There are 85 million baby boomers and 50 million Generation X'ers in the U.S. For baby boomers, it's the juggling act between job and family. For Generation X (1965-1980), it means moving in and out of the workforce to accommodate kids and outside interests. Now there's 76 million members of Generation Y (1981-1999) or Millennials as they're called, are coming into the workforce. A yawning generation gap among American workers--particularly in their ideas of work-life balance-- has arrived.
The scales have tipped in favor of young knowledge workers creating a sellers' talent market, according to Stan Smith, Director of Next Generation Initiatives at Deloitte. Between 2000 and 2010, there will be a 30% decrease in workers in their 30's and 40's. In addition, many Generation X are choosing to leave the workforce or cutback on hours in order to be home with their children, which will accentuate the shortage of good managers and executives.
Generation Y assumes adults at work are on their side. They were raised by parents who often acted more like friends and mentors. So Gen Y comes to the negotiating table with unprecedented confidence about what kind of workplace they want.
In the coming years, Gen Y will replace the Baby Boomers in the workplace. Gen Y brings its own unique demands. Cathy Benko, co-chairman of Deloitte, in her book, Mass Career Customization, sees the corporate ladder motif being replaced with a latticework based on workers' personal goals and aspirations.. Smart companies are reacting to the new workforce conditions dictated by Gen Y. And while Gen Y likes the 24/7 social networking connection and dislikes long working hours , they are fundamentally conservative in their lifestyle, with a dislike of ambiguity and risk.
Often, older Baby Boom managers are frustrated with Gen Y, feeling they demand that everyone change to accommodate them. In reality, Gen Y demands only that the workplace reflect their values--personal growth; work that is meaningful and family first. Gen Y loves their parents, according to Rebecca Ryan author of Live First, Work Second. Gen Y prefers to work in teams not by themselves and they hate conflict. Gen Y are not complainers, nor act like victims. They are hard workers and want to have work that is challenging.
Generation Y's search for meaning makes support for volunteering among the benefits it values most. More than half of workers in their 20s prefer employment at companies that provide volunteer opportunities. Old assumptions about what employees value in the workplace don't always apply with Gen Y. Friendship is such a strong motivator for them that Gen Y workers will choose a job just to be with their friends. It feels normal for Gen Y employees to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week. Sun Microsystem's telecommuting program, for example, has kicked into high gear in response to Generation Y's demands. Today more than half of Sun's employees work remotely.
Clay Collins, author of The Alternative Productivity Manifesto and Quitting Things and Flakiness: The #1 Productivity Anti-Hack, argues that Gen Y is different than previous generation workers in the following ways:
Understanding Generation Y is important not just for employers. Older workers--that is, anyone over 30--need to know how to adapt to the values and demands of their newest colleagues. Before too long, they'll be the bosses.