Are We Too Unfair to Gen Y Team Mates?

Nov 24, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Generations, Professional Development  //  10 Comments

Brent Green, author of Marketing to Boomers, has a blog entry that analyzes (or is it attacks) a 60 Minutes segment on Generation Y in the workplace.  His entry, Boomer Bosses, Generation Y Employees, is scathing in its response:

A representative Safer observation:

“Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch.”

This flip of a journalistic middle finger at a young generation is not new. Boomers were often criticized during their ascendance into adulthood, when the young, determined and idealistic were hell-bent on changing the nation’s social realities. (As well documented by Professor Leonard Steinhorn, that determination eventually helped the nation become far more socially and economically inclusive for women, for racial minorities and for people thought as odd when compared to the narrow strictures of 1950’s value consensus.)

I have actually seen the “roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday” attitude with my team members.  My perception on this attitude is that if there is anyone slammed by this it is the Boomer society that raised these workers.  So while Green believes that expressing such fatigue at a generation that has different social norms than the previous generation is a commentary on that generation, I believe it is a commentary on the previous generation.

Flip flops?  I hate them at work — not because they are casual, but because they are annoyingly noisy.  They remind me of dorm days, listening to other students make their way to the communal showers.  Now dorm rooms have private ensuites, so I’m betting flip flops are worn everywhere other than the shower.  I’m showing my Boomer age by saying that I will always feel these items of apparel belong at home, at the beach, and never anywhere else.   I’m just a crusty old Boomer, I guess.

Rolling in around noon?  Did that Gen Y worker spend 4 hours on a phone call to India starting at midnight?  Did he stay up until 11 PM working on a new set of code?  Or was he in the World of Warcraft form the time he left work until 15 minutes before his noon arrival?  We don’t know and it could be any or all of those options.  What I do know is that manager who want to judge productivity solely by a 9 to 5 clock will stop getting all that extra work time out of Gen Yers (and Boomers) if they stick to such a poor measure of effort and accomplishment.

However, that Gen Yer may have had a 9:30 AM meeting with a Boomer business user who waited until 9:45 before giving up and vowing to never agree to meet the Gen Yer again.  The Boomer did this because the Gen Y worker expected to be forgiven for not showing up because she had a good reason.  She didn’t think to call to let the Boomer know that he wasn’t going to make it because she sent a text message to the Boomer instead.  But the Boomer had (politely) turned off his cell phone for the meeting.  A mis-match of communication methods led by a generational difference in expectations.

Wanting to be CEO by Friday?  Maybe a week from Friday.  This is the one thing that I’m going peg on the Boomer society.  Not Mr. Rogers.  If Mr. Rogers was able to skew the outlook of an entire generation, world wide, then it is a sad commentary on the parents that allowed a TV character to form the entire foundation of their kids outlook on work, life, and getting ahead.  Yes, Fred Rogers said that “you are special”, but parents should have been saying that, too, with the proper context of how the world actually works.  If millions of kids had only Fred and Mr. Speedy Delivery to form their tiny minds, why is that the kids’ fault?  Or a Boomer Boss’s fault to judge the appropriateness of this generation’s workplace behaviours?

It’s not wrong for Boomer Bosses to observe this generation’s differing approaches to work or even to personally be annoyed by it.  What is wrong is for us to try to force our outdated view of the world onto people living and inheriting the world we made for them.  That’s where the outrage ought to be focused.

10 Comments

  • Karen,

    No matter what generation you are in. It all starts with parents. That is the foundation. If it is weak then the house will fall.

    AJ

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Lopez, Jorge Segarra and AJ Mendo, Keith Mescha. Keith Mescha said: RT @datachick: Are We Too Unfair to Gen Y Team Mates? http://goo.gl/fb/TQqfN […]

  • Totally parents fault

    Totally scary what will happen when my generation (Generation Y) starts raising children. Sometimes, I do think that bosses/management don’t usually help the situation by insisting that productivity is the number of hours your worked on a particular project between 9 and 5:30.

    • Exactly. Bosses need to be given tools and training to understand how to better measure productivity. Some bosses may need something closer to rehabilitation. I was on a project where we regularly started calls at 11PM and ended them around 2-4 AM, yet we were still expected to show up in the office by 9 AM for appearances sake. Managers would complain that if their people (who had no evening calls) saw us “rolling in” around 10 or noon they would have to allow it on their projects. We were also expected to work all weekend to. I made out well being an hourly-rate consultant, but the full timers were really taken advantage of.

      I told these managers to invite the people who complained about our “lax” hours to spend a week on our calls, then see how they felt the next week.

  • Karen,
    Stephen Covey, in his classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People) – notes an important concept: we are all Responsible. (Response-able). That is, we can all decide how we respond to the situations we face. We can’t blame it on genes, parents, bosses or children. In any situation, the final decision of how we re-act depends on us alone. Any functional society operates universally by certain basic, natural principles. Among these are considering other people besides ourselves, how they view the world and how they will be affected by our behavior.

    Your case of the Gen-Yer blowing off the 9:30 meeting provides a great example. The Boomer boss rather than blowing a gut, should control his response, and explain to the Gen-Yer her impact on others, while asking for an explanation of the missed meeting. The Gen-Yer, rather than discounting the whole issue as ‘old school’ thinking, should explain her excuse, recognize the impact of her decision on others, and work with the team to establish a workable set of expectations based on their different approaches to life. (This employs another of the 7 habits – Think Win-Win).

    We’re all products of our environments, but never loose the final decision on how we deal with the world.

    • I agree – we are responsible for our own actions. Our feelings and beliefs are definitely formed in part by influences of our parents, friends, work environments, everything around us.

      I once had a manager complain that his younger staff were not sufficiently independent, yet he coddled his own 24 year old daughter, claiming that she was too young to make major decisions yet. The irony of that drove me crazy.

      Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

  • Karen, this is a GREAT post. I’ll bookmark it to keep reminding me where the responsibility for a reaction is = with me. I am a Boomer (as You know) and sometimes I do get annoyed by “attitudes” of some of my much younger co-workers (I am not the Boss). I will need to remind myself that it was us (my g-g-g-g-generation), who created the environment in which they operate.
    Now, the question is, if I don’t like what we created, what do I do about it? Accept it? Or try to change it? There ain’t no “undo” button in life, though.

    • I think we need to help everyone, no matter what their generation/culture/team approach is understand how our current team cultures work. Each team we work on has its own culture as do each department, group, and company. As you know, moving between team requires adjustment. It takes time to figure out what’s important, what isn’t and how to best collaborate. Some people can do that, some refuse, and some can’t.

      I think the worst part is when someone won’t adjust. It drags the whole team down. I have another post coming up about that, too. :).

  • People working odd hours can have other benefits for the employer as well. For example, the vast majority of office workers are herded into cubes, maybe six feet apart and therefore end up hearing every phone call, every discussion between their coworkers, every cough, etc., etc. All that is cognitive static that consumes mental resources, making it very difficult at times to get into the flow that allows true productivity.

    However, if you “roll in” between ten and noon, and leave between seven and nine, you might have a good two to four hours alone in your cube without ringing phones, college football discussions, business conversations completely irrelevant to your work; just silence where you can spend your mental energy keeping all the variables in your head straight.

    Obviously, team interaction can’t be allowed to suffer, and there needs to be some predictability and standardization so people can know when they can find people to move projects forward. However, if you’re paying people to think, and they happen to think best from 10 to 7, why insist on getting two suboptimal hours by forcing them to work from 8 to 5?

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