Gen Y — Is It Entitlement or Enlightenment?

In the first article of this two-part series, we examined reasons whereby many managers, supervisors and senior employees find Generation Y frustrating. Chief amongst these factors is one of perceived impatience.

Gen Y is often seen as expecting to receive benefits, promotions and/or raises much more quickly than what their older colleagues received, and when presented with this paradoxical mindset, many Gen Y's appear to have the attitude:

"So what? I deserve it."

This may appear arrogant to some, but to those members of Gen Y who maintain this attitude, they don't see themselves as being self-centered. They simply believe that if they can do the work, they should receive the perks. Gen Y doesn't tend to look at the whole picture over the long term, they tend to look at the here and now, and their thinking is most definitely short term as compared to their parents or even their slightly older Generation X co-workers. Accordingly, while the time-honored process of receiving perks, promotions and payroll increases is based on the premise that you put in your time, this kind of thinking is foreign to many from Generation Y, and the reason they can't think this way is because they haven't been programmed to. Instead, they have been sociologically conditioned to expect instant gratification, which has caused them to adopt an entitlement philosophy.

Let's find out why.

In our last article Gen Y: Being Prepared or Being Precocious? we looked at the first of two dramatic departures in traditional parenting introduced by the Baby Boomers when they started producing the members of Generation Y in the mid 1970's. Boomers reversed one negative child-rearing trend which had been entrenched in society for centuries; namely that "Children should be seen and not heard." Because of their enthusiasm to raise their children to speak their mind, Boomers inadvertently raised a generation who, having entered the workforce, are irritating senior colleagues by appearing brash and arrogant.

The second dramatic departure from traditional parenting was embraced, not to overcome an older, negative influence, but to create a new and decidedly more positive influence. It was adopted with the intent to create a stronger sense of self-esteem in the children which would be carried into adulthood. This new methodology was to heap generous helpings of praise and affirmation on the child, to create a positive self-image. Whereas parents and grandparents of Baby Boomers have been characterized as having rarely spoken words of praise to their children so that they wouldn't get a "swelled head" Baby Boomers had a new idea. They decided that words of affirmation were just the medicine needed to nurture their children so they developed into healthy, balanced adults. The new mantra for Baby Boomers parents became "Never bruise a child's self-esteem".

This mantra became more akin to a manifesto. Manifestations of this popular new thinking have been recorded, analyzed and debated, and can be traced as early as the classrooms and playgrounds of grade school of Generation Y children. In order to avoid feelings of ineptitude, activities that compared one child at the expense of another were frowned upon. Individual competitiveness was downplayed in favor of the more communal "group effort" whereby everyone was applauded, yet no one was criticized. Even the realm of athletics, which typically showers accolades on its champions while simultaneously dismissing the also-rans, experienced a decidedly different flavor in the elementary school environment. At the annual "Sports Day" we now see every participant being rewarded with a ribbon, without any mention or distinction of first, second or third place showings. The new mentality was to recognize the value of the experience, rather than to recognize expertise.

Yet it's not just the all-star jocks that have been corralled and blended in with the communal crowd, the same applies too all-stars in academics. Many school divisions have discontinued the practice of recognizing top achievers at year end ceremonies, while there is a growing movement to even eliminate the time honored distinction of the "honor roll". In the spirit of attempting to discourage any experience of discouragement, Gen Y children were raised in a climate that some would say was devoid of any form of personal criticism. Many of them therefore enter the work force without ever having to develop a thick skin to absorb personal critiques, for the simple reason that many of them have never been critiqued.

It's not a question of them not being able to accept correction, it's more a question of being totally ill-equipped to see themselves as anything other than, if not perfect, then perfectly acceptable. So if everything that members of Gen Y did was acceptable, admirable and applaudable, (at least in the eyes of their parents and teachers) then why shouldn't Gen Y expect that other adults would reasonably respond the same way to whatever Gen Y thinks, believes and does? This would include the senior members of their new corporate environment.

Expectation is the key word that helps us understand the mindset of the younger workers of today. Gen Y's expectation for what older employees might consider to be fun, frolic and frivolities is another marked intergenerational difference created by social conditioning. When it comes to the good things in life, Gen Y believes they should get them, because they deserve them, therefore, they are entitled to them. It's an expectation. But how did this entitlement expectation arise?

Generation Y are the children of Baby Boomers (which is why they are also called the Baby Boomer "Echo" Generation) and as such, many of them experienced a childhood of indulgence. Financially speaking, Boomers have enjoyed an unprecedented four decades of practically uninterrupted prosperity, save for the odd recessionary blip on the radar in the 80's and 90's. With prosperity came abundant disposable income, and with abundance, came indulgence. Because many Baby Boomers considered their childhood to be devoid of certain amenities, as parents they used their disposable income to purchase things for their children, which they themselves lacked. And many would say that the Baby Boomers overcompensated. The resulting consequence?

Overcompensation leads to expectation.

For example, very few Baby Boomers experienced a youth whereby their parents indulged them by splurging on fun-filled or exotic vacations. This is not because their parents were cheap, it's because the parents of Baby Boomers were themselves sociologically conditioned to save money, not spend it. The biggest influence behind this sociological conditioning was suffering through the Great Depression. A generation later, with fat wallets and slim credit cards, Baby Boomers reversed the trend of stay-at-home vacation time by treating their children to fun-filled adventures every summer, spring break and even on long weekends. Accordingly, Generation Y has not only been conditioned to take time off for extended periods of time to go places and do things, they have every expectation that this is normal, and they deserve it.

So Gen Y can't understand why their employers don't indulge them (as their parents did) by giving them the prime time vacation weeks they desire, because they don't view time off in the summer as a privilege but as a sociologically conditioned expectation. What they expect is whatever they feel they're entitled to. If they perceive they are doing a good job (which they will if all they've ever been told is how wonderful their performance was, whether than means coloring outside the lines, getting sixty percent on a math test or coming in 7th place at Sports Day against six other runners) then they will equally perceive that they are entitled to "summer" vacation. It's a reasonable expectation (in their minds) because after all, they have had vacation in the summer, every summer. When their employer tells them they can't get the time off they want, rather than realizing the role of seniority and recognizing equity, they're more likely to perceive they're being treated unfairly. If they can't get the time off, many Generation Y will simply take it off anyway by quitting their job. The rationale in the minds of Gen Y is not an attitude of disloyalty or disrespect for their employer, more accurately it's a rationalization that while they can replace a job, they can't replace a lost summer.

If there's one aspect of employment where members of Gen Y might be sitting on more solid ground when it comes to their perceived sense of entitlement, it's in the realm of education. As the "Echo" generation of Baby Boomers, they enjoyed the privilege of acquiring post-secondary education in even greater numbers than their parents, who were the previous record holders. What is a definite advantage for those Gen Y who were trained in technical fields, is that they have a universally greater grasp, and comfort, with computer technology.

This has created an interesting sociological paradox. A generation which was weaned without first place ribbons and conditioned to believe that everyone has value, somehow has learned to rank itself as being #1 when it comes to comparing its computer savvy against co-workers with less education. It's kind of like Lord of the Flies, where in the minds of many Gen Y, if they are the fittest, then they deserve the choicest rewards. Sociologically, however, this creates resentment in the minds of co-workers who believe that one's value to the company is comprised of more than just one's ability to complete technical work. Factors such as teamwork, company loyalty, lack of absenteeism, as well as willingness to work longer hours and (heaven forbid!) even weekends when conditions require it, are often more important in the eyes of supervisors and management. Whereas the education level of many Gen Y employees would fortify their belief that they are more enlightened, it's up to their superiors to decide when, and if, they are more entitled.

If enlightenment is a byproduct of education, and if enlightenment has value in workplace dynamics, perhaps the educational pursuit that is most valuable is any form of training that eliminates intergenerational angst. Because of the complex nature of the various sociological and psychological influences which are responsible for conditioning the mindsets of Gen Y, Gen X as well as the Baby Boomers, the area of education that would create a more productive and harmonious work environment would be in the realm of teaching people to create better synergy. Studies have confirmed this, but nowhere is the value of synergy training more important than it is when creating bridges of understanding between the different generations.

In an era when many companies find their profits diving while many more are merely surviving, the companies which are focused on training their employees in the realm of human dynamics are the ones most likely to be thriving. When the focus of the company is to create a workplace environment whereby everyone learns to not just recognize, but to actively affirm the value of everybody else, there is a much lower level of staff turnover and a much higher level of productivity. When management makes a purposeful decision to provide its employees with training in people skills so that energies wasted from interpersonal frustration and resentment are overcome, then these energies will subsequently be redirected into accomplishing the company's goals and visions. When seasoned veterans such as Barry (from Part 1 of this series) receive respect for their experience from junior colleagues, they are less likely to consider early retirement whereby their experience is lost forever. Lastly, when junior employees from Gen Y are applauded for the contributions they can make due to their education, rather than criticized for their personality quirks due to their social conditioning, then there is much less of a likelihood they will jump from job to job in their quest for an environment that meets their expectations for affirmation.

One of the most expensive costs of doing business comes from staff turnover due to the consequential loss of productivity from the sudden voids in manpower and skill sets. Equally expensive is the cost of advertising for replacements, head hunter's recruitment fees, marginal productivity from the new hires during the months they are learning the ropes, plus the minimized productivity of those veterans who are delegated to curtail their own productivity in order to train the newbies. Many of these replacement workers will come from the Generation Y demographic, so any efforts to accommodate these young adults without compromising the company's traditional values, can only be to the company's advantage.

As much as senior employees might be frustrated by the advent of this next generation of co-workers, the frustrations can be attributed more to the communication gap than to the generation gap. Gen Y ranks finding an employer that affirms them as people, rather than peons, at the top of their list of priorities as it relates to finding a job, then staying at that job. In order to assimilate this newest sector of the population into the work force in such a way that harmony is increased, while staff turnover is decreased, we could all use a little education and enlightenment as to what makes Gen Y tick, and how we can all get ourselves in sync with one another.

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