I regularly research different topics surrounding Gen Y. Being in HR definitely sparked this interest because this is the generation that will be dominating our workforce in a few short years. To be ahead of the talent acquisition game and to be effective in restructuring leadership efforts to impact this generation, I’ve been taking time to read the many insights about characteristics that make up this generation. Of course, there are always conflicting thoughts about which ones are good or bad but one statement truly stuck out to me: Gen Y comes off as “entitled” in the workplace.
Not to make an overall sweeping statement of this group, but generally speaking, this statement came off both true and false to me. Can Gen Yers come off as entitled in the workplace? Sometimes. Are they completely at fault for having that mentality? Not entirely. With that said, it may be time to refocus the expectations of Gen Y while simultaneously giving awareness to “outsiders” as to why this may occur.
Gen Y grew up in a time where recognition was given out frequently and sometimes without merit. They were given a gold star or a high five for showing up or just for simply participating. They were given the belief that they could be anything they wanted to when they grew up. Technology had made life easier and things occurred a lot quicker because of it. These simple things have shaped individuals of this generation while growing up, and eventually leaked into the workplace. So when Gen Y workers complain that they aren’t moving up fast enough or that their boss blocks them from opportunity, does that mean they’re entitled? Not quite. Some may be misguided due to the things they were exposed to while growing up.
Falling into the Gen Y category myself, I learned the hard way. I eventually figured out that although recognition is motivating and that I truly do believe I can be whatever I want to, there were a few steps that I forgot about in between. “Showing up” to your job is one thing but showing up AND making an impact is another. I used to believe that just because I did a job function satisfactorily for a year, it would be enough to be promoted. I soon learned that I was wrong. Any average person could go to work day in and day out and get their job done. But a person worthy of moving up had to go beyond that.
Satisfactory work shouldn’t have been an accomplishment for me. I should have continued to find ways to excel at work and let my superiors know. I shouldn’t have thought I deserved a promotion just because I had a year under my belt. I should have done my current job well and then I should have taken on stretch projects to show that I could handle my job and also handle the additional tasks for the job I was aiming for. Did this mean I would be putting in extra hours and I wouldn’t reap the benefits instantly? Definitely. But why would an employer invest in me if I don’t show them I’m worth investing in? More importantly, why would they invest in anyone who isn’t invested in the work that they do?
The belief that you could be anything you wanted when you grew up isn’t far out of reach for those who work hard. Unfortunately, some give up early in the process because of the amount of dedication it takes to get there. You can’t wake up one morning and think that this will fall in your lap. And luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. To get where you want to be is comprised of long days of work/study, persistence, research, and the ability to keep pushing through pitfalls and rejection. The sooner that this is realized, the sooner people can start working on it. Additionally, maybe this realization would help people reduce the anger they feel when they don’t achieve their dreams right away.
The greatest thing I learned in my years as a Gen Y worker is patience. I grew up in a time where instant gratification trumped everything. I used to abandon things that didn’t seem to work out quickly enough. Now that I have learned the art of patience, I see that the fruits of my labor actually turn out better than I would have initially thought. I often wonder what would have happened if I gave other things time back when my need for immediate results blinded me from the big picture. Would I have been further along in business? Would I have accomplished more? I’m not sure but I’m glad that I figured it out early enough to change my approach and make a difference.
I don’t believe that all of Gen Y is entitled in the workplace. I think that sometimes we’re a little ill-advised. This could have happened because we were told that we were bound for greatness but never were told the amount of work it would require nor where to start. The greatest thing I was given was a few mentors along the way that showed me the reality of the world of work. I hope more people take time to guide Gen Yers as they make their way into the workplace.
Disclaimer: This post was not intended to generalize any group of people.