Guest Post by Mona Berberich

Gen Y at Work

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Sarah is 20 years old. She’s almost done with school but she has no idea what she wants. And that doesn’t really matter because she says society doesn’t offer her the right options at this point. Her mother wants her to take a job at Big Company X. But she’s skeptical. Their products are cool and the pay would allow her to get her first apartment. But she know she wouldn’t have the opportunity to make an impact and perhaps change the world. She dreams about becoming wealthy and famous doing what she loves most, because that’s how Gen Y has been brought up.

Sarah is part of a generation that’s described to have “a notable urgency to make social change” (Washington Post), and their “commitment to altruism signifies a fundamental change” (Forbes). Others call them “narcissistic praise hounds” (CBS News), people who are “cocky about their place in the world” (Time), whose goal is “wealth and fame” (USA Today) which they want to reach “by being lazy, not busy” (Huffington Post).

All of those statements describe Gen Y, a generation that most of the older folks just can’t seem to figure out, and they fit the Millennial Sarah perfectly. The only problem in this anecdote is that Sarah was born in 1950 and she’s my mother. 

What Gen Y Wants at Work

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This brings me to the main point of this article: Sarah shows a striking similarity to what we describe today as a Millennial (yes that would be me). Considering how I behaved when I was 20, the conclusion is that Gen Y isn’t that different from any other generation (please don’t tell my mom that I admit to being like her). In other words, today’s kids are just like their parents and grandparents—in a cool way.

Recall: Being part of a certain generation supposedly makes us attach particular values to different aspects of our life (work, relationship and marriage, society). This notion led many researchers to think that Baby Boomers and Gen X (or Gen Y) have fundamentally different work values, hence there is a large generation gap.

A recent study by Twenge proves all of them wrong. He shows that if we could ask every generation the same questions when they were the same age, at the same stage in life the answers would not differ much. All respondents show similar workplace values. They consider intrinsic values (interesting work, learning opportunities, being challenged) to be the most important, followed by extrinsic (pay, promotions, status) and altruistic (helping others, contributing to society) values. Social (networking, making friends) and leisure (vacation, work-life balance) rewards present the lowest values for all generations.

Twenge’s research is supported by psychologists Kali Trzesniewski and Brent Donnellan whose study has found “little evidence of meaningful change in egotism, self-enhancement, individualism, self-esteem… time spent working or… the importance of social status over the last 30 years.”

So what does that mean? Maybe generation Y isn’t that special (I can say this because I was born 1989). What explains the ongoing misunderstanding in the workplace is the age difference, not the actual generation gap. We were all generation me at one point and teens are more narcissistic than grandmas. We all want to make social change and boycott society at one point. Some of us by playing with one of our 15 Apple devices and by blogging quietly about how Jay Z’s new lyrics inspire us to change the world (even though we didn’t have one job yet). Our rebellion is more quiet than our parents who protested against Vietnam War or our aunts and uncles who danced naked as Hippies, but we’re faster (thanks to the internet and crowdsourcing) and we’re more creative (online of course).

That said, when it comes to generational differences, we might want to stop making them a bigger deal than they actually are. We’re all searching for interesting meaningful jobs that challenge us and give us fulfillment in life. We all want to make millions, ideally without putting that much work into it and yes, supporting our family is important to us (even if we define our friends as family).


Guest Author

Mona BerberichMona Berberich is a Digital Marketing Manager at Better Weekdays, a Chicago-based company that has developed a platform to help HR leaders source, screen and develop talent based on job compatibility. She is a researcher and writer covering HR, career growth, talent management and leadership development. Contact information:  Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.