Posted by: spacewritinguy | March 13, 2008

Generation Yers (Wires) and the Future They Crave

As people live longer, the younger generations are going to have to wait longer to “get their turn” to run things. After all, if you’re still healthy enough, as a Boomer, to hold your job for another 20 years, you can also hold onto to the power. Sixty-five is no longer some sacred number that need be obeyed. When the longest people were expected to live was three-score and ten, age 65 was considered a ripe old age, and if someone lived long enough to reach that age, retirement would be short, as the clock and Mother Nature did their inexorable work. But competition from Boomers isn’t the only challenge Gen Yers (“Wires?”) have to look forward to: Gen X is still out here, just hitting its stride and starting to take over the reins from retiring Boomers.

Another thing I seem to be reading a lot about is the number of demands Wires expect to have met upon entering the workforce. Now, admittedly, businesses could do more to make some scut work more attractive, but a burger-flipper or hotel check-in job is what it is, and will have particular demands that just don’t coincide with “collaborative development” or “flexible benefits.” And before an aspiring Wire applicant interviews, s/he might want to give serious thought to what sorts of contributions they will be willing to make in order to make them worth changing policies to suit them. There used to be this notion that with increased responsibilities came increased privileges. The responsibilities were awarded based on how well individuals executed lower-level responsibilities without abusing their privileges. Do we not teach that anymore? It’s all about proving merit, professional and personal.

If I understand the Gen Y mindset correctly, they expect a lot of benefits (privileges) up front. They also seem to expect awards just for showing up. That was, after all, how a lot of them were treated as children. The feel-goodism of our schools seems to have dispensed with feeling-hurting, character-building events like being the last one picked, getting a failing grade, or losing in a competition. If this was, in fact, how Gen Y was raised and they believe the real world functions this way, they’re in for one hell of a rude awakening.

The egalitarian ethos doesn’t make much sense in a business environment. How else are you supposed to prove your worthiness to yourself or others if everyone gets the same rewards and congratulations? Self-esteem should come from achievement, shouldn’t it? Showing up is good (and it’s surprising how many people don’t even manage that), but that’s the minimum expectation. Praises, raises, and benefits should accrue to those who have earned them. If everyone is rewarded equally, regardless of distinction, where is the incentive to work harder? Remember that you’re special, just like everyone else. Sounds sorta like communism, if it was taught by Mr. Rogers.

And there are just some environments where being better matters more than just showing up (one would like to think that this would occur everywhere, but I’ve seen and lived enough examples to know otherwise). We can chant “Team, team, team” all day, but in the end, every team’s performance comes down to the efforts of individual actors. Don’t warm-body rewards make Gen Y cynical after awhile? They’d make me that way. As it is, I’m cynical for a whole list of different reasons, like rewards being issued based on process rather than results or on favoritism rather than outcome. The mindset is the same: merit is pushed aside by some other, non-outcome-based criteria. Certainly some Wires can see the futility of the “self-esteem game,” can’t they?

 And as Wires enter the workplace in vast numbers, they must consider their competition: not just Boomers or Gen Xers, but each other. “Hire me! Hire me!” the aspiring Wire says at the HR office. The HR rep will say, “Sure. But remember that there are a lot of you aspiring go-getters out there that I could hire who are just as special. Why should I hire you?” And suddenly the self-esteem game isn’t so funny anymore because now it’s real, and teacher isn’t there to give you a consolation prize for trying. Suddenly this sensitive youth who’s been told s/he is special realizes that some awards really do matter, and that a second-place attaboy from the coach doesn’t entitle them to the executive suite. They must compete for the attention of employers, and the brighter bulbs will realize that the cutthroat, self-centered political games that their seniors play exist for a reason. And that reason is…(drum roll, please)…Everybody doesn’t get what they want. I sure hope somebody explains this to some of these kids, or there will be a lot of unhappy Wires on unemployment, come the day when they discover that the workplace is not going to give them a job in the corner office just because of their date of birth.

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