Research pours cold water on Generation Y

Since I wrote this piece about Generation Y and how I thought the whole thing was a load of bollocks was sceptical about such a simplistic model, I have been challenged by a number of people who think there is something in it.

In a recent conversation, an HR Director explained to me just how well this model fits her experience.

“The first thing graduate applicants want to know is ‘What’s your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy,’” she told me.

“Yes,” I replied, “but only because the university careers advisers have told them to ask that.”

The Observer did a two page spread last Sunday on this issue. Among the those interviewed for the article, there were some dissenting voices, like Helen Bostock of Credit Suisse:

A few years ago I recall the dotcom bubble when everyone was trying to reinvent themselves with an entrepreneurial culture. Now it is generational theory. What happens is that employers get sucked into the whole thing, then the pendulum swings one way or another. One thing that is consistent is that there is always something we are tackling. If it is not work-life balance, it is diversity, inclusion or something else.

‘In reality large graduate recruiters take much longer to change and there is a danger that employers will overreact and reinvent themselves as something they are not.

Spot on, Helen, and those of us with even longer memories can recall the HR profession getting in a flap about the demographic time-bomb of the mid-1990s, which everyone forgot about as soon as the economy went into recession.

But we doubters now have some research evidence to support our curmudgeonly scepticism. In a survey of 16,000 employees, the consultancy TalentDrain found that people born between 1980 and 1994 are less bothered about corporate social responsibility than older workers. The results also showed that work-life balance and working conditions were less of a concern for younger workers than for their older colleagues. The reports authors cautioned against blanket approaches to managing people.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation about employee engagement to a group of SME directors. The subject of Generation X came up. Some people in the group did not recognise the stereotype. They explained that, far from being concerned about ethical issues, work-life balance and fulfilling jobs, the Gen-Ys in their firms were only interested in celebrity culture, doing as little as possible and wanting to earn large amounts of money to buy fast cars.

Which also gives a clue to another flaw in the Generation Y theory. Like most models concocted by behavioural scientists and their fellow travellers in the consultancy industry, it is only really meant to apply to the middle classes. The Generation Ys featured in the Observer piece, who take gap years, want time off to do charity work and, apparently, are not that worried about money are not the 18-28 year olds you find working in most companies. It should come as no surprise that many of the people who bang on about Generation Y are in the graduate recruitment business. This is about young graduates, not young people in general.

So the brouhaha about Generation Y is not just pop sociology tosh with a dodgy evidence base, it is class-biased pop sociology tosh with a dodgy evidence base!

Hat Tip: Guru

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6 Responses to Research pours cold water on Generation Y

  1. Gen-Y says:

    As a Gen-Y I’m interested in:
    A fulfilling job (but I’m in the minority among my peers),
    Doing as little as possible bullshit work whilst climbing as high as possible on the ladder so that I can ….
    Earn large amounts of money to, piss off as soon as I’ve had enough!

    I’d say this is accurate for 95% of the supposed Gen-Y group.
    However, there is a marked difference between myself (an 80′s kid) and younger peers (those born after ’91/’92)

  2. HR Wench says:

    While I definitely see a difference between coworkers my age (almost 31) and those in their early 20′s – I cannot say if it is due to simply “being in their early 20′s” or “being a part of Gen Y”. After all, some say I belong in Gen Y as a 31 year old where others say I’m in Gen X. So I say I’m 1/2 and 1/2!

    I’m DYING to meet some “helicopter parents” that I keep hearing Gen Y workers have. I’ve been in HR 7 years and have never had a candidate’s parents call me to negotiate. Bummer! :)

  3. Breanne says:

    I am Gen Y and am always wondering who these Gen Y’ers are that everyone is blogging about! I am in the minority of my friends as I have worked from the bottom to build my career, took low paying jobs to get experience (which paid off imensely) and find more work to do so that I will be more respected and knowledgeable.

    Most of my friends quit their “difficult” (errr…8 to 5 jobs) to become professional gamers or professional poker players.

    Unfortunately, when I was working as a recruiter a few years ago I was very soured on the majority of my generation. They showed up for interviews in completely inappropriate clothes (Sex and the City heels for girls, or untucked shirts for guys), totally uninterested in answering questions related to their future, and demanded whatever SOMEONE told them they deserved.

    I’ll be honest, I think university’s, some career counselors, and info on the web does a disservice to these individuals. I constantly had new grads walk through the door with a print-out from Salary.com or their university career center saying what the median income for their industry was and DEMANDED that amount (with no attention to their years of experience, skills, or abilities). It made me insane.

    The thing is that the people who are blogging and consulting on Gen Y are doing a bit of PR for themselves. They are the unqiue ones of their generation….not the norm and want everyone to believe that they represent the generation as a whole. From what I’ve seen- that isn’t the case.

  4. Tori says:

    I think it is impossible to categorize a generation until the next generation comes along. 20/20 hindsight is what I mean. I think we should wait and look back at Generation Y in 30 years to see what their real attributes are.

    I am right on the edge of Generation Y, at age 26, but I am surely one of the ones the newspaper articles keep bleating about. I graduated college a year early by taking advanced courses in high school and during the sumemrs, traveled for a year, then got full time into Human Resources, starting out as an HR Assistant (read: filing queen and coffee gofer). Six year later I am the HR manager for an international company, and I’m halfway through my Masters Degree in Human Resource Development.

    Maybe I’m just lucky, but I also have a close group of friends in the same age group and situation. Maybe we were all lucky, and were just in the right place at the right time our whole lives, but I like to think that the hard work is paying off.

    I have not personally encountered these Generation Yer’s who just want a big paycheck for doing little work. I hire many engineering graduates at reasonable starting salaries, and I have to say, we have not gotten one slacker yet (fingers crossed, knock on wood). Our Co-Op students and Interns have all be successes thus far, and the sun generally shines on our company. I also have NEVER had a parent call me to negotiate, and I would probably have something to say about it if they did.

    I’m sure there are slackers out there just waiting to dupe me into hiring them, but I like to think my interviewing skills are up to par enough to weed out the good from the bad. I say shame on the recruiters for hiring someone who would dare wear flip flops and a mini skirt to their interview.

    I don’t think it is fair to categorize a whole generation of young people as lazy, or fantastic, before they even have a chance to prove their worth (or lack there of) in the long run.

  5. Rick says:

    Tori – as you can probably tell from my post, I’m sceptical about these generalisations too.

    It’s nice work for the consultants though.

  6. Samantha Poploski says:

    Generation Y does not get enough credit for our innovative thinking.
    Since childhood, we have overdosed on new technology, marketing, and general knoweledge of the world. I grew up learning about the mistakes of previous generations and how to not repeat them. This generation has been fashioned to create a new world; take the ideas and ideals of the past generations and use new technology and marketing to actually make them come to fruition in a practical way. Some have said this is a type of “babying”, thus the helicopter parents. However, I would call this preparation. We have taken the courses, read the postings, listened to the media, for what? I tell you it was not in vain. In a song by Ten Years After, made famous in 1971, Alvin Lee sings, “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I leave it up to you.” Our parents grew up with that notion and we are here to carry out what they have started. Boomers and X’s think we’re spoiled, why? Because we know just how valuable we are. Generation Y is the future, and, whether people realize it or not, the future is now. So, as Y enters the workforce head first with expectations of our company that older generations may think are high maintainence, I argue it is us knowing our self worth. I grew up being told that I can do absolutely anything with my life, even change the world. That is what I intend on doing, so what is wrong with asking for a little incentive? Am I wrong? I’d like to hear some feedback as I am obvoulsly quite passionate about this subject.

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