Gen Y: Solve Your Own Damn Workplace Issues

Last Updated May 14, 2010 12:47 PM EDT

Gen Y and Baby BoomerWhen I wrote Why Generational Profiling Is Bad Management, several folks took me to task on the "Gen Y problem" in the workplace, whatever that is. After spending some time on it, I'm thrilled to report that I have a plausible theory for what's plaguing Gen Yers. Even better, I've come up with a solution. Check it out.

The theory begins, of all places, at home. Babies have huge egos. For them, survival's all about manipulating adults into taking care of them. Now, that sort of behavior is fine until the age of 5 or so. After that, children begin to slowly learn that the world is a big place that doesn't really revolve around them. If that happens too fast, i.e. traumatically, it's bad news. Those unfortunate children never really grow out of the big-ego state, even as they become "adults."
Couple that with the fact that, these days, parents are increasingly distracted, separated, working too much, or just plain dysfunctional themselves. The traumatic effect on their children has caused this sort of stunted development. That's factor number one in the development of Gen Y.

We've also seen a coincident trend toward parents, teachers, and other authority figures dysfunctionally (IMO) coddling children, pretty much into adulthood. That actually has a similar effect of reinforcing an overinflated sense of ego and entitlement, way past the age where that's okay. That's factor number two.

So now you have this population of needy, egocentric children, and along comes the Internet, social media, cells phones, game machines, and other gadgets. Gen Y latched onto that stuff like an addictive personality takes to drugs and alcohol, creating at least five major issues that, taken together, is factor number three:

  • The need for immediate feedback and results from action
  • The need for immediate communication
  • The need for constant availability of distraction
  • An inflated sense of self importance
  • Extreme pedestal behavior, i.e. setting self and others up on a pedestal from which they will surely fall
Put those three factors together and you have what some call "The Peter Pan Generation." Except now, these people who think they're really special; are addicted to distraction; crave immediate results; and set their expectations on impossibly high emotional pedestals; are entering the workforce. But in the workplace, they learn that they're not special; they're required to focus; they need to be patient for results to become evident; and reality fails to meet their expectations.

That's a recipe for a generation of unhappy, unmotivated workers who, for the most part, aren't likely to stick with entry-level positions long enough to climb the corporate ladder and make it into the management ranks. That's not to say those same folks won't make excellent entrepreneurs and innovators. After all, Gen Yers founded Facebook, YouTube and a host of other hot companies. It's not all bad, folks.

In any case, now that we understand the problem, the management solution is simple. The so-called Gen Y problem is born of deep, complex, psychological issues that didn't start in the workplace and can't be resolved in the workplace. Furthermore, I would argue that any attempts to mold the workplace to their perceived needs will only make the problem worse.

It's not a management problem, folks. Gen Yers are simply going to have to find their own way. So, there it is, I've come full circle right back to the conclusion I reached in last week's post. How about that?

Even Jessica Stillman, who blogs about Gen Y on BNET's Entry-Level Rebel, tweeted this:

@SteveTobak I agree - forget generation ... and focus on the individuals you manage. But 'gen Y' does sell posts/ papers :)
Well, there you go. Not only are Gen Yers having workplace troubles, their eyeballs are being harvested for pageviews and ad dollars. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Note: In case it isn't obvious, this is a huge generalization that stereotypes an entire generation of people. It's certainly NOT how I recommend managing or thinking about folks, which is why I wrote the original post Why Generational Profiling Is Bad Management to begin with. As I said there, "Profiling groups by generation is ridiculous, no matter what the management researchers and gurus say. Not to mention that it's dehumanizing."

Image CC 2.0 via Flickr