Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ververs - Generation Y R.I.P.? Not so Fast!

by Carl Ververs - 4 June 2009

Gleefully, various business publications are proclaiming the death of Generation-Y and their irreverent, anti-business shenanigans. Sure, their weird, hyper-connected ways got an unlikely candidate elected as president. But it just CAN’T BE that those lazy Twittering Facebookers get away with it while the rest of us had to pipe down, see our heroes stripped of their crowns and watch helplessly as our iconic businesses were exposed as mismanaged or fraudulent.

Or can it?

In unapologetically pro-business, anti-Millennial magazines, their editors have not hesitated to take an advance on the humbling impact of the economy on Gen-Y. The Economist, a more objective but no less pro-business periodical, did a 180, usually writing that Gen-Y’s attitudes had to change but later acknowledging that their preferred way of working should be embraced (Managing the Facebookers). In a subsequent article, they wrote that because of the downturn, Millennials took a humbler tone when interviewing, but were not giving up on many of their other traits (Gen-Y goes to work).

Their uniqueness is waning because they are being squashed by economic realities. But we would do well to not overlook the positives from the Gen-Y mindset.

Everybody is saying, "The fun is over" and that the Gen-Y people need to figure out that work means suffering. Fear has us desiring a simpler and more predictable way of living and working, so we're seeing people revert to the behaviors they know. But the way of work and life of yore may not apply in this new world order. In fact, long before we get to any sense of "stability" again we're going to have to deal with a lot of volatility: Just look at the wild swings of the world markets. Ironically, Gen-Y’s orientation on life may be quite applicable now. They are possibly better prepared to deal with volatility and change. Per this article on The Big Money, Generation Y is taking the whole recession in stride.

“The Network Is The Company”

Gen Y’s leverage continues to be that employers need them more than they need employers. They do not have to make a killing financially and certainly will not sacrifice their health and lifestyle for a firm. Since companies cannot be trusted to take care of them and keep them employed, they cut companies off at the pass and keep a pool of opportunities open, in case the boss does not behave or the company does not come through. Advice for Gen-X: do the same. We can learn something from Gen Y here.

The downside of the lack of loyalty is that they can be hired away easily, are overly suspicious of authority and management and subsequently put a company’s return on investment in training and on-boarding at risk. All this may drive up labor costs even if salaries stagnate. The positive side of this is that they can be hired away easily from somewhere else, their volatility requires them to learn how to come up to speed rapidly at new jobs (which makes them deployable in other functions within your firm as well) and keeps your management honest and on their toes.

It will be interesting to see how Gen-Y ends up viewing wealth and finance. They have witnessed up-close the meltdown of the US financial establishment and the evaporating of personal wealth. Where Gen-X grew up with the notion that you’d be fine as long as you bought a house and kept investing in your 401(K), Gen-Y has come to understand the uncertain and volatile value of capital and assets. Home-ownership now has a whiff akin to teenage pregnancy: a liability with unclear upside.

A Millennial does not buy into the 80’s craze of self-help success books such as “Seven Habits of Effective People” because the people quoted as examples are either dead, in jail or in rehab. A few others have publicly abandoned their beliefs (such as “greed is good”). Of course I’m exaggerating, but it is clear that the personas and lifestyles the Boomers and to an even greater extent Gen-X were oohing and aahing over have no meaning for Gen-Y. What good is money if it corrupts you? They certainly learned the Faustian lesson that there truly is such a thing as selling your soul.

Race and socio-economic strata have also ceased to have meaning for Gen-Y. A mother told me how her daughter dismissed her questions about which race the people in her class were as irrelevant and racist.

As workplace expert Tamara Erickson points out in her book Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, Millennials love to learn, and they’re good at it. With the right guidance they may turn out to be incredibly effective employees.

About Carl Ververs: Carl has been a business transformer through technology since the start of his career two decades ago. Always at the vanguard of new thinking and creative application of systems, he built CRM systems, used SOA and applied Agile techniques well before they were named.

Carl's technical expertise lies mainly in high-performance computing for derivatives trading and business process management. His background spans a wide spectrum, including business application specialist, hierarchical storage system architect, customer management systems designer, trading operations manager, Agile project Management coach, SOA practice lead, PMO/QA director and deputy CIO. Carl is an avid musician and composer, computer graphics artist and geopolitical pundit. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son.