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.

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  1. Carl
    Carl says:

    In my mind there is a huge difference between being forced to serve in the military (I.e. drafted ) and joining because you decide you can’t finance college any other way.

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    medical asssiting says:

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  3. Ross Kinard
    Ross Kinard says:

    Nice article, Very interesting and the information is something I can use. Also liked How the next generation will surpass Gen Y.

  4. lauras
    lauras says:

    As a GenYer with a strong connection to her grandparent’s generation, I wonder if this sense of conservativeness is part backlash from parents too busy to play, to busy to properly support and balance their marriage and the fact that we were most likely spending more time with our grandparents after school than our own parents.

  5. Leisha
    Leisha says:

    It’s kind of sad though. When you have the chance to be a kid, you should be a kid and enjoy your life. I was part of the Gen X grunge crowd and look back on my ratbag days with really fond memories and as a badge of honour. I have wonderful memories of a time in my life where I had no real responsibility and the world at my feet and I lived it to the full. I fear these kids are going to look back at the safe (and boring…let’s not deny it), lives they have lived and see how pointless it all was, and how little it has made them happy.

    When I hear Gen Yers complaining about how hard it is now I have to laugh, because it really isn’t hard at all, and the things they complain about were the same issues that existed when I was their age (but worse because the economy was nowhere what it is now), I just assumed it was part of growing up and accepting the responsibilities of adulthood (I really did). I also went to a public school and was never given anything so I guess that fosters a different kind of attitude. If you’ve had the best of everything; your parents running you around everywhere to all of your extra-curricular activities (and being heavily involved in said activities) and buying you a car when you turn 18, you can only really come down. Maybe that’s what the issue really is.

    Young people have been rebelling against their parents and their parent’s generation since the 50’s and that is what has spurred social and political evolution. It’s really weird that these kids want to be their parents…and it doesn’t bode well for any kind of real human evolution.

    Get crazy gen Yers and let’s see some public action! Enjoy your lives…you only live once!

  6. Leisha
    Leisha says:

    BTW, I’m Australian so the economy stuff may not jell with Americans, but Australian Yers are really, really conservative and complain about how hard it is all the time. It’s not particularly hard (Australia’s economy is very strong right now), it’s just that they are used to enjoying a very high standard of life and having the best of everything, so the fact that they can’t buy the house they want at 22 years of age is cause for widespread angst that things have never been this tough. No, they’ve been tougher and your complaints are purely based on your inability to have exactly what you want when you want it. A little sacrifice is needed, and I honestly don’t think a lot of gen Yers know what the word sacrifice means.

  7. Leisha Young
    Leisha Young says:

    Oh man hear I go again. Okay I’m feeling bad about what I have just written and it has come off harsher than I intended. I actually work with several Gen Yers and they are lovely kids (if a little charmingly naïve). That’s one thing I have noticed, they are respectful and will always lend an ear for a chat. They do also seem to really value feedback and advice. I tend not to offer advice (particularly to young people) because it can be condescending, but I have had instances where I have offered advice to Gen Y colleagues in a respectful way and they have been really open to it. I was having a chat to my Gen Y cousin at Christmas time about his new job. I started to become quite enthusiastic about it with him (because he’s a good kid who deserves to succeed) and committed the sin…I told him “you should do this and do that”, “you should keep doing that because…”, “you should avoid doing that because…”. To my surprise he leapt up from the couch across the room and joined me on my couch and started listening intently and giving me examples of how he is doing these things. I felt like punching myself for being so condescending, but he was really open to it.

    This is a wonderful thing about Gen Y. They do actually respect a ‘helpful’ opinion from their elders. On the other hand though, I have noticed that they won’t entertain people who speak negatively to them or push (what they deem to be) a useless point.

    ANTI GEN says:

    We should not even talking about GEN X or GEN Y or GEN Z. Seriously WTF matters. You people talk about we are some type of disease. There is no Babyboomers, Gen X, Y, Z….we live in the now and we should work with what we have. In the end people at tope of the chain will make the decisions. I was born during the mid-80s, but I am not Gen X or Y because you society says so. I am ME and I learn along the wife based on what life offers me. I do not hold a ideology and conservative idea that I need stability, safety, money, great job. I adjust and be mobile where my work brings me. I adjust my life accordingly. So stop using terms of Gen X Y Z because they do not exist.

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