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4 Things You Might Not Know About Generation Y

Penelope Trunk
Oct 14, 2008, 5:43 am ET

Sure, Gen Y is voting for Obama, but this doesn’t mean they are trailblazers. In fact, they are, for the most part, living out the values their parents gave to them. Not only that, but Generation Y is more comfortable being part of the crowd — identifying themselves by their group of friends, their teams at work, and the consumer brands they love most. Here are some traits of Gen Y that might make you think twice about the preconceived notions you have about those young upstarts in the workplace:

Gen Y is fundamentally conservative.

This is not a rebellious generation. This is a group that moves back home with their parents after college, something you could never think of doing if you were going to, say, spend a decade using drugs and hanging out at Woodstock. The helicopter parent phenomenon is also a sign of a generation that is not rebelling. They let their parents help choose their college and their clothes. And when it’s time to get a job, they let their parents help negotiate their salary.

One of the things that makes young people look like big risk-takers is their propensity to job-hop. People in their 20s change jobs every 18 months. But the impetus for their constant job-hopping is learning: Their parents drilled into their kids that learning is the most important thing: “Get off the sofa! Stop watching TV! Do something productive with yourself!” And this is the generation that is steeped in SAT tutors, Spanish tutors, and private soccer coaching. So they expect to be learning every step of the way for their whole life. When Gen Y sees they are no longer learning a lot at work, they leave. Because this is what their parents told them: Get off your butt and learn something!

Gen Y is full of great team players.

This generation grew up on soccer teams, where everyone is a winner and no one is a star. School taught kids on the playground that you can’t say you can’t play, and kids translated this into a worldview where everyone plays together. They went to prom in teams and later they applied for jobs and quit their jobs in teams.

Today’s executive teams understand that work environments that use teams well outperform those that don’t; however, older generations are leaders and loners, not teammates. Gen Y is appalled by a lack of team structure at work, and often they feel like they are not accomplishing anything until they are working as part of a team.  Gen Y is so team-oriented that the place they really need help is in learning how to be leaders — something that comes so naturally to Boomers that they never even expect to teach it in such a fundamental way as Gen Y needs.

Gen Y women have more power than men.

For the first time in history, women in their twenties are out-earning men. This is true in every major city in the U.S., and the disparity persists until women have children, and then men earn more. Other generations might leap to cry sexism, but this generation understands that women have power to make their own decisions, and women are deciding on their own to downshift their career when they have kids, which means they are making an intentional reduction in earning power. Women in Gen Y feel empowered to get what they want in life, and they feel secure enough at the office to know that downshifting is fine.

Gen Y is more productive than everyone else.

While baby boomers are using their in-boxes as a to-do list, Gen Y is largely bought into the idea of an empty inbox. And while the idea of a constantly empty inbox might not seem defining to some, it is: For one thing, it means that Gen Y has more control over their priorities than everyone else because they are not choosing what to do by what is coming into their inbox, but rather, what their goals for the day are.

The other thing that an empty inbox signifies is Gen Y’s ability to slice and dice productivity software to get where they want to go. The key to an empty inbox is turning your email into a searchable database rather than a file system, which requires a good set of email tools. Gen Y chooses their own productivity tools, rather than waiting for the IT department to download them onto the company laptop. Gen Y’s productivity is so much higher than everyone else’s that you can assume that someone who is texting and watching a movie and listening to their iPod is still getting more done than you are.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Steve Delaney

    That said, Boomers who are not ready to be put out to pasture, have a lot to learn from millenials.

    The adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” could be the death of you.

  2. Bill Glaves

    As I read this post, so many things ran through my mind, including “Is she serious?” Gen Y is more productive than everyone else? The folks who built our interstate highways and some of the great public works projects in history before the era of huge machinery and technology might beg to differ, or even be offended. Gen Y’s by their nature work great in teams? I’ve worked with a few that don’t fit that prototype. Stereotyping and speaking for an entire generation is a dangerous thing to do.

    The tough part of being younger is that you think you know more than you actually do. Wisdom really does come with age. Now that I’m in my 40′s, I can look back on my late teens and 20′s and realize that I wasn’t right about everything and that my strong, what I thought were lifelong opinions about a lot of things have changed.

    I hope that Penelope and other Gen Y’s gain some wisdom with age as well.

  3. Robert Stanke

    I like you a lot Penelope, but don’t start generalizing the Gen Y’ers. For example, I am sure not all of them are voting for Obama. Say stuff like that and you will get a bunch of Young Republicans coming after you with pitchforks…!

    Robert Stanke

  4. Crispin Garden-Webster

    Please, can we just check whether the Emperor is wearing any clothes…
    I’ve listened patiently over the last decade to the unfolding dialogue about generational differences and been puzzled by the enthusiasm with which we have embraced and reinforced the urban mythology of Gen Y, Digitals, Millenials and so on. I’ve watched while people eagerly label each generation and draw stereotypes about their values and ambitions. Yes there are palpable differences but maybe we should lower the temperature on this, lest we start creating self fulfilling prophesies. I suspect if we went back to 1905, 1925 and 1965 we would find that the same dynamics were in play. Each generation throws up its social step advances and in 2035 the Gen Y’s will be clapping their gums about the Gen Z’s. In reality the key factors at work have never changed… What is the big picture – the strategy, the goals or higher purpose; What is expected of me? How do I contribute to this picture – what are the results I need to deliver; and How will I know how I’m doing? How will I be measured, who will give me feedback, how often and when.
    I think the generations actually have as much in common than they have differences and we should be careful about creating distinctions that are in fact driven by economics and technology opportunities rather than generational variance.

  5. Brandon Umphrey

    I always hear “…parents help negotiate their salary,” but I’ve yet to experience or hear of a specific example of this. Anyone else? And if I did encounter this, well, let’s just say they moved down the ladder a bit (Hey, it’s dark down here).

    Also, I can attest to the “team work” mentality. It warms my heart to know that people can play well together, but typically I see this as a person’s (or people’s) inability to be a specialist in their field. Many of the programmers I run across can’t function without being able to “bounce” their ideas off other “teammates” in a collaborative environment. Satirically, what I take from this is that we now need multiple brains to do the work of one brain. But the “Gen Y” Specialists I do know are driving around in the likes of Mercedes Kompressor convertibles. Guess they’re holding on to a bit of the old school thought- work better than the crowd and make a pile of cash. Plus it’s hard to put your team in a two-seater.

  6. V P

    Hmm interesting. Few different views here… I think Robert has the biggest point in that there is no way you can generalise an entire generation.

    But that being said, I am a classic gen-y, born in 85 and I work in recruitment.

    Classic in a few of the above and other points I have read:

    - Excellent with technology, like very excellent. I am pretty much IT support for my team, even tho we have an IT department. Pack a Jailbroken IpPhone, use every up to date application on the net etc…

    - Want it now. Guessing from the fact that im in recruitment, I wanted cash and wanted it fast.

    - Career changer. I have had about 20 jobs in my life. I have been working since I was 11. I have switched careers from IT to Finance to Recruitment and straight sales is in the long term horizon.

    - Productivity. A point I thoroughly agree on, about myself, but not for all gen-y’ers. I am uber productive. I use all sorts of productivity apps, read lifehack, am super fast on every type of system, keep multiple to-do lists, calendars, and have alerts on my phone and computer for everything.

    - Team players, half-half. If the team playing aspect contradicts with the “I want it now” mentality, I think “I want it now” will win. Otherwise, yes, good team players.

    Things I disagree with from the above post:

    - Conservative? not me. not any of my friends. far far from. Altho, I agree with the home staying, but I believe thats because its too expensive to move out. There is no way I would let my parents even close to negotiating my salary, mostly because I feel I would do a far better job. As with everything else. And there is no way I would move home, ever…

    - Woman have more power? Not something ive seen. Admittedly I live in Aus so may be different, but im definitely not seeing that trend here.

    So yeh, thats my take. Enjoy !

  7. Bill Glaves

    I wanted to add one more thing to my previous comment. Steve Roesler, author of the All Things Workplace blog, did a great two-part post entitled “Does Generational Difference Really Matter?” earlier this year. It is the best item I’ve read on this subject and is worth reading if you’re interested in a fact-based assessment of the generations at work. You can find Steve at

  8. Menashe Schorr

    My first question of course is “What flavor was the Koolaid, Penelope?” Oh my.

  9. Jeff Whiting

    It’s not right, it’s not wrong…it just is. These are the words of Ken Whiting from his recently released book, WAVES for teenage Workforce Success. Today’s generation come equipped with a different set of skills. A set of skills which includes a suburb understanding of technology, unlike any other generation…thanks in largely to the internet. Today’s teens would be hard pressed to perform any of the traits and skills that their predecessors performed, and vice versa. At least from the workplace prospective, a change is needed to get today’s teens engaged. Policies and procedures that worked in the past…simply don’t anymore. Attention spans and learning curves are totally different then they used to be which is causing this uproar in our society regarding Generation Y. Let’s understand our differences and focus on our strengths. With 4 generations in the workplace today, if we divide and conquer our skill sets…we should have no issue moving forward as the world’s best.

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