How Gen Yers Can Avoid the "Entitled" Label

Last Updated Sep 2, 2010 3:13 AM EDT

Last week Entry-Level Rebel posted reactions to a NY Times Magazine article stirring things up on the web. The piece discussed the trend for Gen Y to reach traditional markers of adulthood later and asked if the 20s are becoming a new developmental stage called "emerging adulthood." But blogger Lindsey Pollak took one look at the story's tales of 20-somethings living at home and drifting around looking for the perfect, fulfilling career and assumed many would take the article as yet another example of a common complaint about the youngest generation in the workforce -- they're entitled. And the comments she heard confirmed her belief that the piece would reinforce this stereotype for many.

With so many negative opinions of Gen Y floating around that even in-depth articles citing economic and social causes for young people's behavior provoke this reaction, how can hardworking, unspoiled members of Gen Y avoid being unfairly labeled as entitled at work? Pollak has three tips for Gen Yers to make sure they're not unfairly stereotyped by older coworkers and bosses.

  • Show appreciation for responsibility and opportunity. One of the biggest grievances I hear from managers is that Gen Y employees expect to be given high-level, exciting work on day one of a job. Never forget that you are being paid to work! And your bosses probably "paid their dues" for a long time to get where they are. Many of them expect you to pay your dues too. The best way to receive the kind of work you want is to do a great job with every assignment you're given. Then, when you do receive increased responsibility or a cool project, be sure to say thank you to the person who assigned it. Gratitude is remembered and rewarded.
  • Follow protocol. While you may want to share your suggestions directly with the CEO of your company, it's probably more appropriate for you to share those thoughts with your direct boss first. This type of hierarchical reporting structure may change someday when Gen Ys are in the corner office, but for now, it's reality. If you're not sure whether it's okay to reach out to someone at a higher level, ask your boss or colleagues first.
  • Focus on what you can do for your employer, not the other way around. In cover letters, email messages, conversations with recruiters, salary negotiations, etc., make sure you frame your value in terms of what you can offer, not what you need. Recruiters roll their eyes at cover letters that begin with, "I would like to find a position in which I can learn." Likewise, negotiations fail when you ask for more money because, "I need it." You'll have a better chance of getting what you want when you focus your argument on how it will benefit the company in terms of increased sales, more productivity or lower costs. Always ask yourself, "What's in it for them?"
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.