8 myths – and truths – about generation Y

Young workers have a bad rap: They’re not as lazy or disloyal as some may think
By Cheryl Cran
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/17/2013

Generation Y — those in their 20s born in the 1980s and 1990s — have been accused of many things, and the media has spread its fair share of criticism on this maligned generation.

But how much of what is said is true?

Having researched generations in the workplace for more than eight years, and written a book on the generational impact in today’s work environment, I know we often stereotype the generations when, in fact, there will always be exceptions.

A member of generation Y can be more like a baby boomer or a gen-Xer, just as a boomer could me more like a gen Y. And there are common elements among each of the generations.

So here are some of the myths and truths about generation Y:

Myth: They are disloyal, they don’t care about their employer and are always looking for the next best thing.

Truth: Generation Y look at loyalty differently than zoomers (baby boomers who refuse to age) and generation X (in their 30s to late 40s). Where a zoomer or gen X views time on a job as loyalty, generation Y are loyal to their leader and their friends. Generation Y also have the attitude (shaped by parents and schooling) they should not settle for one job and learn as much as they can from numerous employers.

Myth: Generation Y do not want to work long or hard to get the job done.

Truth: Generation Y view work through a different lens than their gen X and zoomer counterparts. When gen Y hear about the long hours and years of service a zoomer has given, they don’t understand it. They believe technology solves most task problems and feel they work smarter, not harder. Generation Y do not equate long hours on the job with hard work.

Myth: Generation Y do not know how to connect other than with technology, such as smartphones, FaceTime or social media.

Truth: Generation Y know how to connect and because of technology, they connect with others worldwide. They do not see the value of spending time face-to-face when the same task could be completed using technology solutions such as Skype, instant messaging and texting. But they need coaching and mentoring on how to balance tech-time with face-time in order to be most effective in their work.

Myth: Generation Y do not care about showing up on time and think nothing of calling in sick to do something fun.

Truth: Generation Y value fun over work and often scoff at their gen-X and zoomer teammates who “don’t have a life.” Generation Y insist on work-life balance — they don’t talk about it wistfully.

They see no problem with coming in to work five minutes late or leaving work early because they will pull all-nighters and work late into the night on their own time to get a project done.

Myth: Generation Y are rude in meetings when they are texting or typing on their phones.

Truth: Generation Y do not mean to appear rude — in fact, they are being efficient. It is often a gen Y who is tweeting updates for a company’s brand or quickly answering a query during the meeting. Generation Y would contend it is ruder to take a phone call than it is to have the phone on silent mode and answer queries as they come in. They can multi-task and see this as being effective and productive.

Myth: Generation Y are self-focused.

Truth: Generation Y have been raised by zoomer or gen-X parents to look after themselves. This has created a generation that asks for more sooner and believes it can get it. Generation Y are a brand-conscious generation due to the impact of media such as YouTube, music videos and video games. This is a generation who believe they can become stars overnight. But gen Ys also have a strong sense of civic duty and community mindedness.

Myth: Generation Y want to be promoted quickly and if they aren’t, they will leave

Truth: Generation Y believe they should be recognized for performance and part of that recognition might be fast promotions. This is because their parents and the school system have encouraged them to go for their dreams, ask for what they want and have the confidence to go for more.

Generation Y are looking for a career path, a sense of what other opportunities are out there and a learning plan. Companies that provide these will find generation Y stick around longer than average.

It requires a master leader to ensure gen-Y workers are provided with the “why” they need to do the job and the “why” they need to earn their next reward through performance metrics.

Myth: Generation Y are a high-maintenance bunch, always looking for praise.

Truth: Generation Y have come up through a school and college system that provides ongoing recognition for milestones of performance. They consider the annual performance review system as archaic.

They are looking for real-time feedback and real-time praise. Generation Y have learned the art of providing positive feedback and do not respond to criticism. This means leaders must adapt their leadership to take an inspirational approach rather than an autocratic approach.

Once these myths are better understood, they can lead to truths that allow leaders and their teams to work together more productively. The more we can learn about and understand a generation, the better we can communicate and collaborate.

Cheryl Cran is a consultant who works with leaders and their teams to improve communication, collaboration and innovation. She is the author of several books on leadership including 101 Ways to Make Generations X, Y and Zoomers Happy at Work. For more information, visit www.cherylcran.com.

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