Many of those in management positions today are befuddled and at times even frustrated by the latest crop of employees entering the workforce. Referred to as Generation Y — or the Millennials — this group is made up of individuals born between 1977 and 2000 and they number around 70 million.
If you are one of the befuddled and frustrated, brace yourself: these "children of the Baby Boomers," or "Echo Boom," will comprise 41 percent of the U.S. population by 2010 and almost 50 percent of the full-time labor force by that year, according to Russ Eckel and Andrew Herman, management consultants with the Nommos Group. In other words, Generation Y has the clout to reshape the workplace according to its priorities, and those priorities are proving to be quite different from those of the generations that went before it.
Despite these differences, however, there's room for everyone in today's workplace, provided all parties keep an open mind to compromise.
A historical perspective
With Ronald Reagan as its first authority figure, Generation Y grew up free from the terror of nuclear war, yet many witnessed the attacks of September 11 at an impressionable age. This generation could be defined by the "War on Terror" much as the Baby Boomers were defined by the Vietnam War and GenXers were affected by the Cold War. Whereas Boomers and Xers can remember a time when the "Iron Curtain" divided much of Europe and the U.S. space program was infallible, Generation Y‘s world view was shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Challenger explosion was etched in their minds as proof that the government couldn't protect seven astronauts from disaster, let alone the entire nation.
Economically, Generation Y has grown up in a time of unprecedented prosperity. Whereas Generation X came of age during an era of soaring national debt and a bleak job market in the recession of the early 90s, the Millennials can only remember a rosy economic picture.
While GenXers were raised by parents in the thick of the consciousness revolution of the 1970s — a time when Americans were distrustful of institutions and children often took a backseat to parental self-fulfillment, members of Generation Y are products of the "Baby on Board" era, raised by Baby Boomer parents obsessed with childrearing. These kids were shuttled between soccer practices and piano lessons, tutored in french and enlisted in community service projects, all to beef up college applications and resumes before they even reached high school. They have been pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of activities since they could walk.
Growing up with an unprecedented amount of technology at their fingertips, Millennials are a generation of multi-taskers. They can process information at warp speed, juggling email on their BlackBerries while talking on cell phones and trolling online.
Taking the good with the bad
Because they've been raised during a time of relative peace and prosperity by childcentric parents who, to some degree, view their children's accomplishments as extensions of themselves, the Millennials tend to be high performance and high maintenance.
According to Bruce Tulgan, a management consultant and founder of New Haven, CT-based RainMaker Thinking, which studies the lives of young people, members of Generation Y have a robust self-esteem, which is a positive as it translates into an abundance of confidence and an enthusiastic can-do attitude. The drawback to this, however, is that there's a general sense of entitlement in this age group that expects the world at 22. In other words, they want plum assignments and hefty paychecks but they're not as excited about paying their dues.
Because they have grown up with the idea that it's okay, even encouraged, to question authority, Tulgan says, Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional style of management with its command and control methods. Millennials value their own opinions and are not timid about making them known. They prefer to take immediate ownership of tasks and duties. They also enjoy frequent feedback on their performance.