October 10, 2010
New Gen Y reality: Recession forces younger workers to update their work attitudes
The Associated Press
Five years ago, Richard Berkowitz thought he had a problem relating to his younger workers.
Berkowitz, the director of an accounting firm, was used to working late during tax season. But “when I told them it was mandatory that they come in on the weekend,” he says, “they looked at me like I was out of my mind.”
Today, those workers are easier to manage. The recession has brought a shocking reality to the Generation Y professionals who stumped baby boomers when they first entered the work force with their desire for work-life balance over the corner office.
In the book “The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace,” authors Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman report on their 2009 survey that says nine out of 10 millennials say meaningful work is the most important factor for their career.
Stunned by pink slips instead of promotions, Gen Y workers — people ages 18-30 — are adopting new workplace attitudes. They still want career development, but they are no longer demanding that it happen quickly.
“This is the generation that wanted to be CEO of a public company but didn’t have any idea what to do to get there,” Berkowitz says. “They’ve discovered you have to be on the ground and working hard to accomplish great things.”
In some ways, this tech-savvy generation, also known as the millennials, is best positioned to prosper post-recession. They never trusted corporate America. They know how to scour the Internet for opportunities. They grew up embracing fast-paced innovation. As a group with high self-confidence, they are approaching their plight with optimism.
“They are seeing this as a re-evaluation period,” says Tamara Bell, editor-in-chief and president of Y Gen Out Loud, a news platform for political and public-policy conversations. “They will tell you, ‘We can do this. We can make the change necessary to get the engine going.’ ”
About 37 percent of millennials were underemployed or out of work during the recession, the highest share among the age group in more than three decades, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Many realize that they can’t demand raises, promotions or time off during a recession.
Their workplace priorities have changed, too. In the past, they wanted to work for companies that incorporate community involvement. Now they value organizations that are financially strong, says Jaret Davis, administrative shareholder at Greenberg Traurig.
He used to get questions about pay raises and promotions. Now, Davis says, the questions he gets from young recruits are: “How is the firm doing financially? Will my job be around?”
W. Stanton Smith, author of “Decoding Generational Differences: Fact, Fiction ... or Should We Just Get Back to Work?” says the recession has made Gen Y workers more compliant at work. He believes that the attitude change is temporary, however.
“They are compliant for now,” Smith says. “Yet if you dig beneath the surface, their underlying values are still there.”
Bell says the best way to engage young workers is to make them part of a team. “They want to know their contribution is valued,” she says.
Michelle Zubizarreta, who manages an ad agency, has done what Bell suggests: given her young staffers a seat at the table.
To find new revenue streams, Zubi Advertising turned to its Gen Y staff for creative input. Zubizarreta encouraged her young workers to use Facebook for consumer surveys. She also created innovation groups to come up with new ideas.
She says her younger workers seem enthused: “I tell them that they’re going to work hard but they will have fun.”
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