14 Dec

Generation Y | Lazy and Privileged or Misunderstood?

As a Generation Y entrepreneur I try to stay clear of the ongoing debate over young professional’s lack of motivation in entry-level positions. While Generation X and Baby Boomer managers complain about poor performance, Generation Y whines about a lack of responsibility and/or high demands in the workplace.

I am going to do my best at staying neutral throughout this blog post, however, I do have some very strong opinions on the topic. My main concern is the mass generalization that current managers are labeling my peers- lazy, rude, unfocussed, privileged, hard to manage and “willing to drop one job position and take up another elsewhere” (Darcie Springall).

I finally decided to write this post after Alexandra Levit published an article on CNN titled, “Scared Straight: How Gen Y has Benefited from the Recession”. While the intent was to promote a very informative and worthwhile webinar, Job Start 101, produced by Business Roundtable and the HR Policy Association, it also clearly stated the origin of Generation Y’s (so-called) work ethic problem:

“This new crop, all members of Generation Y (born 1979-94) had been raised by doting Baby Boomer parents thinking they were the most special and worthwhile individuals on the planet. They wanted to leave college one month and be running a company the next.”
– Alexandra Levit, CNN

Ok, so I am a member of the troublesome Generation Y. And yes, many of you will respond by stating how I am so like my peers by passing the blame along to my parents who raised me by praising all of my little achievements throughout the years. But, I think there is something to learn by examining the mass cultural shift that has happened as a result.

Generation Y was raised in need of constant approval for their achievements and little to no consequences for their actions. Their parents wanted to change the world for the better, and as a result, created false hopes. The following excerpt goes into further detail:

“Our upbringing was essentially an elaborate cultural experiment, unsurprisingly conducted by a generation who sought to improve the world. If they couldn’t change their own world and the people around it, they could change what their children are taught about the world. Not knowing any differently since no one ever told them any differently, they would create the world the boomers could only dream about – one in which everyone is special, all people are tolerated, no one is ever judged, war is never the answer, fossil fuels are evil, diversity is celebrated, opinions are shared, inclusivity is doctrine, political correctness reigns supreme, and the gravest sin on planet earth is to hurt someone’s feelings or damage their self esteem. Marriage is about love and you should go to college to learn, not to make money.”
– eMach, “Why Generation Y Doesn’t Stand a Chance

The result of our upbringing is the basis of this continuing argument: Generation Y’s work ethic. I will be the first to admit that many of my peers do not possess the proper skills to enter the workforce. Many are egocentric idiots who need constant reinforcement that they are “on-the-right-track” – seriously? However, this same mindset has led a few to become innovators and create products and/or services that have changed the world forever.

A desire to become the best, and become famous for their achievements, has led to true competition in the arts, technology and business. The false sense of entitlement has led many to ambitiously move forward on projects that matter to them on a personal level. Would you be able to wholeheartedly dedicate yourself to processing your boss’ expenses? Setting up meetings? Making coffee? Or escorting clients to and from the airport?

Every generation has their strengths and pitfalls. Every generation makes their mark. Generation Y, while motivated by self-centered hopes and dreams, makes theirs independent of what previous generations might believe to be the right-way.


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  • Dani Ticktin Koplik

    Over generalization is, of course, unfair to those who don’t conform but there is sufficient anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that as a demographic, GenY does manifest some overarching characteristics that do not bode well for long term career success. On that, we agree.
    But as a Boomer parent and observer of both generations, I will push back on some of the causes of GenY entitlement. Curious, because I think the explanation of Boomers wanting to change the world also falls into the category of stereotype. Yes, we’re children of the 50’s and 60’s but somehow we managed to ditch our flower children garb in favor of designer duds, Birkin bags, flying “private,” 4 cars in every garage, etc and then conferred this standard of living on our children.
    More to the point, our children have largely grown up in a go-go market with ever escalating property and stock values, where Wall STreet was king. There was tons of money floating around and, as children of 40’s and 50’s parents who still harbored some depression mentality, we wanted to live larger and indulge our children. And not just materially. Our parents held children much more at arms length, with very defined often arbitrary boundaries — and like most generations, we saw having children as an opportunity to correct what went wrong in our own childhoods. So, we became overly close with our children, indulging them, showering them with privilege and esteem, seeing them as extensions of ourselves, advocating for them way past the time when they should be doing it for themselves and we created a material dependence again, way past the time when our children should be taking financial responsibility. Our children basically had nothing to fight for, figuratively and literally. Cushy lifestyle, major apron strings, no conscription, no campus activism, little comprehension of or sympathy for gender or race struggles, no tolerance of delayed gratification, etc.
    The bottom line is that we did our children a disservice, by not letting them experience adverse circumstances, by rushing in to solve problems that they should be figuring out themselves and by basically stifling the maturation process. The challenge now is to play catch up, to impart the critical thinking skills and a solution-focused mentality necessary for professional and personal success in a 21st Century global economy. First step: bubble2boardroom/NY — a FREE paradigm-busting career development event on January 8, 2011. Start the process now.

  • Kerina Pharr

    I was interested in this blog post as I also studied at Skidmore and part of my senior seminary in American Studies was comparing our Generation Y to the Lost Generation, made famous by its forerunners Hemingway and Eliot, a couple of juggernauts who rose to the surface of an age that was characterized by consumerism and mass production. I was also convinced that Generation Y was riddled with a self-centered sense of importance, but since I left Skidmore and entered the work force, I was exposed to even more individuals from my generation, and I have to say I no longer think we are as . I took issue with the following statement:

    “I will be the first to admit that many of my peers do not possess the proper skills to enter the workforce. Many are egocentric idiots who need constant reinforcement that they are “on-the-right-track”

    The thing about obtaining your undergraduate degree is that teaches you how to think, but it doesn’t necessarily give you any skills that you will use directly on the job. Those skills are taught to you on the job, and so I don’t think that it’s fair to simply imply that members of our generation are clearly inept. As for us being egocentric idiots, I don’t know if there is much more proof that our generation has a higher percentage of egotistical members than any other generation that has come before us. The need to be reassured that we are “on the right track” could also come from the constant reassuring our parents coached us with when we were children, but I think it’s also probably a symptom of being thrown into the professional fray as bright-eyed entry-level workers, looking to make a place for ourselves in a world that stresses the importance of a career as a central part of our identity.

    So in short, I’m glad you are continuing to keep the discussion alive for our generation, that you have put careful thought into your analysis of your peers, and that you are challenging our predecessors who are trying to write us off. However, I think we should be mindful to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We are after all, just starting out.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your response Kerina! I am always happy to see fellow Skidmore alumni supporting my work. I agree with your response as a whole, but would like to direct you to one of the resources that I examined while drafting this post.

    As you state, Generation Y (us) “need[s] to be reassured that we are ‘on the right track’ “. I found the following blog post, by eMach, to be incredibly provocative – his other entries are just as controversial and well researched.
    (http://emach.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/why-generation-y-doesnt-stand-a-chance/)

  • I was born in 1967. The name Gen X was never mentioned to me until after college. We were not Baby Boomers and were regularly told by educators that we would be the first generation to be less well off financially than our parents. There were a few dozen computers in the Computer Lab at Skidmore College when I graduated in 1989. This is an anecdotal response. With a business to run, a part time faculty position at SUNY New Paltz and two children under the age of three, I have little time, but this topic interests me and I would like to contribute to Keith’s efforts.

    In short, there are many professionals in their early forties and we need you. I look for smart twenty-somethings to hire for consulting work. The brightest have figured out that I will not have full- time work for them, but if they use their highly developed social skills to stay in touch with me there will often be MORE work. Twenty-something employees have skills that I can use – internet, tracking/ marketing/research, the list goes on. My advice is to find a mentor, yes, you will make coffee (tough, it’s what we need), but you may find a niche for yourself where you can contribute and build your skills. I have a part- time employee who trained to do one project and she is now so good at it that I am building a service around her. She works by the hour, but this may one day change – and she sees the potential. It’s not about your parents anymore, it’s about your employers.

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Caigan,

    Thank you very much for your support. I appreciate your response. In it you mention having employed Generation Y recent graduates and have seen the value of their “highly developed social skills” and ability to “use the internet, tracking/marketing/research” and much more. I would agree that my peers and myself posses these “new-age” skills applicable to today’s society that allow for continuous channels of communications and innovative marketing techniques.

    Business is changing and so are the skill sets required of young-professionals to succeed in their area of expertise. Maybe this explains the gap between the curriculum taught in traditional educational institutions and the real-world skills employers are looking for in job candidates…

    Keith Petri

  • Darcie Springall

    thanks for the shout-out 🙂

  • No problem! Seems as though thedailyplanet.com has changed their permalink structure as I cannot find your original article…