The real deal about Gen Y: they’re inherently conservative

, ,

The most prestigious place for college grads to get a job today is Deloitte, according to a Business Week story titled, The Best Places to Launch a Career, by Lindsey Gerdes. In fact, the top three choices for Generation Y are all Big 4 accounting firms.

My first thought was, are you kidding me?!?!?!

Because if you ask Gen Y what is most important about work, this is what they’ll say: Flexibility, personal growth, liking the people they work with, and money.

But here’s what a consulting job offers: Long hours in cities where you don’t live. On-demand work for demanding clients. Days and days of working on a client site where you do not even benefit from the supposedly forward-thinking corporate culture that a company like Deloitte has created. And, finally, isolation from all but a few co-workers who are at the same client as you.

So what’s going on here? Why is generation Y going to these firms when the firms clearly do not meet Gen Y”?s top three goals as well as, say, a smaller company would?

Well, for one thing, the Big 4 are acutely aware of what young people want. Deloitte has been studying generational issues for years and Cathy Benko, vice chairman of Deloitte, just published a great book, Mass Career Customization, that replaces the corporate ladder motif with a lattice; and workers can move laterally or up or down on the lattice depending on their personal goals and career aspirations. The Big 4 get the best candidates because these companies have been the fastest to react to the new workforce conditions that place young people in the driver’s seat .

But here’s what else is going on: Gen Y does not admit it, but their top priority is stability. This is a fundamentally conservative generation. And in the middle of this very long article in Business Week is an important quote from Andrea Hershatter, director of the undergraduate business program at Emory University and veteran of college recruiting:

“There is a strong, strong millennial dislike of ambiguity and risk, leading them to seek a lot more direction and clarity from their employers, in terms of what the task is, what the expectations are, and job progression.”

Hershatter gives a great interview because she explains in detail why young people today are fundamentally conservative in their goals and decision making. Not conservative politically. (In fact, we know they are not conservative politically.) But conservative in their lifestyle. They are not risk takers, not boat rockers, not revolutionaries. Young people today want a safe, nice life, and clear path to that goal.

Things start to look murky because young people are so difficult for older people to deal with at work. Young people seem to be demanding that everyone change to accommodate them. In fact though, young people are merely demanding that the workplace live out the values that the people who run the work place – parents of Gen Y – taught at home: Personal growth (“turn that TV off!”), good time management (ballet Monday, soccer Tuesday, swimming Wednesday…), and family first.

Here are four reasons why members of Generation Y are fundamentally conservative in what they envision for their lives:

1. They love their parents.
Not only do they love their parents, but they want their parents to help them figure out adult life. There is no rebellion. Instead there is helicopter parenting. And there is a near-perfect implementation by Gen Y of the values their parents told them were important. Gen Y are hard workers, achievers, and rule followers.

According to Rebecca Ryan, author of the new book Live First, Work Second, violence, abortion and drug use are down; education, global vision, and career focus are up. A parents’ dream, right? This is not the generation that whose icon will be a guy who protested government policy or who shot himself.

2. They operate in teams.
This is not a generation of mavericks. This is not about self-reliance, it’s about teamwork. But teamwork is inherently conservative because there’s consensus. For example, prom is a group event. And there is not infighting – gen Y hates conflict- which is no surprise because, as Rebecca Ryan points out, that they’ve been learning negotiation skills since they were kids.

3. They are not complainers.
Baby boomers got their start as people who bucked the system to protect their own interests by protesting Vietnam. Who was fighting the war? Baby boomers. But they hated the war. So they argued against it. Who is fighting today’s war? Gen Y. And they hate it. But they almost never complain in a large, public way.

Similarly, young people hold all the power in the workplace today but they choose to be consensus builders. They say, “Talk with us, work with us, let’s understand each other.” Or, as Gen Y blogger Rebecca Thorman, wrote to older people, “How can we work together to fulfill our dreams?” This is a far cry from the “don’t trust anyone over thirty” slogans of the baby boomers.

4. They are not asking for anything crazy.
Gen Y are really hard workers. They have been working harder in school than any preceding generation. And the pace that they sift and synthesize information puts the skills of their elders to shame. So why complain about the demands of this generation? They are great at work and they want to have work that is meaningful and challenging.

And this is exactly what everyone else wants from their work as well. These demands are not new. It’s just new to hear them from an entry-level worker. But in fact, it’s reasonable and fundamentally conservative since these are the values this generation has been taught to live by.

Certainly we can’t fault gen Y for wanting stability. Who doesn’t want stability? Baby boomers wanted it, which is why they worked insanely long hours and surrounded themselves with tons of possessions. Gen X wanted stability, too. We just never got it because we graduated into the worst job market since the Great Depression. So we worked hard to create it for our kids, instead.

Generation Y is the most conservative generation since the Great Generation that fought World War II. Thomas Friedman just wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which, predictably, he used his Baby Boomer platform to complain that Gen Y is not more like the baby boomers. Friedman wants hands-on activism.

Obviously, that is not the be-all and end-all for making the world a better place, because the baby boomers are leaving us with global warming, social security, and an image crisis abroad that the US hasn’t seen since the Boston Tea Party.

So how about reframing things a bit? Let’s take another look at Generation Y — as the kids who are going to ensure that the values they were raised by will extend to the workplace. Finally.

90 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Kat
    Kat says:

    Great article, but links are broken :(

    * * * * * * *
    ARRRGGGHHHH that is so upsetting! But thanks for letting me know. I fixed it.


  2. leslie
    leslie says:

    If Gen Y was being drafted I wonder if their response to the current war would be similar to that of the Boomers response to Vietnam?

    FYI: protesting a war requires as much teamwork as fighting one

    * * * * * * *
    Well, it’s true that there’s no official draft today. But there are a lot of people who went to the army just to get college paid for and never expected to be actually fighting a war; they just didn’t have a way to pay for college. (Anya Kamanetz writes a lot about this.) Also, there are a lot of people in the National Guard doing way more touring and fighting than they initially thought they were signing up for. So in that respect, there is sort of a draft for gen Y.


    • Rick
      Rick says:

      There hasn’t been anyone serving in the military who didn’t know what they were signing up for in years. (this is probably the reason that we’ve seen less news coverage and essentially no protests of the war(s) in the last few years)

      There’s a total disconnect between the military and everyone else today, which is why a retired general recently argued that we should reinstate the draft.

      I’m with Leslie on this one. Why protest if it there’s no personal impact?

      Interesting article, definite food for thought!

  3. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    “Rebecca Thorman, wrote to older people, "How can we work together to fulfill our dreams." This is a far cry from the "don't trust anyone over thirty" slogans of the baby boomers.”

    Penelope, Rebecca, The Gen Y Princess wrote that line specifically to me. But she and your pals the Ryans never stop blowing their own horns about how much better they are than everybody else. (You’re a particularly bad influence on them in this regard). That doesn’t sound like consensus building to me, except perhaps in lip service.

  4. Dale
    Dale says:

    Damn Penny,

    Just when I think I’m getting a handle on the Ys you throw a curve that makes me rethink my ideas.

    Intuitively, it all makes sense, I just wonder if that seeming conservative nature is being perpetuated by those who will be following the Ys or if the current crop is going to be a departure from those that went before. I mean, they seem so outwardly focused and apathetic. I guess that’s what my parents thought about me:)

  5. Ed
    Ed says:

    I don’t entirely understand how this relates to the most prestigious place to work being Deloitte. That job is hardly consistent, and does not offer any type of stability. Being a consultant myself, I know how instable the work is. Your roles change frequently, you are constantly learning new things, and then just after you feel comfortable with something you have to try something different. Also, consultants have a very small amount of time for themselves. Generation Yers put value on their own personal time with friends and family, but as a consultant you do not get that much time because you’re constantly working and on the road.

    My thought behind this is that Generation Y likes consulting because we move up through the ranks relatively quickly. In a lot of cases you get real responsibility shortly after you start working. I don’t think that most consultants plan to do it very long, as most of us have plans to enjoy a normal life some day, but until then.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    * * * * * * *
    You make interesting points, Ed. Thanks. And Chuck blogged about this post making some similar points:

    I can see how success is the reigning value here, and the companies that paint a clear path to success are the ones that get the best candidates.

    I think the question might be will the young people who are consultants now, working long difficult hours, actually be able to switch to something that has less money or less stability, or both. I’m not sure.

    And maybe a lot of what happens depends on how quickly companies shift policies in order to accommodate life changes (like women leaving to have kids). That’s why Cathy Benko’s book is so intersting — because it encourages companies to make drastic changes in order to retain high achievers thorugh the inevitable times in life when you cannot be such a high achiever.


  6. t h rive
    t h rive says:

    @Ed – €“ I am in fact enjoying consulting very much at the moment, and loved the start where I was quite quickly placed managing (though rather small) projects and traveling for work. It's fun. It's important work, and involved work. Moving – €˜up' in the ranks will take time though, as, well, I'm the youngest in the department and newest – €“ so still have to literally wait for work to come in. And it's true, I will not consult for ages – €“ cause this job practically shouts at me to start my own business, but I have the patience to build more experience and (as Penelope stated) love the stability for the time being.

    Unlike what you stated, I have a good amount of time to myself. But that's with the particular company I work with, where my work comes in waves, and we have to consistently keep our pay a certain percentage billable. It's funny how having 40 billable hours to a client sometimes has to last you 3 months.

    And it's true: I do love my folks and want to make them proud, still. And I don't want anything crazy, just work, trust, and responsibility.

    As for Recruiting Animal – €“ I know where you're coming from in some people seemingly being keen in tooting their own horns, and how Gen-Yers are the leaders of all leaders – €“ THEN at the same time we agree we just want stability and normality. I have seen the laziest of workers in my generation, those who just want TV and a new car, then retirement. Maybe they don't care to make their parents proud – €“ and that's up to them. Whatever the case, at least the ones on the internet ARE the more driven and confident ones, the ones that will be seen and heard, and eventually maybe make an actual difference cause they (we) want to.

    We all toot our horns in our own way. Don't you?

  7. Kathy S
    Kathy S says:

    I agree with Ed. Deloitte is NOT the most prestitious place to work whatsoever.. ONLY for Accounting majors! This really has to be emphaisized.. Deloitte consults in many many other fields :)

    I’m also a gen Y-er and yes stability, money, co-workers are up there.. but I would never work for a consulting firm, especially Deloitte! But, if I was an accounting major.. that would be another story. Accounting is pretty straightforward and the ambiguity wouldn’t really be an issue. A lot of accountants do audits and are at a new location every week anyway.

    And, why is line 22, a credit card company, rated as a top desirable employer for Engineers. Something is out of whack there..

  8. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I think Gen Y’s insistence on following through as adults on the sound beliefs it grew up with is actually quite revolutionary, in a social sense if not politically.

    Other recent generations have defined themselves against the previous ones. Gen Y is the first generation to take its elders as seriously as it takes itself, and thereby to expect them to do as they should, rather than throwing their older status around like so much weight.

    Here’s some news for people who complain about Gen Y’s “selfishness”: it’s 2007, and you don’t get to be the moral judge of everyone 10 yrs younger than you anymore! How things have changed :)

  9. Chris
    Chris says:

    Regarding the previous comment of “protesting a war requires as much teamwork as fighting one”

    That is abso-effing-lutely ridiculous. There is just no way one can be both sane and intelligent and believe that. Getting a group to cut class and hold up signs doesn’t really require a lot of leadership and organizational skills, at least not compared to the complexity of operations performed by our military.

    I think the fact that Gen-Y volunteers for military service during a time of war speaks volumes. The country called, they responded – with palpable action. Kudos kids.

  10. Quasar9
    Quasar9 says:

    Inherently is the word,
    if you have a decent education, a good career, a nice home, an educated & well paid partner with excellent health care & pension plan, 2.2 kids, 2 cars an SUV and an off road 4×4

    of course you are going to be conservative and insist on low taxes and low oil prices. Lets face it we all want to be ‘kind to the environment’ but really it is China, India & Africa that should make the sacrifices. Why should the US and EU worry about CO2 pollution, when clearly the biggest threat comes from those with the largest population and growing demand for ‘energy’

  11. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    @Alice Bachini-Smith

    “Never mind”? That’s a shot, right? Because you think it’s an important point. So do I.

    Alice, I’m sure you’re a sweet person but, look, you and I can have the same values but when I claim that I am living them much better than you, I am defining myself against you. (For instance, when kids take the religion their parents brought them up in seriously).

    Penelope endorses helicopter parents negotiating their children’s salaries but, for the most part, she has defined the Boomers as a work-hard, play-hard, crash-hard, 12-step generation whose values their children properly shun.

    What is ironic is that she doesn’t realize that these were the same complaints the Boomers had against their parents. Think of popular songs like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle”. Or Ray Steven’s “Mr Businessman”. Or Dylan’s “Mr Jones” and “Times They Are A Changin'”.

    It’s the same thing. And Penelope has been preaching the “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” since day one.

  12. erin
    erin says:

    The Big 4 are great at marketing – but Gen Y may find the reality of “flexibility” and “money” to be a far cry from what’s presented in the glossy brochures.

    The competition both within the firms, and between them is fierce – you’ll be competing to move up the ladder against thousands of the best and brightest from around the globe, so get ready to once again be a small fish in a big pond.

    You say “conservative”, but I hear “conformist”. Which come to think of it, may make Gen Y a great fit for The Big 4.

  13. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    (Haven’t taken time to read the comments yet; I know, I’m wicked.)

    First off, I’d like to say: “Young people today want a safe, nice life, and clear path to that goal.” = Engineeeeering… hehehe

    Next, I’d like to say that the two biggest icons for middle-class people my age are probably Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. We’ve spent our whole lives hearing the mythology spawned by those two men and dealing with the idealogical conflicts between their companies. I think that explains a lot, really.

    Finally, I’d also like to point out that the next generation is doomed because their icons are all out partying with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

  14. Matt M
    Matt M says:

    Great post and great analysis of the article. I am 27 years old and I used to work for a Big 4 accounting firm for 3 years. I agree with most of your questions/criticisms about the article. So, I read the article and the article is actually “best places to launch a career” not best places to find lifetime employment. Also, the surveys of actual Gen Y’s are only a portion of the article’s rankings, discussions with career development personnel and recruiting consultants also factor in.
    The big fact (secret) that they left out is that turnover is so high in the Big 4; easily 50% of those new hires will be gone after 3 years and another 30% will have left after 5 or 6 years. If they printed the turnover rates at all of these companies in the list it would give a much better idea of what the places are actually like to work for.

    Regarding stability: Gen Yers are going for stability simply because they would rather work like a dog and be guaranteed a certain salary and lifestyle rather than work just as hard and maybe earn less while not gaining experience that will pad a resume and provide a bridge to new opportunities.

  15. Tim
    Tim says:


    “The Boomers were only activists because they were getting drafted. When the draft ended so did the demonstrations.”

    Well, both the draft and the war ended about the same time. It’s hard to protest against a war once it’s over.

    Also, there were plenty of young people who had student deferments that were still actively protesting against the war. They weren’t going to be drafted, but still fought against it.

    The war protest was much larger than students scared to fight a war. The Vietnam War–an undeclared war, by the way–was largely viewed as an unjust war.

  16. Tim
    Tim says:


    “I think the fact that Gen-Y volunteers for military service during a time of war speaks volumes. The country called, they responded – with palpable action. Kudos kids.”

    If that is true, then why haven’t enlistment goals been reached? Why has the military lowered the requirements for enlistment (even with much lower requirements the goals haven’t always been achieved)? Why are our troops stretched so thin? That’s right, not enough of GenY has enlisted. GenY didn’t really respond with palpable action.

    It’s a tough situation. I applaud those who have enlisted, but understand why most haven’t.

  17. klein
    klein says:

    The more I read your blog is the less head I pay it.

    I realize how attractive an idea it is to think that you can divide people into concise little categories like generations and ascribe attributes to them on the whole, but they just don’t hold water, and merely serve to show how ageist you are. Just be happy in your own generation.

  18. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:


    The Vietnam War…occurred from 1959 to April 30, 1975

    The US discontinued the draft in 1973.

    After Kent State (May 1970) anti-war activism seemed to wane. (I’d have to verify that with real data before I accept it).

    That people who weren’t going to be drafted protested is obviously true. But that doesn’t tell us anything about the main impetus of the anti-war movement.

  19. Tim
    Tim says:


    from wikipedia

    “On January 15, 1973, Nixon announced the suspension of offensive action against North Vietnam.

    The Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” were signed on January 27, 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.”

    We had adviors there until the fall of Saigon, but our active involvement ended with the Paris Peace Accords. The fact that we weren’t there in any real numbers pretty much guaranteed the fall of South Vietnam in 1975

    I think a discussion on the main impetus of the anti-war movement would be a very interesting and worthy one, but I doubt Ms. Trunk or her readers would be happy with it!

  20. Dale
    Dale says:

    “The more I read your blog is the less head I pay it.”

    Then… assuming you are not being coerced,


    Much less comment…

  21. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I really hope that he means “heed” because “head” means something different to the kids these days…

  22. Tim
    Tim says:

    I object to the assumptions invlolved in calling Vietnam protesters and, by extension, members of social movements more broadly as complainers. One wonders what would have happened if civil rights protesters just stopped complaining, or if labor activists just stopped complaining about overtime, weekends and safe working conditions. Let’s make this more current; perhaps if more of the Gen-Y complained in a “large, public way” we would not be facing the most current iteration of Vietnam.

  23. Alan
    Alan says:

    Regarding your point no. 3, Gen Y isn’t “complaining” about the war because they don’t have to worry about being drafted! Yes, the Guard/Reserves is a de facto draft, but it affects a very tiny percentage of the population.

    I also take issue when someone derides another as a “complainer” if they are sticking up for what’s right or who goes against the grain.

  24. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    As one who recently earned an accounting degree and has many friends who signed with Big 4 firms, I agree with Penelope that many Gen Y people are willing to sacrifice a few years of working like a dog for the opportunities that later present themeselves, namely cushy corporate accounting jobs with high pay, 40-hour work weeks and tons of vacation. Something will have to change in the Big 4, though, because if this continues, they will face a serious draught of managers and partners.

  25. Mary W
    Mary W says:

    Well, I’ll fess up first: I’m a Deloitte alum from ~10 yrs ago and I recently took a part-time job back with them related to their Mass Career Customization initiative (my interest in MCC: it’s the first programmatic, comprehensive corporate solution to modern career pathing that I’ve come across — meaning it’s designed to be a solution/program that big companies can roll out across their entire employee base, manage and do metrics against, etc. A lot of companies know the old career ladder model doesn’t work anymore — they just haven’t had a good alternative approach to implement.)

    In terms of why the Big 4 (and the “pure” consulting firms) are interesting to (some) Gen Ys: from the research, a lot of the career-oriented Gen Y people are hugely ambitious in their early work years. They want to work 150%, develop skills and advance as far as possible as fast as possible — because many of them say they foresee the days when they’ll be married & having kids and they’ll want to be backing off (“dialing down”) on the career front for a few years.

    Per one of the earlier comments about turnover in the Big Four (that it’s high compared to other industries): that’s correct, and their business model is designed that way. Big 4 are classic pyramids: their projects need lots of smart junior people who are expected to stick around for only 2-4 yrs on average before they move on. The deal is that junior employees work hard for those few years, and in return they develop corp job skills quickly and get paid pretty good salaries.

    It’s definitely a demanding job (long hours, travel), and it’s not “stable” in the sense that you can do the same job for upteen years and have guaranteed job security. But many of those in Gen Y who are corporate-job-oriented seem OK with the tradeoffs — as long as they feel like they’re getting the bankable experience and skills that they can take with them to their next job.

    Per the Big 4 not having enough senior people due to turnover — well, like every other big organization I know, the Big 4 worry about leadership development and retention. But, all the Big 4 have been around for awhile, they’ve coped with this issue for decades and they aren’t in any danger of dying anytime soon from it.

    Frankly senior management jobs in almost *any* industry are tough these days. The demands of the 24/7 global economy kick the tail of anybody who’s got any kind of senior role. IMO there will continue to be an increase of senior people in multiple industries who take sabbaticals and otherwise “dial down” every decade or so, just to recuperate and recharge their batteries. That’s certainly the pattern here in Silicon Valley with lots of tech people.

  26. Steve
    Steve says:

    Gen Y works for the Big 4 for the same reason others before them did. Big 4 offers tremendous learning opportunities and excellent brand recognition on your resume. They may even have be able to provide some flexibility. They’ll always have work for you, but you’ll be on the mommy track. If you want to get the good assignments and have a chance for advancement, you pretty much have to sell your soul to them and that is why people don’t stay.

  27. Steve
    Steve says:

    So Gen Y’s icon isn’t Bob Dylan or Kurt Cobain, maybe it is Brittney Spears or Paris Hilton or the Olson twins instead. There’s a fine line between brilliance and insanity, and many creative people have emotional troubles. They always have. Please don’t define hundreds of thousands of people by whatever troubled celebrities are popular at the time.It’s silly. I think we won’t really be able to define Gen Y for a while. They’re still coming of age. Even when they do come of age, I don’t think it is responsible to label large groups of people with steryotypes.

  28. Katie
    Katie says:

    1. We are conservative because we have a ton of debt we need to pay off. More than any generation ever.
    2. We know more about the way the world works. The generation below us is on the internet. The Generation above us knows nothing about it. We made the internet what it is. The world works off the internet.
    3. The majority of people I know do not work for big companies. We were the first generation where small classroom size was important. We like small companies where we know the owners.
    4. Gen Y gets things done in a fraction of the time that anyone else does, because we know how to use the internet to our advantage. Therefore we should get paid more because we do 10X the amount of stuff that the Baby Boomers do.
    5. Our parents were hippies, thats why we like them.
    6. We don’t ask for anything crazy, because the job that we are at right now, is only a stepping stone for the 10 jobs we will have in our life time that will pay us way more money.

  29. Dave Atkins
    Dave Atkins says:

    I would love to see a demographic profile, a serious statistical study done to determine if there is any validity to all the generalizations I read about GenY. So far, I’ve kind of accepted it on faith because so many people are writing about it, but someone should answer the following questions:

    1) How many Gen Y participate in the knowledge economy? How many members of this generation, in comparision to other generational cohorts, are “creative class” workers?

    2)When you separate Gen Yers into these classes, do all these attitudinal factors still hold true? Are working class and service class Gen Y really any different than the rest of the population who work for a living?

    * * * * * * *

    Dave, academia is actually full of people doing this research. Some of my favorites are Margaret Wiegel and Rebecca Blood (both approaching from different angles). Corporations also do tons of data gathering in order to justify their huge expenditures to cater to young people. Here’s a link to research from Deloitte:

    And finally, consultants also gather tons of data on young people. Two of my favorites: Bruce Tulgan and Rebecca Ryan


  30. Katie
    Katie says:

    Its not that we aren’t complainers, its that we are all too doped up to notice.

    We are all on prescribed medications. We have anti depressants that make us not worried, we have adderall to keep us busy. We dont have the opportunity to see what is going on for REAL, we don’t really care, just give us our meds.

    Walk into a corporate setting, sit down with the interns, ask a group of ten of them who is currently taking a form of ritalin or adderall. You would be shocked. They might not admit to it because a doctor didnt prescribe it, but they are getting it from somewhere.

    It will be interesting to see in the future workplace, when the doped up kids are running the place. It’s easy to work 8 hours straight when you don’t take a break for lunch, because your not hungry.

    Its not necessarily a bad thing, employers love it. The kids themselves love it. It will all wear out soon, and when it does it will be interesting.

    The so called over prescribed behavioral medicated kids are now working for corporate America.

    * * * * * * *
    Interesting. There’s a good article in New York Magazine this week about Gawker Media (home of Lifehacker, Jezebel, Valleywag, etc.) and how the majority of the editorial staff — 100 people who have to churn out about 12 blog posts a day — are on prescription medication and cocaine, presumably to keep up with the workload.


  31. Beth Campbell
    Beth Campbell says:

    Penelope, thanks for starting this dialogue. I agree with the vast majority of your analysis. This topic is everywhere – it seems every other business magazine I pick up lately has a story about Generation Y or the Baby Boomer retirement conundrum – and yet your insights about Gen Y are unique. Mad Kudos.

    That said, I find it fascinating after reading the comments that people are still talking – arguing even – about what has and has not shaped generational differences, and people are still making value-laden, generalized statements about the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to different generational characteristics – how underwhelming!! – Can we stop complaining about them and move on to a dialogue about how to leverage Gen Y in our organizations? Or how to better work across generational differences?


    I agree that "we won't be able to define Gen Y for a while" – to a degree. There is only a fraction of the 78 million of them in the workplace. Though Penelope's analysis has nothing to do with stereotyping people – that would be comments like yours accomplishing that. Rather, her analysis provides a lens for understanding an important segment of the workforce and the new expectations they bring to the working world.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Beth. Thanks for this comment (and the compliment). You do a great job yourself of pushing the conversation forward — to where we can stop judging everyone. It’s hard to get there. I mean, it’s hard to stop judging peopel who are different than us in any circumstance, let alone work.

    I have to say, Deloitte is so well represented in this blog’s comments — not just in number, but in quality…


  32. Tazz
    Tazz says:

    I’m 31 years old and been in the workforce since I was 16. I think at my age I’m Gen X’er. Anyway, from my seat I have seen many people come and go at the current company I have been with for 5 years that were all younger than me. In my opinion Gen Y’ers don’t complain – out loud. What they do is dump job and get another asap, still live with mom and dad at 25 years old so they don’t really have to worry about job security/pay/quitting instantly, think that they deserve top salary coming in the door and god forbid if you actually try to manage them at work because you can’t possibly be as smart as them.

    They are a disposable society now. They want everything instantly. Instant high salary, instant corner office, instant attention, instant gratification, instant pats on the back for actually doing their job.

    I never seen so many younger people hop from job to job as much as people 20-26.

  33. Jillian
    Jillian says:

    This exemplifies yet another reason why I think the cutoff between Gen X and Gen Y (1980) is just flat-out wrong. I am 25 (1982) and neither I nor my lifelong or new friends fit into this mold one bit. We are all risk-takers, whether as teachers, non-profit employees or consultants in big firms. Damn the generation cutoff – we are Xers through and through!

  34. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    What about the other possible reasons for these trends, besides helicopter parents and overachievement? Gen Y was not a product of just these idyllic and sheltered environments, but also an extremely high divorce rate and a different political culture than some of the generations just before us–i.e. 9/11, the War on Terror, the Patriot Act. Could this inherent conservatism, this desire for stability, stem not from the fact that many had this stability as an example growing up but from the fact that many did not?

    Susan Faludi writes that 9/11 has made our nation obsessed with marriage and having children, that the surge of fear and patriotism following the attacks caused “Sex and the City-style singledom” to go out of style and mom-and-wife roles to become the new “in” thing. While she focuses more on the issue of women’s rights and roles in society, I think her really important point is that the instability caused by 9/11 has made us long for that stability in our personal lives precisely because it is lacking elsewhere.

    * * * * * *

    Well, like I said in the first comment, generational trends are relative — relative to other generations. So, for example, that 9/11 made people more family-oriented can be seen very clearly in Generation X, who were in a position to have a family right away (Gen Y was too young). Also, the general backlash against two, high-powered, high-earning career parents was on the downswing among Gen Xers even before 9/11. So I’m not convinced 9/11 was a huge influencer there.

    Another thing: I think you need to keep in mind Susan Faludi’s perspective. She made her whole career out of complaining about the backlash agasint women’s liberation, so of course she frames 9/11 this way. But I don’t buy it.


  35. WL
    WL says:

    Let me tell you a bit about myself. I am a 33 year old Canadian working and living in Asia. I speak 5 languages, am very tech-savvy and, incidentally, work for a consulting firm. I have never worked anywhere long than 2.5 years, after which I generally take off to travel for 6 months or longer. I work really hard, make quite alot of money, but place great value on work-life balance. Eventually I would like to be self-sufficient enough to work for a low/non-paying volunteer organization.

    So I am wondering…what generation am I a part of? Am I part of Generation X? I am reading alot about “Generation Y” these days, but the people I know under 30 don’t seem fundamentally different from me. I guess I am curious…what is all the fuss about? Apparently there are alot of demanding twenty-somethings out there who want meaningful work but refuse to do the pre-requisite menial tasks, and soon they will be in charge? How does one go about skipping the mundane stuff without any other work experience whatsoever? And if they refuse to do it, who will? I agree that in the face of a shrinking labour market, younger people can demand more concessions, and that does indeed help to shape the work environment. But how far does their (our?) market power go?

    Living and working throughout Asia, I see a different future. True, the boomers are retiring, leaving a large gap in the workforce, and giving as a resulting degree of leverage in our job search. But on a global level, the the working population is increasing, not decreasing. Witness the rise of manufacturing in China, and the IT industry in India, and their resulting effect on those industries in North America. Of course, the tertiary economy has been left relatively unscathed, but for how much longer? India, and especially China, are investing billions of dollars in their educational infrastructures, and the number of cheap, talented university graduates each year is increasing at a ridiculous rate. Soon, it will not be just our factory and IT jobs…soon it will be our research jobs, our consulting jobs, our marketing jobs, our banking and finance jobs. So this “Generation Y” phenomenon that everyone is talking about, in my opinion, is going to be short-lived at best.
    Penelope, if you really want to give career advice, maybe should write less about work-life balance, and more about how to position ourselves to better be able to handle this increasing competition from foreign countries.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi. You bring up an intersting point — how does gloablism affect our ability to run our own life.

    Here’s what I think: Wages will drop for lots and lots of jobs, but some jobs cannot go to other countries — some jobs are culture specific. At least for the foreseeable future. So the real issue is that wages in this country will drop. First of all, that’s already happened

    Second of all, I don’t think that wages are the number one concern. I think what we do with our time is the number one concern.

    There is not a lot we can do about the fact that the US will not rule the world forever. What we can do is be honest with ourselves and live our life according to our values. That’s why I think work/life issues are more of a focus here than globalization.


  36. Odysseus
    Odysseus says:

    “Gen Y are really hard workers. They have been working harder in school than any preceding generation. And the pace that they sift and synthesize information puts the skills of their elders to shame. So why complain about the demands of this generation? They are great at work and they want to have work that is meaningful and challenging.”

    Where are you getting this from? I have seen nothing to suggest that these kids process information in any particularly impressive way. In fact, a lack critical thinking skills is a HUGE problem in the American workplace. By “processing information” do you mean simple memorization and regurgitation of facts? If so, that is nothing to be excited about. American kids are constantly stacking up very poorly compared to their foreign counterparts (and with young relatives in Europe I can tell you its believable). Also, to suggest that younger people now are better educated and more capable of critical thinking than earlier generations is utterly unfounded (with the sole important exception of technology). The decay of curriculum in American colleges and universities is an ongoing problem. Yeah, sure, they can play with computers but half of them can’t write a coherent paragraph to save their lives.

    * * * * * *
    Critical thinking is not the only way to think. We don’t all need to be great critical thinkers. The evidence that Gen Y are the hardest workers up to this piont comes from the no-homework movement. Those people cite great statistics about how Gen Y has done more homework and more test prep than any other generation.


  37. Marcus
    Marcus says:

    Somebody shoot me! Talk about much ado about nothing. Gen Y will join the ranks of Gen X after their first child and a half-dozen pink slips. The difference between X and Y is youth and nothing more other than a few technoprops.

    70% of us still report to boomers. Sure, a few bright companies will go out of their way to bring in the Yers. But in about 3 to 5 years when they see that the money and concessions they are making still does not reduce turnover, we'll get right back the the "my way of the highway" style of management us "lazy Xers" are so "skeptical" about.

  38. Evan
    Evan says:

    I’m definitely a member of Gen X by age as well as attitude and can can appreciate many of your comments. Ironically, McKinsey recently published a study regarding the “Talent Crunch” which is available online.

  39. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    I am 28 and I have had 3 jobs since graduating college. The first was a small cpa firm because at the interview they convinced me that I didn’t want the craziness of working for PWC. Well, turned out crazy anyway, so quit after 4 months. Worked at small company where I really enjoyed it because everyone in our dept was under 30 even the VP of Finance. But after I got my masters, I wanted more responsibility, etc. So left after 2 years, and now am really enjoying myself at a bigger company.

    Sure, I could have gotten experience at a Big 4, but from what I see, there are 3 other people here who worked at a big 5, and although they’re in a level or two above me, I’ll eventually make it to same position without working crazy big 4.

    As a matter of fact, I spoke with a woman yesterday who was at first bragging about her son working for Deloitte in Atlanta. I’m not a hater so I was like that is very good and he’ll get good experience. Then I asked if he’s married, etc. She said no, and she looked very sad. I have a wife of 8 years and a 8 month old son. But I told her to cheer up and let her son get experience and then decide when it’s best for him to change if he wants. He may be totally in love with Deloitte. A girl I know who started working there 1.5 years ago in Dallas met her fiance recently, and she will probably search for another job after marrying. At first, it’s all exciting to travel, work long hours (even I get excited sometimes), but after a while it becomes old.

    It really depends on what turns you on, and I like that about my generation. Yeah, there may be pink slips as someone mentioned, but many of us won’t wait around to get a pink slip. Like at my previous employer, many of the boomers were all worried and stuff when the company was laying people off. Everyone my age was less worried and the one person who was sooo worried only worried about not getting paid as much somewhere else. Even now, with a baby I would not hesitate to pack and move if need arises. Wife and I have a mobile mentality. Maybe that’s why we’ve lived in 4 different cities the last 8 years.

  40. ATL
    ATL says:

    I can believe that Gen Y is very conservative. But then again, most generations are conservative when they are younger (or more appropriately, collectivist). It is just human nature. Most of us desire to fit in, to be a part of a group. It is rare to find true ‘individualists’ in Gen Y. Many of the people in Gen Y will advertise themselves as being tolerant, open-minded, tech-savvy, etc. Rugged tough-minded cowboys, they think. But in reality, most of Gen Y wants belonging; perhaps that is the reason why Facebook and similar sites are so popular. As far as the politics go, gauging a person’s politics by their tolerance of LGBT people isn’t a very good metric. (Guess what: Bill Clinton was a Democrat and under his regime DOMA was passed. And my understanding is that some of the marriage license initiatives in San Francisco, BOston, etc., were started by Republicans.)

    I think the best way that the previous generations can deal with Gen Y can be summed up in a couple of key ideas:

    1. Acknowledge that you possibly were like Gen Y once. The know-it-all attitude in Gen Y is not unique to people born from 1975 – present, or however you define it. YOu can go back 100 years and find that the 20 – 30 crowd was just as ignorant as today. If you want them to take you seriously, you need to command respect, and not by dominance or matching wits. Be firm but fair.

    2. Please do not use age/experience/credentials as a shield against error or an excuse for either their or your mistakes. Gen Y is only human, and so are you.

    That is all that really needs to be done.

  41. Mp3 Rocket
    Mp3 Rocket says:

    Obviously, that is not the be-all and end-all for making the world a better place, because the baby boomers are leaving us with global warming, social security, and an image crisis abroad that the US hasn’t seen since the Boston Tea Party.

  42. David
    David says:

    As an Xer, the notion that some other generation is the pragmatic/conservative one is almost laughable.

    My generation is the final link to America’s great past. My parents and many of my friend’s parents are pre-war/war babies. They came of age in a sweeter more innocent America. And it was their generation, not the baby-boomers, who ultimately brought us the civil rights movement. Their mix of decency and traditionalism has shaped the lives of their children.

    It is now our duty as a generation to bring decency back to American culture. Crucial to this objective is restoring the child to the center of American life. Not through extravagant gifts or Helicoptering, but just from being around. Decency will extend to the American workplace where the preposterous hierarchies preferred by the boomers will give way to flatter managerial styles. It will extend to public policy where smartly designed regulation will stem the seemingly endless tide of corruption.

    America is broken, but by god we’re gonna fix it.

    • poopoo
      poopoo says:

      can i join your cause? im a one legged overweight whale. but im good at math. oh, and im british. and my names poopoo.

    • Nibalizx
      Nibalizx says:

      ” came of age in a sweeter more innocent America” You obvious don’t know your American history or while you grew up, you don’t give a damn about people outside of your social circle. America has never been innocent and it has only begun to improve for all. 

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.