3 Ways work will change when Gen Y is in charge


Part of knowing where to steer your career is knowing what is changing in the landscape. In ten years, Gen Y will have taken over middle management. Maybe in five years, if my own office is any indication. But I am sure that Gen Y will run the show differently. And no matter your age, the more prepared you are for what’s coming, the more likely you will succeed in working with the new middle management regime.

1. Middle management will work longer hours.
Generation X is known for leaving work early to be with kids. There are a lot of forces driving this. First, Gen X was raised as latchkey kids, and as parents, we are very cautious about repeating this. So maybe we go overboard. Neil Howe and William Strauss call Gen X the “extreme parenting” generation, because the women are spending more time with their kids than any generation in history.

Generation Y will not parent as much. First, this generation was raised by helicopter parents, and not everyone thinks that was a great idea (although I think it’s fine). So Gen Y is likely to pull back a bit in the parenting realm. Additionally, we already see evidence that Gen Y is laid back when it comes to parenting. For example, an Xer is more likely to make junior eat green beans and a Gen Yer is more likely to think junior will eat veggies later in life without any childhood nagging.

What this adds up to is that Gen Y will feel like it’s okay to stay at the office during a school play. Gen Y will feel like it’s okay to work through dinner sometimes. The guilt factor for parenting will be lower than it is for Gen X. And this makes intuitive sense as well: Gen Y has more self-confidence all around than Gen X does because—and now, the world is circular—if you have good parenting, you grow up with good self-esteem.

2. Entry-level employees will avoid technological complexity.
The Great Generation loved their cars. When they got back from the war, they bought one. One of, say, seven, because they all looked the same off the assembly line. The baby boomers grew up watching their fathers spend their money on toys that didn’t differentiate them. And the baby boomers are not the group-thinkers that their parents were. They wanted something special to them. So they customized their cars.

And the kids of baby boomers, Gen Yers, are known for their need to customize: Pandora lets you customize the music on your radio station, and Nike lets you choose the colors for your shoes.

But having more choices is actually not something that makes us happy. It is a distraction from what makes us happy. Research in the book, The Paradox of Choice, says that people who are always looking for another choice actually exhaust themselves. And research from Dan Ariely shows that beyond two or three choices, we don’t actually have the processing power in our brain to make a good choice for ourselves, so the energy we use to make the choice is wasted.

So the generation after Gen Y will rebel against customization. The next generation will focus on simplicity and the simplicity will express itself in technology. People will use the same things, they will use them in largely the same ways, and there will be a common vernacular about technology tools that we are missing in today’s culture.

3. People will assume employers are looking out for the interests of employees.
It used to be that employers were in the driver’s seat. Employers could dictate terms (two weeks of vacation) and career paths (no job hopping). That arrangement worked because it used to be that you could depend on your employer for a forty-year stint and a gold watch at retirement.

Today most people stay at their jobs less than five years, and they depend on themselves to be able to get another job when they need one. So employees are starting to recognize that the old arrangement did not necessarily favor the worker and are looking out for themselves like never before.

The next generation, however, will have so much power in the workplace, that the workplace will, actually, fundamentally change. The next generation, after Generation Y, might not be tiny in the US, but worldwide, the generation is devastatingly small. So small that European and Asian governments are paying people to have kids. Small city governments convene to discuss what they can do to make the women who live there have more than one baby.

National barriers are already coming down quickly. But the barriers will come down hard when the next generation joins the workforce, and the job opportunities outside the US are fantastic. The New York Times predicts an extreme, worldwide shortage of labor by 2015, and this will make young people in such high demand that the current trend to reform the workplace to cater to incoming talent will become more extreme. And the newest workforce will not know anything but a compassionate, generous employer, run by the least of the bitter Gen-Xers, and the chirpy, optimistic Gen Yers.

75 replies
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  1. Mat
    Mat says:

    What a great read. Your thoughts are always valued as we continue to grow and improve, http://zumeo.com. Knowing our audience is so important as we build, what we hope are useful online tools for GenY professionals.

  2. Mat
    Mat says:

    …And you totally nailed it with the GenX parenting thing. At 33 I am right between GenX and Y. I absolutely make my pre-school age boys eat their veggies, but I am not afraid to work through dinner because I know my wife (full-time mother and amazing at it) will be sure they do so.

  3. nan
    nan says:

    At the risk of stating the obvious…

    So…Gen Y is staying late at the office and job hopping because they can. Could that be because they have no real responsibilities yet? Of course things like job security are insignificant to someone who is still living rent-free with their parents. Of course cranking out a few late nights a week is nothing to someone who doesn’t have children waiting for them at a day care that charges $25 for every minute you’re late.

    If I was still chillin in my childhood bedroom, driving a free car that was bought for me as a graduation gift, and my expenses were limited to X-Box and itunes downloads, you can bet your a** I’d be jumping around too.

    It’s called the reality of being an adult, and these kids haven’t experienced it yet. (Most – to be fair, some Millenials are already parents, homeowners and acting like real adults – but I bet you won’t hear them talking about how they get pissed because they can’t wear flip flops to work.)

    Show me these kids in 10 years. And I’ll give you $100 for everyone that doesn’t turn out as stressed, pressed for time and unsatisfied as we are.

  4. Chris - Manager's Sandbox
    Chris - Manager's Sandbox says:

    @Nan – I’m 25. I have a real job. I own a house. I’m planning a wedding.

    And if you read the article I linked above from my site, Manager’s Sandbox, you’d realize that i actually do “get pissed because [I] can’t wear flip flops to work.” Not flip-flops, per se, but can we be honest that the notion of a dress code as a requirement for work is just silly?

    What impact do dress slacks and a button-down have on my ability to work? Does a sweater and nice jeans look any less acceptable? I could go on, but just read the article if you actually care how I feel on this topic.

    And for every Gen Yer I know who lives at home and works late, I know another who lives at home (aka with their parents) and doesn’t. Your making arguments against a position who’s very basis is flawed – the idea that we WANT to work long hours.

    – Chris

  5. Mike Van Roo
    Mike Van Roo says:

    I’m not sold on this Gen Y vs. Gen X vs…
    If we go into a rather steep recession where jobs aren’t as plentiful and people have less choice, it will be amazing to see how the Gen whatevers become more like the grandparents and parents (i.e., after the Depression, WW2, and the 1970s early 80s recession).

  6. Juki Schor
    Juki Schor says:

    “What impact do dress slacks and a button-down have on my ability to work?”

    From my far away perspective I also feel that there is a lot of fuzz being made about things that are not really related to work, just to increase the pressure on people who anyway seem to have lost knowledge of who they are or want to be and constantly need directions from the outside, one just needs to look into Oprah magazine once.

    Years ago I took a training for job interviews and we got all the details on how to “behave” in an interview to get the job. And then we got four pages of examples of “imperfect” interviews that nevertheless ended with the person getting the job. I thought I share this one, just for fun (sorry if my English is incorrect at places):

    The boss had invited a man from Sweden for an interview for a job in IT. The guy arrived in the morning with a ragged jeans and a triangular hat folded from a newspaper (you know like the kids do). He also wasn’t really sober and the boss started right out how come he would enter a job interview in such an unacceptable condition?

    The man answered that “after a night on a cruising ship (many people use the boat to travel from here to there in Scandinavia) no young man could actually be sober. And if he were, he wouldn’t recommend to give that guy a job.”
    The boss thought a little and gave him the job and it turned out he knew what he was doing. :-)

    Admitted, Scandinavia is different, but still: relax. Even if you don’t get a career, you still can have a life, no?

  7. Will Robinson
    Will Robinson says:

    A very fascinating subject but I have to disagree with all of your points. Here is the quick reasoning:

    1) Middle Management will work longer hours

    The crux of your argument seems to be “The guilt factor for parenting will be lower than it is for Gen X.” While I am not an expert I am a parent and my observation is that the ‘latchkey kid’ trend drove parents to substitute money for time and attention. This, in turn, has driven a lot of guilt (as parents realize that they really aren’t parenting too well). This, coupled with a cooling of hyper-capitalism, will drive parents to spend more time with their kids. So longer hours at the office instead of a kid’s play – I don’t see it happening.

    2) Entry-level employees will avoid technological complexity
    The crux seems to be that people will move away from ‘more choice/customization’ because it doesn’t make them happy (and I would then infer that it is linked to tech complexity). The issue with this argument is two-fold. First, the generation that is now moving through school will have a much better sense as to the potential and capabilities of technology. They will be super-computer literate and can and will use the internet to find answers to just about anything. Second, people don’t do things that make them happier. It has been proven that parents with kids have a ‘less happy’ life than those without and that money really only makes people happy when they move from one ‘class’ to another – the biggest being poverty to middle-class and much-less-so when moving from middle-class to upper-class. This is a long-winded way of saying that people believe that more choice is better (even if it doesn’t make them happier).

    3) People will assume employers are looking out for the interests of employees.

    I don’t know who or why people would assume this. The employer/employee ‘relationship’ has become a ‘transaction’. So while companies may have to do more to attract employees in the future, assuming that they are ‘looking out’ for the interests of the employees would be counter to the last 30 or so years.

    Will @ VirtualJobCoach.comm

  8. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    They’re generally referred to as the *Greatest* Generation, not the *Great* Generation. They survived the Great Depression and saved the world from tyranny in Normandy so let’s give them the honor of the superlative.

  9. RJ
    RJ says:

    Guilty. I’m in Gen Y but only a couple years short of Gen X, two kids and I couldn’t agree more with this. I’m also going to be 100% sure that my kids get a good education, because I didn’t.

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