Gen Y at Work: Are we intolerant and demanding?

Career blogs and business publications, like this article from the Wall Street Journal, all have a knack for painting a harsh picture of Generation Ys (people under 30). Here are some things they’ve been saying about us. We…

  • want work life balance and a good pay
  • can’t handle criticism – even constructive ones
  • are flaky and disloyal to the company
  • want to be CEO tomorrow
  • have an overblown sense of entitlement

As a Gen Y, I have to admit that while some of these comments are quite accurate (especially the bit on entitlement), others somewhat suffer from over generalization. Sure, I welcome a better pay and a fast career advancement — sooner than later too. But I don’t expect it to be handed to me just for showing up on time. Promotions are always based on relative judgments. Compared to my older colleagues, I have one glaring disadvantage; I lack experience. So my way up is to take every opportunity to learn, volunteer for more challenging work, gain that experience as much and as quickly as possible…in hopes that I can do what older people can — but learned in a much shorter time and done in a much better fashion. And if that means I have to sleep in the office, so be it. I’m not naive enough to expect the big bucks, while I go home at 5pm everyday.

For every workaholic like me, I know someone who’s perfectly satisfied with his pay — as long as he gets to go home at 6 on the dot. In every generation, there will always people who live to work and people who work to live. So these career bloggers and columnists could really do us a service by not lumping our demands together because there are differences in opinion and even generational gaps amongst Gen Ys.

With that said, I’ve noticed a worrying trend amongst my peers. Many just don’t stay long enough in their jobs. And I don’t think this incessant job hopping is a good idea. It’s no secret that the corporate world demands some level of expertise. This job hopping is a sure fire way not to achieve that.

Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to land on a job in a company with people I’m happy to work with and work for. I’m approaching 2 years and I still learn something new daily. It doesn’t have to be a big lesson like managing a multi-million dollar project. Most of the time, what I learn are small, seemingly insignificant things like saying the right things at the right time to give your team the moral support to do their jobs better. It is these small things that often turn a failing project on the road to success.

And sure, there are times when shit happens. If it doesn’t happen, I’m pretty sure it’ll find you soon enough. Shit isn’t a bad thing; it’s an opportunity to challenge you, to take you to the next level. It’s coming up with innovative ways to overcome this shit that’s going to gain you the experience you desperately need.

So I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re a Gen Y and you’re thinking about quitting, I’d like you to re-evaluate your reasons — especially if your reasons are along the lines of “I can’t take this shit anymore.”

Do share your views in the comments!

  • If you’re Gen Y, what do you think? Do you agree with these career sites? Are there any common traits you’ve noticed about us?
  • If you’re a manager of Gen Ys, what do you think of us? Do share because it’s a good opportunity to learn how we’re being perceived.
  • And please, no personal attacks, no naming people. Thanks!

  • I’ve heard this before. I think it’s accurate for some. Maybe we should feel entitled. The older folks have really screwed things up recently. All this nonsense with the banks, it wasn’t bad luck, it was people making decisions. Companies today treat people like numbers. We’re not employees, we’re profits and losses. The amount of BS we have to cut through to find a way to make people happy. It’s not just us. The amount of arguing that goes on is amazing. No one wants to take responsibility for anything and these are people who have been working for years and years.
    And really, “want work life balance and a good pay” – everyone wants that.
    But at the same time, we’re lucky to have jobs, great jobs.
    This post was right after a post my husband made in my RSS. He was just saying how one of his coworkers is acting like a spoiled brat. My husband thinks his job is great, but his coworker thinks its terrible and said as much on twitter. He also has a friend, who doesn’t have a degree, but thinks he’s entitled to a starting salary of $50000.
    There’s no such thing as the perfect job, you just have to be happy with what you have.

  • Hehe. It used to drive me INSANE where I used to work. We built online training for blue chip companies, and so many times they would refer to Gen Y in the same sentence as “short attention span” and “video instead of copy”. In the end I couldn’t stand it any more, and one of my colleagues and I put together a position paper on the reasons why Gen Y wouldn’t prefer talking head videos in their training. We felt Gen Y was encouraged to be efficient and fast, and that this behaviour should be equated to having a short attention span.

    I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with criticism leveled at Gen Y, but I do think that there is an overblown stereotype in there somewhere. I think Gen Y is demanding, but I think this is what we have been encouraged to be. If I talk to my mentor, my mentor would encourage me to set boundaries, entertain a better work life balance, and be paid better for my services. Aren’t those ideals that every generation wants?

  • I meet a lot of students where I work, who’s writing their MA thesis. Most of them study in social sciences, and boy do they have demands about everything.

    You wouldn’t think a bunch of students would almost throw a riot when they found out they do not have free massage after all, because students have been clogging up the list so that FULLY EMPLOYED people WORKING here don’t get a massage.

    I’m like; when I was a student, I effin’ ate fish 3/4 of the week to save money. And you’re complaining about free massage? Get off the damn horse or get the f out.

    I think they are trained for Great Expectations.. Personally I’ve worked since I was around 14 years old. Most of these people have never even had a part time job. Then again, people are different. Most people who Gets It are usually very humble. Those who don’t will not get a position here when they’re finished writing. Bye bye.

    • But those are social science types. Those that do business stuff are usually quite demanding..

  • Kavita

    I belong to Gen Y too. What employers today need to understand is that a new generation brings with itself a new set of characteristics. Instead of dismissing us as disloyal and flaky, steps need to be taken to understand Gen Y attributes. Vineet Nayar in his book, ‘Employers first, customers second’, mentions that Gen Y is more collaborative. They comprise of the ‘transformers’ in the organization. Employers need to find a way of using these Gen Y attributes to the advantage of the company.

  • Cam

    I think a lot of companies in Asia still have conservative mindset. They see employee based on the age, how long has he/she been working etc. Yes, experience is important, but older person doesn’t mean they always know what they are doing. There are many youngster who skillful and I think it’s fair enough for them to go ‘up’ faster, because they have the ability.

    One more thing that I often see is when people is called hardworking, just because they often work overtime. I think there’s a very distinctive meaning between hardworking and longworking. I myself is ‘tango’ worker, but I do my work, and finish it.

    • So, you’re refurbishing the house, carpentry, electricity, water installations.
      Who do you hire between a fresh, twenty-something person with an attitude of I can do everything to the quiet, solemn forty-odd whose pride is not tied into what you think of him/her? Be honest.

      Experience matters big time. I work in IT but I have no formal education in the area whatsoever. Why am I paid as if I had a Master’s Degree and more? Am I just fooling everyone?

      Being young is not a characteristic, trade or property – it’s a phase. During which of course you behave differently, I’d say; quick, effective and risky/careless. Sometimes there are other items that go higher on the who-do-we-need list.

  • Amy

    I agree – I am Gen Y and we feel a sense of entitlement because we are tend to think we work ‘smarter’ rather than harder. We can feel fake and disloyal to companies but when do companies treat us as hard-working employees? They don’t pay us the right amount for what we are “worth” and competitors will pay premium for us and headhunt us away. Whats wrong with trying to work smarter and make more money?

    the ones who think they will become CEO overnight need to rethink their strategy b/c “we all” think that.

    work/life balance – oh yea. we’re so independent and we’re all wireless, we do not feel the need to be tied to the desk anymore.

    • Working hours for middle-class are only going up since we implemented IT to “do the job for us”. The work/life line is very blurred these days.

  • I’m sure every generation says the same things about the ones before, and after the. Doesn’t have anything to do with the year we’re born… just the age that we’re at in life. It really comes down to the individual. When I was younger, teens, and early twenties I job jumped quite a bit. Until I found the job I’m at now. I found my niche, and I’m coming up on my 4 year anniversary in August.

    There are many times I’ve wanted to quit, and came close a few times. Being skipped over for promotions and many other things that I felt were personal attacks and nothing to do with my job skills. I know better now, and I’m still sticking it out, there are still things this company has left to teach me, and I’m not going anywhere until I learn it.

    I also think a lot of it goes to how you were raised and the work ethic that was instilled in you, and the determination to stick with it. Maybe I see things different than alot of Gen Y-ers, and I think that’s because of the way I was raised. My parents were in their 40’s when I was born, and thus a different generation all together than what many Gen Y’s parents were.

  • I am also Gen Y. And yes, I feel a sense of entitlement. Amongst all my Gen Y friends in my industry, the topic that we complain the most was work life balance. There are lots of opportunities out that with higher pay and more time for ourselves. And loyalty is not the “In” thing anymore.

  • TSC

    I partially agree with this post… Forget the work smarter attitudes and the weird reasons given for being entitled to a better job, we are Gen Y and as is often the case, we can’t expect better treatment just cos we think so.
    However the portion which I don’t quite agree with, is more along the lines of what is called company disloyalty.
    If this refers to looking out for new opportunities that are better for you, I don’t see this as a major problem. True its not the nicest thing to do, but should you pass up a great opportunity just to be nice.
    Also I believe that a lot of this is subjective and dependent on how your company treats you. By and large, I am quite loyal and do not bitch and moan about my company, however it is sometimes the case where the company takes advantage of you to the extent you feel the need to bitch and moan. Been there, done that, sort of.
    However overall i enjoyed the post.

  • Great article. I just wrote a book regarding this topic, it’s titled “Promotions Are Not Served At The Deli Counter” and is available on Amazon.

  • Well i guess most that commented on this article are from Gen Y’s including myself. Yes it’s true what those above 30’s are talking about us but honestly do we even bother? We just work for the money and go home at the end of the day. Don’t know, Don’t care kinda attitude.

    Anyways, they need not worry too much about us, Gen Y’s work attitude will change once we have a family of our own. So for now, they just have to accept us for who we are ^_^

  • lj

    want work life balance and a good pay – this point is very true. personally i wouldn’t want to do OT if given a choice. But wanting to be CEO is not true..unless for those who think they are good enough

  • mara

    i agree with the work thing, we all witnessed our parents/grandparents working hard or never being home because of work. we dont want that, others may see it as avoiding responsibility or the workload but thats not the case (for most)
    i recently left my job as the hours were ridiculous an we werent being payed enough for what we were doing. when we had to work our ass off organizing events, walking around the street at 3 in the morning, paper work that was for the manager an doing their jobs they were at the restaurant or home relaxing. when something went wrong it was all on us, they took no responsibility what-so-ever. thats the reason they lost 3/4 of their employee’s. some companies do not deserve loyalty from employee’s an our generation know when to tolerate something and when its time to speak up (even if your fired for it lol)