Why Gen Y Is Better at Your Job Than You Are

Last Updated Dec 3, 2010 5:17 PM EST

Maybe the reason that young people are optimistic in the face of a poor job market is that young people can probably do your job better than you can.

The truth is, the older set-I'll let you define that-has a bunch of shortcomings when it comes to competing with today's workforce. Management consultant Stephen Denning has a great little history of management in his new book, The Leader's Guide to Radical Management.He points out that managers of the 20th century were trained to supervise people to get them to do stuff, to perform tasks. But now that most people are knowledge workers and not semi-skilled workers, we need managers who inspire, motivate, and encourage collaboration-managers, even, who care about the well-being of their employees and strive to make the workplace meaningful. And that's not a corporate world where the older set is generally comfortable.

Yup, I'm arguing that Gen Y - that age-group that gets dumped on for acting all entitled - can teach you something about making it in the modern workforce. A lot, actually, because Gen Y is more prepared and has an advantage over older folks with far more experience. Here are areas where Gen Y can run circles around you:

1. Productivity
Young people can find information faster and sort information faster than older people. For example, young people are more likely to use the best tool at the best time: They collaborate on wiki-type tools with ease. They crowdsource. They're aces with downloading software onto the company laptop to become more productive and efficient. Think about it: Younger people don't utter the phrase "information overload" because they don't feel it; they benefit from the plasticity of the brain, which has adapted, over their Internet-based lives to process information faster.

2. Communication
It's popular to worry that Gen Y can't write and talk face-to-face, but that's nonsense. It turns out that young people are better communicators than everyone else. A large and long-term study at Stanford shows that the process of writing online, for a large audience, throughout childhood, is a terrific way to learn to write effectively - far more so than the process of writing for a single reader (i.e., the classroom teacher). And while most generations wrote only for school assignments, Gen Y-ers have been writing constantly ever since they could type, which means since they were little kids. The Stanford study concludes that living online makes Gen Y's communication skills sharper and more effective than those of older generations.

3. Career mobility
Here are some sectors that are getting absolutely killed right now: Banking, manufacturing, real estate, and construction. Sure, young people are in those fields-and others, for that matter, that have been hard hit-but these sectors are crowded with Baby Boomers. And Baby Boomers just aren't as comfortable as their younger colleagues when it comes to job-hopping. I realize it's generally easier to job-hop when you're younger, for all the obvious reasons, but I older people just have to lower their salary expectations, be open to the idea of changing fields, and realize that the in-demand jobs now require skills where years of experience don't matter: tech communications analysts, self-enrichment educators, are occupations that are booming right now.

4. Career resilience.
Young people use entrepreneurship as a career safety net. And when they don't earn enough money, they are likely to move back in with their parents, which is probably not a bad thing for them to do (Parents: comments below please). This means that when young people can't find a job they like, they make their own, and that makes it easier for them to ride out a lousy economy.

Even better, young people are starting companies in their parents' basement instead of taking entry-level jobs. They are choosing temp jobs over full-time jobs and they care more about where they live and what they learn in their careers than they do about titles and salaries. The ability to live where you want has never been greater, and new resources are popping up to help people achieve this flexibility.

So what can you do if you're feeling nervous about job security? Congratulate yourself for being realistic. There is no job security anymore; and we all know that age discrimination against baby boomers is rampant (sorry, but it's true). But here's the key: No matter how old you are, you can learn Gen Y skills. Learn to communicate as they do, and learn to collaborate as they do. Stop worrying that the younger crowd is getting the jobs you want, and start thinking more like a Gen-y-er. And if you want to know what generation you a really fall into, take this test.