4 Frequent questions about Gen Y answered (via a PR disaster)


I do a lot of public speaking, mostly on the topic of how to bridge generational differences in the workplace. And I field tons of questions from corporate audiences. Here are four of the most common questions:

How can you tell if a member of Gen Y hates his or her boss?
You can't. This is a non-confrontational generation. They change politics by voting, not screaming in the streets. And they change the workplace by quitting, rather than complaining. This is a generation that enjoyed mutual respect with their parents and their parents' friends. Gen Y at large feel uncomfortable being openly confrontational than other, less cared-for generations.

This doesn't mean that they are not complaining about their bosses. They are just doing it in a better way. For example, quitting, which members of Gen Y end up doing about once every 18 months. And leaking totally insane emails like the one that was picked up on Dealbreaker and Valleywag, from John Soden, a managing director at the investment bank, Thomas Weisel, who said this to his underlings on Good Friday:

“Everyone below the MD level —

“We are an investment bank. Unless you are an orthodox something, please get into the office. We are getting paid minimum wage for a reason — we are not making money, which is hard to do from home.

“Join Wells Fargo and become a teller if you want to take bank holidays.”

Why does Gen Y feel so entitled to a huge salary?
They don't. In fact, they choose other things over salary: respect for other people, for example. Employers: You could save money in salaries by being a socially responsible company that Gen Y (and the rest of us) want to work for.

If you are at the top of the ladder, lack of respect for other people looks obnoxious—I mean, why give up the best years of your life climbing the ladder if you are not giving equal respect up and down the ladder. Right?

Gen Y feels an acute sense of social justice. That we are all equal. You can see this in the general democracy online, for example. Nielsen reports that Gen Y cares more about the content of a comment than the qualifications of the person who said it. And in a stunning video on YouTube, Senator Mike Gronstal of Iowa said that when it comes to giving gays the right to marry, his daughter listened to a bunch of conservative old men at work debating gay marriage and told her dad, “Those guys don’t understand. They already lost. My generation doesn’t care.”

This is true at work, too. So it makes sense that after the email leak, some enterprising young banker took up the Twitter name johnsodentwp and started pretending to be him. The gist of the jokes? Intolerance. And how absurd it is. Here's an example of a twitter:

“Just found out you can be Jewish orthodox as well as Christian orthodox—is there anything those people haven’t got their hands on?”

Does all this Gen Y stuff apply to other countries as well?
No. Because Gen Y doesn't divide the world into us and them. It's one world to Gen Y because the Internet has been practically all-their-life. If you are blogging at 2am in Minneapolis, the first person to read the post will probably be in Australia. Or Singapore. And if you are looking for photos of mountains, you might find the best ones on a Flickr feed from Tibet. The Internet is inherently collaborative, so national boundaries give way to national mashups.

For example, tweeting all day as John Soden is too much work for one person who already has a job. So there are five people maintaining the Twitter feed, who are working in Hong Kong, Brazil, England, and the US.

Given the international nature of the group, it's not surprising that they come up with tweets like this one:

“Some of my foreign staff sometimes revert to their native tongue. How rude. People are selfish.”

How is Gen Y so entrepreneurial when they have no business experience?
Did you hear about the contest between Ashton Kutcher and CNN? The winner is the one who can get to a million twitter followers first. As incentive for people to follow, whoever wins will buy 10,000 mosquito nets for World Malaria Day.

Here's the problem: CNN did not actually take the twitter feed titled “CNN”, and people were following that feed instead of the real CNN feed, which was some inscrutable version of CNN with some extra letters. So CNN ended up having to buy the CNN name on Twitter.

And if you doubt the entrepreneurial savvy of Gen Y, watch to see what John Soden has to pay to get the twitter feed with his name on it under his control.

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