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