Tech-savvy generation taking over
By T.J. Wihera
All right, baby boomers, let's get one thing straight: If I'm going
to be paying for your Social Security, I'd like a lot less lip from
you on the way in which I'm going to do it.
I was born in the spring of 1986, and that makes me a member of
Generation Y, also known as Echo Boomers or Millennials. We're a
group of around 80 million Americans born between 1980 and 1995
(though the specific years vary depending on the source).
While the specific years that define us as a group aren't settled
upon, one thing seems to be: We bring a lot of baggage to the workplace.
Traditionalists report that they are put off by a number of
Millennials' qualities. Whether it's arriving at work showing too
much cleavage, using a form of written communication that makes us
appear illiterate, or lacking loyalty to one employer, one can find
myriad articles detailing the terrors that can come with hiring one of us.
Much of the conflict has been reported in the Internet technology
field. With these tech-savvy new kids coming into a work force once
dominated by baby boomers still trying to find a way to deal with the
issues of Generation X, conflict is an eventuality.
And the truth is, we can be guilty of these crimes.
Eric Chester, a consultant and author who sells advice to companies
on getting along with my age group, calls us "Generation Why." And
the name fits. I often find myself asking questions:
"Why should I have to shave if my work product is good?"
"Why should an e-mail asking for a single piece of information
contain any more than a single question?"
"Why should I show long-term loyalty to employers when there's no
long-term payoff for doing so?"
"Why should tattoos be a problem for employers who are supposed to
judge us by 'the content of our character'?"
Some professionals point to these questions as signs of innovation,
productivity and realism. Others see them as signs of disrespect,
social ineptitude, and an unrivaled sense of entitlement.
And who can blame you for thinking these things? After all, you
raised us, so you know that we were coddled. You worked hard so we
wouldn't have to. Middle-class kids like me have heard you say that
our entire lives, but we've also heard you say that you walked uphill
both ways to school. There's no connection for us between the work
you've done and the benefits we've gained.
But more than that, we're coming of age in a very different place
than you did.
• It's a different world economically. My generation doesn't expect
to earn pensions. We've watched them disappear.
• It's a different world culturally. It's folly to ask, "What's the
matter with kids these days?" when we were raised on Axl Rose instead
of Conrad Birdie.
• It's a different world technologically. My older brother told me
that overnight mail was once a great leap forward. Now, I put fax
machines in the same technological category as the telegraph: obsolete.
And it's becoming a more different world every day. As offices go
paperless, wireless and boomer- less, we may someday find that
businesses can become office-less. Whether it's telecommuting or
working on a laptop in a Starbucks, my generation will have more ways
to work than yours ever did.
So, with all these differences, it's no surprise that we don't work
in the same way. What I do find surprising is the extent to which it
bothers today's professionals (who are tomorrow's retirees).
Signs of this conflict are everywhere.
A cottage industry is forming to help us adjust to you. Blogs
dispense advice to our generation about dealing with the generations
we'll soon have to support. George Mason University recently started
offering classes on professional behavior for Millennials recently
hired by the university. And while it might seem that instructing new
employees not to show up to work in thongs is hardly a pearl of
wisdom, that's exactly the type of advice these classes are giving out.
On the other side of the coin, scores of advice and coaching
strategies exist for bosses attempting to deal with Echo Boomers.
Some make us sound almost like pets: Be sure to water daily with
praise, provide a social environment where we can play, and know that
we will run to another employer if we don't think you're taking care
of us, so play nice.
At the same time, optimism abounds. Think of our potential. HR
professionals say that we excel at multitasking and innovation. We
balance our work and social lives in ways that boomers wish they
could. Perhaps most often, we get high marks for being the most
tech-savvy generation. While boomers struggle to figure out how to
program their VCRs, we master cellphones that are more sophisticated
than the technology on Apollo 11.
Somehow, modesty never seems to appear on our list of virtues.
But immodest as it may seem, I want to put in a word for less
old-school pressure in the workplace. Here's why:
The Treasury Department expects the Medicare and Social Security
trust funds to run out in 2041. I'll be 54 that year. That means that
before I'm ever old enough to cash out of the system into which I'm
paying, it will be out of money.
As 78 million boomers are looking at retirement, I'm looking at my
career expecting that the portion of my paycheck labeled FICA will
never purchase anything for me. It won't pay for my mortgage. It
won't pay for my children's college. What it will pay is your Social
So, what's it to you if I don't wear a suit? What's it to you if I
e-mail instead of calling? What's it to you if Millennials change the
norms of the business world?
I can understand why you want us to play grown-up right away. You're
trying to tell us how the world works. After all, not all the boomers
will retire at once, and whether they're clients or partners, it's
not wise to give the impression that we are incompetent or unprofessional.
But once you've all hit the links, the world will work differently.
We will be the people working, so it seems only fair that we'll be
the ones shaping the workplace. This may mean that fashions and
customs will change. But so long as the economy keeps powering along,
dollars will always be green.
So, please, stop trying to tell us how the world should work and let
us decide that.
It's our world now.
T.J. Wihera (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Littleton is a 2008
graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder.