Gen Y Characteristics


Article exploring the negative characteristics those in their 20s and early 30s are being labeled with in the workplace.

Recently, I was asked by the Intergenerational Foundation to write an article for their website exploring the negative reputation Generation Y has in the workplace. This came about as I was talking to them about the corporate workshops I run for managers working with this generation and the negative attitudes they often express concerning young people they work with. The Foundation is dedicated to achieving fairness between the generations and they wanted a piece that tackled the stereotypes people have of those in their 20s and 30s.

True or False? Exploring Negative Perceptions of Generation Y

In the eight years I have coached members of Generation Y, I have learned a lot about their unique characteristics and needs within the workplace. In recent years, I have taken this knowledge in to the corporate world to train employers on how best to meet these needs, and how to manage members of this generation more effectively. However, what has surprised me the most has been the strong negative perceptions of this generation which tend to be held by those working with them.

True or false?

They are too demanding

Generation Y are perceived to have unrealistic expectations. They want promotions and rewards within the first two years of employment, despite lacking the experience. They feel entitled to these benefits because of the work they have put in and their inflated belief in their abilities. When these demands are not met, their strong reactions often earn them the label of being an incredibly spoilt generation.

From a young age, this generation have been encouraged to succeed by their Baby Boomer parents, their education providers, by society, and by the media. Pushed and driven through their education, they enter the world of work expecting this path of self-actualisation and development to continue. Yet, they are met with, “that’s not how we do things here. These are the hoops you must jump through first, because that is how it was for me and you will suffer the same.”

However, in my experience, when employers have thrown the rule book out of the window and given the members of Generation Y a chance to shine earlier than usual, they cope and perform extremely well, striving forward with enthusiasm, engagement, and motivation. Given the opportunity, there are usually no regrets on either side. After all, if the horse is pulling on the reins, why hold them back just because that is what has been done for many years before? It doesn’t make sense. The high expectations of Generation Y will inevitably benefit businesses in the long run, so why hold back?

They are lazy

Unfortunately, Generation Y are frequently perceived as lacking the drive to work hard, work late, and go the extra mile.

This generation places a high value on work-life balance. They are incredibly ambitious but in all areas of their lives, not just work. Job success is just as important as successful friendships, fitness regimes, and relationships.

With a variety of needs, impossible to meet in one job, members of this generation often have many hobbies and commitments outside of work. They will therefore aim to leave on time and be disinclined to work late, answer emails out of hours, and resent being expected to work at weekends. Work used to be about face time earning you brownie points, but with flexible working becoming more and more popular, this measurement scale is becoming outdated and inaccurate. It would seem older generations in the workforce sometimes struggle to understand that these new ways of working do not equal a lazy attitude; just a more balanced, varied approach to life priorities. Surely a generation working hard to better themselves in all areas of their life is no bad thing? If they get their work done, why not leave on time? This is a sign of an efficient, effective employee I’d say.

They need constant praise

Although some people see them as arrogant and over-confident, employers complain that Generation Y crave attention and positive reinforcement constantly. They say they are “needy” and lack initiative.

The root of the problem may be that Generation Y has become used to receiving constant attention throughout their education. At school they are used to receiving lots of feedback on how they are performing and how they can improve to become even more successful. This means it can come as a shock when they reach the workplace, and all they receive is an annual appraisal where only their task list is assessed.

As they are extremely keen to please, during the months in between these annual appraisals they tend to consequently seek reassurance that they are performing as expected and not making mistakes. I would prefer this approach to a “bull in a china shop” any day. However, employers seem to get annoyed at this. Yet, it takes very little time to pass on positive encouragement and to offer just a little bit of personal attention to employees who spend the majority of their week working hard to further the organisation. Generation Y want to make sure they’re doing a good job, and they certainly won’t know if they are unless they are told. I see it as a social responsibility of the organisation to ensure employees know they are performing well and feel valued for their contributions.

They love technology

Generation Y are assumed to love technology, preferring to interact via email and social media. They enjoy working and learning online, avoiding face-to-face contact wherever possible.

Not true. As it happens, members of this generation often feel incredibly isolated, finding the ubiquity of social media and email acts as a barrier to personal interactions. It has become the norm but this does not mean it has been a welcome or beneficial change. When given the option, Generation Y prefer to interact face-to-face. E-learning works no better with this generation than any other. They are sometimes just as slow to pick up new technology in the workplace, facing the same challenges and frustrations as older individuals. They are quick to adapt however, having already experienced many advances in their time.

They lack loyalty

You invest all this time and effort but they still leave if a better job comes along. You do all you can to keep them happy but it is never enough. They change jobs every two years, lacking any sense of loyalty to their employer.

From my experience, this is true to a degree. However, this generation make every effort to explore beforehand the opportunities that may allow them to remain loyal to their employer before leaving. They will ask for what they want and need, but if the company cannot provide it, they will move on. As an ambitious generation, they need to develop continuously and hate to tread water. If the company cannot offer a new opportunity for the individual to progress, of course they will look elsewhere. What would you rather? They repress themselves, suffering and standing still for the sake of an organisation lacking the insight to create new opportunities in order to develop and retain exceptional talent? I don’t think so.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.