Generation Y for Dummies

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 08-24-2006
Remember that time you were talking to the Generation X-aged employee in your department and referred to punch cards and he or she responded with a blank stare?

"We recorded digital information on them through punch-outs," you explained to the clueless face before you, "and then developed programs to read the data and … Oh, forget it."

Well, imagine trying to explain to the new 23-year-old hire what that 5.25-inch slot in an old computer is for, because there's going to be a lot of that in the next few years as the Generation Y work force hits your IT department, bringing along their unique combination of gifts and aggravations.

Generation Y, made up of those born between 1977 and 1990, goes by innumerable names—"The MyPod Generation," for their penchant for social networking sites such as MySpace and their surgically attached iPods, "The Baby Boomlets," referring to their status as children of the "Baby Boom" generation, and "The Boomerang Generation," in reference to the hordes who have moved back in with their parents after living on their own for a while—that tell you a lot about what to expect.

Generation Y workers have a reputation for experiencing boredom and frustration with slow-paced environments, traditional hierarchies and even slightly outdated technologies—that is, almost everything common in most workplaces.

A common reaction of other workers to that frustration is aggravation: "Why do we need to adjust to them? They should be adjusting to us."

While this is a fair response to an extent, there's a lot more to the picture.

How Generation Y is different

Dr. Larry Rosen, author of the "Mental Health Technology Bible" and "TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work, @Home, @Play," argues that the biggest difference between members of Generation Y and those who came before them is that they have spent their entire lives surrounded by technology.

"Technology just is for them. It's part of every aspect of their lives, unlike a lot of the people they will be coming to work for," he said.

The difference is more than a generational experience gap, he said: It's a difference in personality.

"This generation is different in so many ways. They grew up in the lap of luxury, in one of the best economic times in the last 100 years, and everyone started living very luxuriously: two-plus cars, dinners out, etc. They're also pretty opinionated about the jobs they want and the money they intend to make, and many have missed that step where they understood they needed to work their way up from the bottom," Ruth Haag, author of the four-book "Hiring and Firing" series, told eWEEK.com.

Others argue that the different ambitions of the Generation Y work force are not as significant as understanding how those ambitions relate to what the company needs.

"Each generation that comes through the door has a different perspective, but what's important is how you marry that perspective with what your customers are looking for," Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia, told eWEEK.com.

With the eldest batch of Baby Boomers in retirement and the rest to soon follow, the presence of Generation Y workers is more important than ever.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Generation Y for Dummies