could argue, in some wierd way, that half gen x and gen y are underemployed.

    Both men and women in gen x say they will turn down promotions to have more time with their family.

    And gen y goes into entry level jobs that are pegged toward a typically performing new worker, but a good deal of gen y is better than typical (statistically speakiing) and they are not getting paid for it becuase they have no track record to prove it.

    (Though I”m not really sure what this shows us except incresed frustration with corporate life..)


  2. David
    David says:

    I’m a Gen X’er and while I occasionally get down on my own generation Gen Y is far worse. This is the most vapid, self obsessed, uneducated, lazy generation in history. It’s easy to have a sense of entitlement and be able to turn down jobs that are “beneath” you when you’re living in your parents basement. Yes, it’s easy to do that when someone else is paying the bills! Am I supposed to be impressed “they don’t need your job?” When their parents kick them out of the basement that attitude will change quick.

    I work with some Gen Y’s unfortunately and they are the laziest, most self absorbed workers in the office. You can tell the older Gen X’ers and even the Boomers who value work, and work hard, and don’t look at the clock every three minutes waiting for the time the clock strikes 5:30PM so they can leave.

    I don’t know of anything significant Generation Y has contributed to this country. They are great at playing video games, and they’re handy with an Ipod and a cell phone, but zero substance. I’m scared for the future of this country knowing it’s one day going to be run by Generation Y.

  3. Greg
    Greg says:


    How many Gen-Y are in Iraq and Afghanistan? How many of these vets do you see on the news protesting?

    -Greg (44, married to a SAHM, 2 preschool boys)

  4. David
    David says:

    Greg I’m grateful for our young men and women protecting us overseas. I’m huge supporter of the military.

    But, every generation previous that has served deserves the same praise. So they are not doing anything different than any previous generation who has enlisted. Different wars, same risks.

    My opinion still stands, gen y is the most vapid, do nothing, say nothing generation in history (thus far, 30 years and counting). I don’t make a statement like that lightly. It comes from personal observation, working/socializing with gen y’ers over the years, and by not being able to find one significant contribution they have made for the betterment of society. It’s all about them, and what feels good and makes them happy. Incredibly selfish and self-centered generation. Sure there are exceptions, but as a whole that’s how I would sum them up.

    I guess much of the blame falls on the baby boomers and gen x’ers as parents. A lot more tough love and a lot less praise would have helped. Children need to know that not everything they do and say is wonderful and appreciated. I would love to see a return of 50’s style parenting instead of this new feel good constant praise style that has done nothing but produce a generation of spoiled brats.

  5. Greg
    Greg says:


    I do not really follow. Are you saying that the only good Gen-Y is in the military? Also, to the best of my recollection, the generation born between 1957 and 1983 has not fought protracted or insurgent war. And unlike previous generations (with the exception of Gulf War I), every one volunteered to go over there. They do not have to reenlist. They can game the system and get a ticket home. Unlike previous wars, nobody was drafted or compelled.

    But that aside, you know what your experiences are first-hand, I do not. However, my experience has been vastly different. The young people I know and interact with are responsible, hardworking, and loyal. I trust them to watch my boys (which I trust to few people, adult or ten). I like being around and working with young people. I hope you get the opportunity to interact with the kind of young people I see every day.

  6. Keke
    Keke says:

    Greg, I completely agree with you. I think we need to get back to parenting the way it used to be. Things have gotten too far out of hand. Kids are so spoiled nowadays its not even funny. I’m fearful for this country when they become adults. We are raising a nation of jailbait. Kids espect us to give them everything and praise them for everything and it just makes me want to puke. They also have no respect and think they can do whatever they want. I’m a Gen Xer and at least I gave my parents respect and listened to them. If I didn’t I got a spanking. I think we need to start spanking our kids again too. That puts things back into perspective. Yea I know I sound angry and I am because things have gotten way out of control.

  7. Menx
    Menx says:

    Keke said:

    “They also have no respect and think they can do whatever they want. I'm a Gen Xer and at least I gave my parents respect and listened to them. If I didn't I got a spanking. I think we need to start spanking our kids again too. That puts things back into perspective. Yea I know I sound angry and I am because things have gotten way out of control.”

    I’m a Gen Yer, I got abused, I mean spanked, MOST PEOPLE TODAY SPANK. MAYBE WE SHOULD REALLY Stop spanking and we’ll see a positive change. moron.

  8. Nick
    Nick says:

    Haha this classic “praise Gen Y because they are younger, hipper, better looking, faster, etc…”.
    But it is BS. I am a Gen Yer, but I hate my own generation. Why you ask? Well for one everyone talks about how weve seen 9/11, and school shootings, Iraq. etc… But aren’t Gen X and The BabyBoomers seeing that stuff as well?
    And wasn’t it the BabyBoomers that have been through Vietnam, terrorist and school shootings as well???? Correct me if im wrong please!!! Stop praising us because deep down inside most generation Yers are just self centereed sissies. If there is a problem with a co-worker, or a law, or the government, or a war, what do we do???? Do we go out and protest and fight for what we believe in while getting beat by the police??? No!!! we go online and blog and bitch about it. HAHA, a joke if you ask me.
    Also everyone talks about how we fight for the right for flex time off, etc… Actually the baby boomers are the ones yet again that endured all this crap for us (I haven’t seen a new congessional law regarding maternity leave, racism, sexism, or any other fair civil rights in the workplace besides minimum wage since 1992), so the question is what have we really done but go online and bitch about how we have it so bad?!!?!?
    Like dateline said, we get a gooddamn trophy for coming in last place for chistsakes!!!! What a bunch of bitches. And lets not get started on the tech issue. Penelope the expeert “blogger” talks as if Gen Yers created technology and brought it to the workplace. HAHAH another fallacy, Boomers invented all this great stuff and manufactured it, and sold it to us. All we do is use it. So why do we get credit when the Boomers are the innovative ones? If you ask me your whole blog is a bunch of BS.
    You praise Gen Yers, but look like a Boomer. Do you wish you were 30 years younger???Haha funny!
    Well, I better go blog somemore about how I wish they would stop that godawful war!!!!!! haha btw I was born in 1982 but wish I was born in ’62 Gen Y sucks and hasnt done shit for society. That is all.

  9. Kim
    Kim says:

    Gen Y has a tough road ahead of them, and I neither envy nor despise them. Being an Xer, I never went to school having to worry about terrorism or school shootings. Never feared expulsion or jail for “politically incorrect” speech. Never had to worry that someone would take a pic of me in a private moment doing something I’d later be ashamed of and plaster it on the internet for posterity. I was taught that although the older generation didn’t “get” what we were into, it wasn’t ok to be rude or disrespectful and dismiss them as useless wastes of skin. I did not grow up in a perpetually negative environment where people ran each other off the road in anger, or where common courtesy (and common sense) were the exception, rather than the rule. Gen Y is coming of age in a world where security and courtesy and many freedoms are now things of the past. Gen Y has advantages, too, brought to them by their boomer parents, and by some of the actions of their senior X colleagues. They will no doubt in turn make their contributions to the future. Each generation has its drawbacks. The Boomers got to see their affluence fade and realized that youthful idealism doesn’t work well in practice. Gen X learned that prosperity would elude them and they would have to put up with more and work harder to have the same things their parents did. Gen Y as an aggregate will potentially face a bleaker future than Gen X, due to the social/economic problems begun in the 60s that are finally coming home to roost. My two nephews are Gen Y…courteous, hard working, and yes, tech savvy. I feel confident they will succeed and do amazing things in their lives. But I fear for this generation too, because they have a much more dangerous world to deal with than I did at their age. Enough with the generation wars. I personally don’t care if my generation (X) gets credit for things we achieved that are positive…as long as the world benefits from what we have left behind, that is all that matters. The Boomers are checking out. The rest of us need to get off our butts and make things better.

  10. Antonio
    Antonio says:

    Truth be told, we are already and I am just 21. We bitch about the behavior of the new generation of kids after us. We can’t relate to people born in the mid 1990s and beyond as friends as well as we do to those born in the 1970s (and even late 1960s).

  11. David
    David says:

    The only redeeming quality of Gen Y is that the seem reasonably receptive to the leadership of Gen X in the workplace. We’re largely about fair play, hard work and a flat management style.

    Not surprisingly that seems a lot more appealing to the Y’s than the their boomer parents who fostered a culture of corruption and greed, gamesmanship over performance, and insanely rigid hierarchy.

    The boomers legacy is in tatters because their own children have chosen our way over theirs.

    I realize our generation isn’t perfect (the sociopath Glen Beck is an Xer), but we’re slowly putting this country back on track. Not in a cheesy Barack Obama speech way, but just by living right.

    Being better mom’s and dad’s is a big part of it….

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