Good news, Gen X: you’re not the Slacker Generation anymore. Proudly accepting the mantle of “what’s the matter with kids these days” from their parents, the Boomers have decided Gen Y, or Millennials, are just a bunch of lazy schlubs with no work ethic. Patricia Sellers of Fortune sums it all up neatly in her article, “Who cares about a career? Not Gen Y.”
Sellers sneers at Gen Y’s values of “fun, innovation, social responsibility, and time off,” over the Boomer values of “prestige” and “stability” as she asserts that the majority of unemployed Millennials are unconcerned with building a career and unemployed by choice. Gen Yers stay in one job at an average of 16 months, exhibiting no value whatsoever of “corporate loyalty” or commitment to building a career. Perhaps Ms. Sellers should take a look at the why and wherefore?
Children don’t grow up in a vacuum. They’re usually raised by parents—in this case Boomers. Perhaps Millennials learned something from watching their career-minded parents work long hours for minimal pay increases. Perhaps they saw how “corporate loyalty” is rewarded by rendering the loyal irrelevant with a pink slip every time a recession comes around. Perhaps they saw their parents work too hard for too little, marriages dissolving as their dual-income households grew apart, and decided they didn’t want that for themselves.
Having recently spent the last three years going to school with Gen Y, I assure you, these are not lazy people. Gen Y volunteers more than any other age group, they build websites in their spare time, and they have aspirations that include grad school, Peace Corps, and Teach for America. They are seeking those situations of “unemployment” largely because they found themselves graduating in the midst of a “Great Recession” where the only jobs available to those without a master’s degree and 5-10 years’ experience don’t pay enough to constitute a livable wage for someone with tens of thousands in student loan debt.
They are in Africa ensuring access to clean water and life-saving medications for impoverished nations. They are helping the homeless. They are saving the earth. They are teaching in inner cities. And, if you’re a Boomer in an office anywhere in America, they’re probably teaching you how to use Excel and fixing your computer.
Every time a new generation comes of age, the one aging out of relevance goes on a tear like this about these ungrateful kids today with their weird music and their pesky tendency to do things in some way other than the one the older generation valued. The world changes and, with it, the “right way” of doing things. Gen Y has seen the result of long work weeks for corrupt corporations that view employees as liabilities and expenses rather than assets, who see destructive practices like pollution, outsourcing, and sweatshop conditions as ways to turn a profit. We know these are not the ways to build a sustainable future. If staying with one company for 20 years actually worked the way it was supposed to, with increased pay, responsibility and mobility, perhaps Gen Y would take that path. However, it’s pretty clear, from watching how it treated their parents, that a new path must be paved, one that values innovation, social responsibility, fun, and time off.