By Kenneth Gronbach
Generation Y, born 1985 to 2004, will prove to be an exciting management challenge. Generation Y is actually bigger than the baby boomer generation born 1945 to 1964 by over one million. It will easily rival the boomer generation in consumption and influence.
Generation Y is a huge population (79.5 million) that follows a small Generation X (69.5 million). This means that the job footprint left behind by Generation X as it advances past entry level into mid-career is too small to accommodate Generation Y as it enters the labor force. Couple this with a downturned economy and baby boomers who can’t afford to retire and you have dismal job prospects for millions of Generation Y young people. This creates an employer’s market. It would logically follow that the best and the brightest Generation Y applicants will accept skinnier offers, work harder, and just be grateful just to get the job.
Employers can now hire the best and brightest labor in twenty years. Will this create management issues? Yes. We will have three distinct generations in the workplace, and they are from different planets. The obvious difference of course is age. Cultural issues will also come into play. Some examples:
Boomers are immigrants in the cyber world, speak with a thick accent, and know just enough to get by. Generation X is bilingual. Generation Y is native born and moves about the cyber world naturally. They will be able to hack weak employer IT systems routinely, so make sure your systems have the appropriate safeguards. They will shock their boomer coworkers as they text each other during meetings. Email and telephone are embraced by Generation X and baby boomers, but they are foreign to Generation Y. Generation Y will be stunned by a handwritten thank-you note, especially if it is written in cursive, which they cannot read. Hold a meeting at a quarter of nine and Generation Y probably won’t show because they don’t know what that or even the phrase “clockwise” means. Appearances will be a real issue. Yes, Generation Y does believe that piercings make them more attractive, and they are not concerned with the long-term consequences of covering their bodies with vivid tattoos. Clearly it is time to address appearance issues in management’s sensitivity training and HR manuals!
Generation Y does not see a difference in race, color, or ethnic origin. They will demand transparency from their employers regarding humanitarian and environmental issues. A Generation Y worker will probably not stay with a company that he or she considers disingenuous. Clearly, the new mandate is transparency. If this requires cultural change, make the change.
Get ready for boomers to begin to retire by the millions as the housing crisis eases and they can sell their homes. Generation X, currently 28 to 47 years old, does not have the critical mass to satisfy the labor demand created by retiring boomers. Employers will be forced to hire more Generation Y and accelerate their career advancement into mid-level. Young people will manage older people and in some cases much older people, creating a world of new conflicts.
Remember when baby boomers used to be hippies? Were they embraced by upper-level management? We need to get past the appearances and foibles of Generation Y and build a workforce that is ready to take on the challenges and leadership of the next 20 years. Invest in your future now by beginning the process to create a culture of tolerance to attract the best-of-the-best Gen Y employees. You might even want to get a tattoo.
Kenneth Gronbach is an internationally recognized expert in the field of demography and generational marketing. He regularly provides counsel to Fortune 500 companies, as well as large and small U.S. businesses.