FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Generation Gap in the Workplace

We've previously speculated on the impact that "Generation Y" employees will have on the workplace. Now we're starting to see the reality... which, in many cases, involves friction between young workers and their elders.

Generation Y, a.k.a. millenials, are generally agreed to be the generation born between 1978 and 1989, comprising today's teens and twentysomethings. However, some demographers include younger children (born as recently as 2002) in this category.

Independent, self-confident and self-expressive, Gen-Y workers are far different than their predecessors. They're smart, have no problem questioning authority, both expect and demand change, and truly believe the cliche that rules were meant to be broken. The first generation to grow up with the Internet, they take electronic collaboration for granted. Already they're challenging workplace norms such as dress codes, flex time and employee-supervisor relations.

Most importantly, they're hard and ambitious workers... but unlike the Baby Boomers, they're not workaholics. Having seen their parents burned by layoffs, their priorities are with friends and family, not the boss. In a workplace that is not prepared for them, their arrival can be a shock. And because they're not followers by nature, if they're not happy, they're outta there.

Naturally, this causes friction with Boomers and even Gen X co-workers. One survey showed that 60% of employers questioned are experiencing conflicts between generational groups. Employers especially report tension in cases where Gen Y-ers are managing people twice their age.

Much as employers might not like it, they need to get used to this trend. Gen Y workers now constitute 32% of the workforce, and will grow as the younger legions get jobs and Boomers begin to retire.

Source: USA Today