“I can attest to the fact that not every 80s and early-90s kid is a precocious arsehole at work.”
A little while ago, in a piece for Sunday Life, columnist, author and ex-Vogue editor Kirstie Clements penned an oft-repeated argument: that Gen-Yers are an overly-confident, entitled, I-want-everything-yesterday bunch of upstarts.
If you buy into the common rhetoric about Gen Y, you’ll be believe us to be politically apathetic, self-entitled little shits who have no sense of our real place in the word. It’s a view held by many of the Gen Xers I know and work with, nothing in Clements’ piece was news to me: 40-something women want 20-something women to stop demanding pay rises after 37 seconds in a job, they want us to have better manners, to cool it on the attitude and be grateful for what we’re dealt.
And you know what? As a hard-working 28-year-old, I’m up to here (*dramatically waves hand way above her head*) with the women above me, who I respect and aspire to be like, telling me I think “hard work and respect for seniority are optional” – Clements’ words, not mine.
LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team debate the ongoing generational dilemma. Post continues after audio.
I don’t actually… I think that hard work is mandatory if you want to be successful and I have a deep respect for my superiors, I use every chance to soak up knowledge from them.
Being smack bang in the middle of the Gen Y generation (1980-1995), and also having managed a bunch of millennials peers, I can categorically attest to the fact that not every 80s and early-90s kid is a precocious arsehole at work. Nope, not even close.
Many of these women are the hardest-working, most-determined, and most-respectful I’ve ever come into contact with. And for those of us who consider ourselves in this good bunch, being continually painted with the “bloody Gen Y” brush is tiresome and demoralising.
As a generation we are not without our problems, I know that. We do expect a lot, from ourselves and others because we have been raised by parents who told us that we could be anything that we want to be and that we shouldn’t let ANYTHING stand in our way. “Shoot for the stars because the worst case scenario is that you’ll land on the moon” – how many of my fellow Gen Yers were fed this line by their parents?
Some of us are crappy workers who expect to be CEO four years into our career. We constantly need to know where we are going and how long it will take to get there. And for managers this is bloody tiresome, particularly if the wannabe Managing Director is a junior who is, er, lacking in talent.
But these people are not indicative of every single human who entered the world post-1980 – so can we please stop generalising an entire generation and treating us like we are a homogeneous group. Too often we focus on the negative qualities of Gen-Y and this frustrates me because:
- Getting continually shat on is demoralising, and at times makes me want to throw up my hands and say, ‘Fine. I’ll just sit at work like a blob and not try to do better, be better if doing so is going to piss you off.’ Not a very mature response, but continual negative feedback breeds contrariness.
- I think pervasive stereotypes can be self-fulfilling prophecies in some cases.
- There are truly terrible workers in every single generation, this is a fact.
- I idolise the very women who are so frustrated with my demographic, so hearing such negative sentiment from them stings even more.
As Clements so rightly pointed out in her piece, Gen-Yers have a huge weight of expectation placed upon them – we have been told to be AWESOME since we were small children. Yet now that we are striving for that it’s maddening for Gen-Xers and they wish we’d cool our jets and JUST STOP.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US?!
In the words of one of my talented Gen Y colleagues: “I feel like I am constantly being told, ‘Work hard but not too hard. Ask questions but not too many. Be tenacious but not obnoxious.’”
When I quizzed other Gen Yers about if they think this negative stereotype impacts their career, here is what some of them had to say:
“I feel like even if it isn’t said out loud, we’re undermined by it.”
“The main issue I have with this stereotype is that few corporations are loyal to young staff. At my previous job, I was constantly put on casual and temporary contracts – right before I had a baby, too – so I was unable to be loyal. Disloyalty is seen as a Gen Y trait, so we get that back.”
“I went for a job interview, and I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” And I said, “I’d love to be a full-time art teacher, and it would also be great if I could be a head teacher.” The principal and teacher who were interviewing me turned to each other and said, “That’s a very Gen Y thing to say.” It was weird…should I have said that I saw myself as unemployed? I don’t know!”
“I feel like I’m damned no matter what I do, and I feel guilty about ever asking for a pay rise or a career chat because my bosses will assume I’m being a stereotypical grabby Gen Y-er.”
We feel like we are fighting an uphill battle. Instead of our employers assuming we are great, we must continually prove that we aren’t all precocious shits and that we do care what they think, we are prepared to work hard and we very much appreciate the advice and feedback they give us.
Mia’s two cents: MIA: Which Generation is the best? I say X.
So please, employers of Gen Y, can you cut us some slack and give the majority of us the benefit of the doubt?
And for a change let’s celebrate the things that make my generation awesome: we are confident, we are agile, we are willing to take risks, we are bold and willing to try new things, we can adapt quickly and are open to change.
We are the future of the workforce, so please stop writing us off.
Click through the gallery below for some kick-arse Gen Y women we admire.
Are you a Gen Y person fed up of being told you’re too self-entitled?