I have just returned from visiting my in-laws in Canada. We were there to help out as my mother-in-law is in a wheel chair after a hip operation and although my father-in-law is relatively fit and stubborn as an ox, he is 82 and so we went to winterize the house etc.
On one morning I took my mother-in-law, Jean, for a walk in her wheel chair as the day was crisp and sunny and the air that lovely fall fresh. Half way through our walk we passed a high school and came across several high school kids in various groups. Now, remember I’m pushing Jean in a wheel chair – not an easy thing to hide and not once, not twice but on four occasions a kid almost fell over the wheel chair, having not noticed it until the very last second. We were on clear, straight, long, wide Canadian sidewalks… how could they not notice? They were texting, or chatting and just didn’t notice this 84 year old woman being pushed in a wheel chair right in front of them! Not only did the individual not notice but none of his friends alerted him to our eminent presence….nor did any of them proactively and politely get out of the way! I found myself asking the very question that I thought I would never ask, “what is wrong with kids today?”. Then of course I challenged myself – “Are they really so different from who we were at that age?”
I recalled an article I had read about Generation Y written by Robert Half entitled, Gen Y: A New Generation in the workforce. I looked at the major findings to see if things are really that different from when I (late Gen X) entered the workforce. In essence here is what they said about “kids today”…
- They want feedback and lots of it! 90% want feedback from managers on a daily basis – they are accustomed to receive immediate feedback good and bad – I recall I was very hungry for feedback. I needed to be constantly communicated to so that I could check if I was on the right track. I would expect that this would hold true for any young person in the early stages of their career who wants to succeed.
- They want advice, guidance, support and assistance – coaching rather than managing is key to engaging and getting the best from Gen Y – I think that if coaching was as prevalent then as it is now I too would have preferred a coaching approach rather than a do as I tell you approach – is this not just human nature? Do we, as thinking individuals, not want to be involved in the decisions that are made about our work life, and career choices?
- They want to work for companies who dedicate time and resources to social causes – again, while not on my checklist of questions to ask at an interview, I do remember feeling proud of the CR work that was undertaken by the companies I worked for. I doubt this would be the sole reason not to join a company even today.
- They utilise technology especially multi-tasking, however, skill levels vary as much as older generations and they struggle with many corporate systems – is this so very different – computers were still relatively new, mobile phones were emerging and many of us struggled with the cumbersome corporate processes (systems were still relatively new) of the organisations we worked with.
- They like things clean + simple and intuitive – who doesn’t? If we knew that was possible back then would we not have chosen simple and intuitive too?
- More than any other generation they believe that you live first and work second. Their personal time is critical to them and whilst many don’t want to be shackled to a desk they also don’t want to work outside normal work hours – here is where I think the biggest difference is. Job for life was still a consideration when I entered the workforce and the protestant work ethic was prevalent.
- Expects companies they work for to help them balance work, career and personal life (one of the top three reasons for joining and leaving) – this was never even considered when I was entering the workforce. I should consider myself lucky to be in work, to have a job, and be able to pay off my student loans… the thinking then was if you weren’t married and didn’t have kids your work was your life.
I do think that there is an issue around respect and politeness and initiative versus entitlement…but then so did our parents.
By Debra Ward