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Generation Y – bored brats or brilliant businesspeople?

Generation Y – bored brats or brilliant businesspeople?
by Julia Stolzenberg

They seem to be the ultimate nuisance of modern society with their cool, self-focussed and pleasure-oriented lifestyle. They are criticised for being financially immature and unwilling to take on responsibility, and are accused of being obsessed with social networking, ringtones and credit cards. The list of allegations against teenagers and young people in their 20s, commonly known as Generation Y, goes on ad nauseam. None of the PlayStation generation’s bad habits, however, seem to cause so much public debate as their alleged snotty attitude towards work life. According to many employers – most of them quite obvious Gen Y haters – young staff are no more than a lazy, bored, demanding, fickle, lippy and over-indulged bunch of spoilt brats.

“They are famously known as the generation who expect everything, and give zero,” trumpets a recent article in The Advertiser that calls the members of Generation Y “obnoxious creatures “and “little upstarts”, naming a young employee a “painful little creep”. Even though these insults sound rather toxic, there is a common perception that Generation Y tends towards serial job-hopping and lacks practical workplace skills and realistic expectations about salary, promotions and job requirements.

“86% of Generation Y expect to be promoted within two years, 63% stay less than two years with an employer, and over half (52%) think it’s easy to find a new job,” reveals a recent study of 3,000 Gen Y Australians undertaken by the international recruitment company Drake. The survey paints a revealing picture of a new type of employee emerging with very different attitudes and motivations from previous generations.

When asked about the main difference between his and his father’s attitudes towards work, Josh, a 21-year old university graduate, names dedication and passion as his generation’s main characteristics. “I certainly wouldn’t take a job if it didn’t challenge me or make me feel involved,” he says. “I think I am a bit more than a monkey in a uniform.”

Just like every other generation, Gen Y, born between 1980 and 1994, is a reflection of its childhood circumstances which are likely to carry over to the workplace. Gen Y was raised in the era of globalisation and in a period of economic growth with low unemployment and diverse career opportunities – assets that promote the notion of frequent workplace variation. Add the influence of fast-paced multimedia and you know why Generation Y behaves the way it does, says journalist Richard Watson in his Herald Sun article Doing it Y way.

“Gen Y has grown up with rapid technological change and this makes them expect change and speed as a matter of course,” he says. “They have zero attention spans and get bored easily.”

Another influencing factor is the economic prosperity of the last few decades that has led to a delay of the traditional milestones of marriage, mortgage and kids. Young people’s current focus is on self-realisation, often in form of extensive travel and continuous education, rather than on commitment. Gen Y’s baby boomer parents and teachers have encouraged them to express their opinions and Gen Y rarely hesitates to do so. Moreover, many mid-20 Gen Yers juggle studies and part-time jobs – circumstances that provide young employees with valuable skills. The ability to multi-task and to collaborate within networks is just one of Gen Y’s unique strengths.

“Gen Y employees are technologically savvy, innovative and entrepreneurial, so may well exceed in product development and sales roles,” says Stephanie Dinnell, organisational psychologist at Drake. “They will also challenge the way things are done, which can lead to improved processes and services. Gen Ys are good for business.”

So while many employers seem to overlook their qualities over harping on Generation Y as loud-mouthed impatient divas, clever recruitment agencies have long ago started analysing and harnessing Generation Y’s potential. Global specialist recruitment consultancy Hays , for example, has recently released its research report Portraying Generation Y – a survival guide for employers who want to understand their young staff. The message is clear: companies that want to attract, recruit and retain Generation Y will have to radically reshape long-established business practices.

“Generation Y are the young recruits of today who are the future of our skilled candidate base and the talent we need to maintain business success,” stresses Hays Specialist Recruitment who surveyed 1,200 young people from Australia and New Zealand. Their findings suggest that many of the old rules of recruiting and retaining employees do not work for Generation Y. While previous generations’ job choices were strongly money-motivated, Gen Y is more interested in the actual “package”: employer honesty, respect, continuous learning and development, career progression and a work/life balance; all of these ranking much higher than financial considerations. Overall, the Hays Specialist Recruitment research paints a positive picture of the ostensible “bored brats” – that of a well-educated, career-driven and extremely ambitious generation.

“Generation Y are confident and optimistic. With this comes an expectation of responsibility and challenges, which they seek earlier in their career than previous generations,” concludes the Hays Specialist Recruitment study. “While baby boomers believed if they worked hard and did a good job their employer would look after them, and Generation X are content to work their way up the corporate ladder, Generation Y need to be continually challenged in the workplace, or they will go elsewhere.”

Peter Sheahan , Generation Y expert and author of the book Generation Y: Thriving (and Surviving) with Generation Y at work, agrees with the study’s findings. The 26-year-old coaches companies such as Google, Coca Cola and L’Oreal on how to keep tomorrow’s Executive Assistants and Project Managers happy at work. The strategy is to keep jobs stimulating by giving employees difficult tasks and offering rotations within companies, inter-departmental transfers, international exchanges, and establishing a clear reward and recognition program. To Sheahan, the secret recipe for bosses is to understand the needs of Generation Y and to provide the advancement they seek while also managing their expectations. Eventually, the demands of Generation Y are not much different from the ones of previous employee generations, he says. Gen Y is just much more outspoken.

“Who doesn’t want flexible working hours, respect and the opportunity to do work that makes a difference?” Sheahan asks potential Gen Y employees in his report Understanding Generation Y. “The real distinguishing feature of Gen Y is that they are the ones screaming the loudest for what they want and talking with their feet when they don’t get it.”

Bored brats or brilliant businesspeople? I believe it is difficult to pigeonhole Generation Y. One thing is undeniable though. With large numbers of the 4.5 million Generation Y members in Australia currently entering the employment market and displacing the baby boomers, Gen Y’s manpower is indispensable. In the long-term, businesses won’t be able to do without Generation Y’s potential – a potential that in my opinion ideally matches the needs of a fast-paced and globalised world. It is time for employers to understand how Generation Y ticks in order to turn perceived negatives into positives. Rather than seeing the new entrants to the workforce as a force to be in staunch opposition to, the challenges and opportunities that Generation Y represent need to be met. Or, as Peter Sheahan phrased it in an interview with the New Zealand Herald:

“You say you want passionate, creative and innovative people but not impatient, manipulative and demanding. Sorry, they only come in a package! Generation Y.”


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Would would Peter and Ned do?

"Is paying your HECS debt patriotic?"

What would Peter Lalor do?

But just to make sure:

What would Ned Kelly do. No question mark required.

"Is avoiding it tantamount to treason?"

Refer previous. Hope that makes you feel better Dylan - it does me.

HECS is a tax on all our futures.


You're correct F Kendall, they would like better conditions, as all workers would like better conditions.

"Gen Y is more interested in the actual “package”: employer honesty, respect, continuous learning and development, career progression and a work/life balance; all of these ranking much higher than financial considerations."

Are they not the conditions many employees of all ages would prefer?

“The real distinguishing feature of Gen Y is that they are the ones screaming the loudest for what they want and talking with their feet when they don’t get it.”

They do this because like all of us they have a choice. The global labour market is fluid and more casualised then ever. GenY generally being free and single have less reason not to change jobs when the conditions and pay suit their circumstances.

When GenY get married and have kids their relationship with employment will take on a new dimension. It won't be as easy to get up and go and eventually they will end up oldies, with grown or growing kids, just like us.

PS. The whole labour market thing is rather an interesting topic. It has changed a lot to the detriment of customers and employees (though not entirely) but that is whole other discussion involving communication and cybernetic processes in relation to the massive introduction of tech stuff in recent history.

I guess it's how you read it

 "If GenY choose to give the boss the arse for more cash somewhere else, then who taught them?"   asks Justin Obodie.

But, Julia Stolzenberg puts forward precisely the opposite proposition:  previous generations were more money motivated than genY, who demand different rewards from the workplace.  

She puts forward a set of values? conditions of employment?  of genY,  all of which, she says, rank "much higher than financial considerations."

Anyhoo, I wouldn't particularly know. However, if, by being a member of "previous generations" who have created the work attitudes that she describes, I have contributed to this, I feel quite chuffed.

GenY are employees of our own creation

F Kendall: "Are GenY employees as different as she claims?"

Not really taking into consideration the times.

Human nature doesn't change much but in this global economy we have seen the work place change quite a bit. The behaviour of employees has changed as well - all employees.

This has not been the design of GenY but older generations. GenY  have been conditioned to this brave new competitive workplace that has few loyalites - except profit.

Our previous Government, supported by industry, introduced WorkChoices and employees were encouraged to negotiate their work place contracts. If GenY took them seriously then good on them because that is what they have been encouraged to do.

GenY know they will get the arse when it suits the boss, they know corporations have transferred risk from employer to employee. It's business, that's all, so if GenY have a similar mind set, then who taught them?

If GenY choose to give the boss the arse for more cash somewhere else, then who taught them?

We now make GenY pay for their tertiary educatio. No wonder they want to make heaps of cash - many are in bloody debt and will be for yonks. Education should be free - full-stop.

I could go on but I think you should get the idea on where I'm coming from.

It appears many employers feel GenY aren't playing the game, but maybe GenY are simply outplaying the inventors of the game - and they don't like it.

Don't some just hate it when kids do as we do and not as we say? 

If previous generations had the same working environment, opportunities and stuff as GenY, then I would expect them to behave just the same.

HECS Abroad

Justin: "We now make GenY pay for their tertiary education. No wonder they want to make heaps of cash - many are in bloody debt and will be for yonks."

I sneak into Gen Y by about a year and though I have a reasonably-sized HECS debt at the present time I don't have to make payments as I am overseas.

This sort of talk (from just after the last election) worries me, however:

University graduates who go overseas for longer than six months should have to pay the minimum HECS repayment every year while they are away, according to the architect of the deferred loans scheme, Bruce Chapman...

As student debt is collected through taxation, there is now no requirement to repay loans while working overseas...

"The first way to fix the overseas problem is write on the bottom of HECS contracts that in the event that you are going overseas for six months or more, you are obligated by law to pay the minimum HECS," Professor Chapman said.

In 2005 there were 157,710 persons with HECS debts outside of Australia or in places unknown to the ATO. While I understand the desire to recoup some of the 25% of HECS debt that will never be repaid from people earning money overseas, I personally hope this sort of idea isn't being considered seriously in Canberra.

Or you could..

I doubt whether it would be a problem for you, Dylan. These things usually don't apply retro. If and when you work again in Australia then you will have to pay, maybe.

Or you, or your dear wife, could set up your own company, employ yourself, pay yourself less then the threshhold for loan repayment - around 40 grand a year and pay your wife the rest, as wages or dividends. As long as your taxable income is under 40 grand they can't get ya - in theory.

Disclaimer: those who take my advice usually end up in gaol, as such I have never taken my own advice.


If I return to Australia and earn over the threshold I will have to pay. There's an urban myth floating around that after five years the ATO 'forgets' about you but I can't imagine this is true - does the tax department ever forget anything? The point on retroactivity is a good one, too.

It all brings to mind the other thread on immigration and what it means to be Australian. Is paying your HECS debt patriotic? Is avoiding it tantamount to treason?

The Times

Now we've sorted the premise of her article, Justin Obodie, what is your comment on the meat of it?

Are GenY employees as different as she claims?



Just like us

F Kendall, it would appear that in general we agree. Yes, personal characteristics do matter more than age, there could be no argument with that. And if you suggest that attempting to correlate character and age groups is a useless cause then I would agree. 

My reference about older generations showing dissatisfaction with the young was simply for older generations to consider their part in raising, educating, employing and exploiting the young.

You have given examples of such in your previous post. Some are "patsies" and participate in old men's wars, but no more than the kids who fought at Gallipoli.

Some are "enthusiastic supporters and profiters from the system that caused it [our current economic mess]", in the same way their teachers and mentors are.

I suppose there are many influences that shape a person's character and these influences in general are greatest early in life. It is not only parents who shape their children's character (though their influence is great) but  the community at large and the decisions (good and bad) of their leaders (in government and commerce) as reflected in that community.

In no way, F Kendall, would I suggest you supported our latest unnecessary wars or the greed and stupidity that created this financial mess, but many have. As such it is not at all surprising to see kids march off to war as kids have across the eons, and see kids turn into greedy bankers and crooks.

Kids will grow up to be all types of characters, just like us, the differential being the times.

It is curious

when older generations show dissatisfaction with the young."

Perhaps this was just a generalisation that you made, Justin Obodie, but, as I had been the only poster on this thread, I saw it as a misrepresentation of my viewpoint. 

My viewpoint being that personal characteristics matter more than birth years.  With which you apparently agree...is this so?

"What part  did GenY play in the current economic mess?"

I can assure you that I played no part in the current economic mess, but I am confident that there are many whizz kids in Gen Y who were enthusiastic supporters and profiters from the system that caused it.

"Did GenY start any wars lately?"

I certainly didn't.  But, Defence may well have young employees, such as bright and enthusiastic weapons developers - (I know 1)- ; or strategists, and GenY are the ones who are certainly out there participating in wars, suggesting that these are neither "bored brats" nor "brilliant business people". but just patsies.


F Kendall: "To suggest that those young born in 1980 have the same prospects and opportunities as those born in 1995, both GenY, is, um, silly. "

Is this what gave you that impression? If so please read it again:

"Kids will always be kids but times and opportunities change."

Now, where did moi suggest GenY or any generation at all have the same prospects, or were special or different from the rest of humanity?

And "slotting them into groups" does not mean we should not use a collective noun (or its proxy) for fear of labeling or misrepresenting an individual. Who cares if people want to refer to a particular age group as being X Y or Z. It is simply a convenient way to communicate.

Of course, we all, for what ever reason, will make qualitative judgments about those collective nouns (that do not exist in reality) to the detriment or benefit of the individual (who does exist in reality).

To be honest I'm not sure what the problem is, maybe you could help me out?

It's a disservice to the young

to suggest they have some specialness, or difference from the rest of humanity,  because of their birthdates, to my mind, Justin Obodie.

Humans remain humans, and their dilemnas remain human.

To suggest that those young born in 1980 have the same prospects and opportunities as those born in 1995, both GenY, is, um, silly. 

So with the supposed GenX.  I knew too many young kill themselves because of the GenX nonsense, to be prepared to give any ground here.

As  a female animal, I care for the young.  Slotting them into groups seems irrelevant.  Maybe it's different in the bird world ....but, you move above us, do you not?

kids and others

"genY are our future".

Well, maybe, Justin Obodie.... it just reminds me of how I spent seemingly endless time as a child listening to elders drivel on about how "the future was yours", until suddenly I was one of the people on the podium, while a spokesperson spouted at a new group of littles, "the future is yours". 

Hmmm.   Very "jam tomorrow", to my mind.

Did I sound so waspish that I sounded as if I was whinging about the young?  In that case, I misrepresented myself.

un peu

F Kendall; "Did I sound so waspish that I sounded as if I was whinging about the young?"

...a little bit ;-(




baby kid - kiddie kid - oldie kid

F Kendall, these days anyone under thirty is a kid (to me) and those older are (usually) more experienced kids (like me).

I've always found it curious when older generations complain about the kids of the day.

What part has GenY played in this current economic mess?

Did GenY start any wars lately?

Which generation creates and markets all the cool tools that GenY buy to use and abuse? 

Who lends them money?

It is curious when older generations show dissatisfaction with the young; maybe they are really dissatisfied with themselves. Maybe we forget what it was like to be young; or had (sadly) such unhappy childhoods we'd rather forget.

GenY are the future, our future, let's give them all the time and guidence they need to succeed (or not succeed if they wish); not only in business and money making, but in life as a whole.

Anyway, that's what oldies do - don't we?

31 yr olds

I assume, are  the upper limit on Gen Y.

Lord, I can remember at a much younger age, as Princess Margaret hit 30 - the age at which a woman  more or less became a spinster- discussing  whether or not she should have a face lift....and the consensus was that she should.

How lucky for gen Ys that they are now considered to be kids....well, in some circles at least.  In other circles, to my mind, their tastes and opinions dominate as if they were both gatekeepers and arbiters.  Not to anyone's advantage.

And, having borne children in my 30s, I now notice that there is precious little media gabble about any possible downsides from such life choices.  Fay Weldon blames herself for this outcome, which she sees as only negative for women.  Perhaps she is correct,

I recommend that gen y take full advantage of any transitory upside, and ignore the younger baying at their heels - "the indigo children"? or whoever.

Experience is everything

bored brats or brilliant businesspeople?

Neither - just kids.

Kids, who are the product of their upbringing and environment. And is it not their older generations who are resposible for same?

Kids will always be kids but times and opportunities change. I get paid generously to babysit kids (in youth advertising) and love working with them and teaching them proper business behaviour etc. - yet I know none, at this stage of their career, who would make a "brilliant" business person; one has to pay one's dues - in fact I know very few "brilliant" businesspeople period.

Soon times are going to get harder - GenY may not have the same opportunities as they have been used to; maybe they will learn a little patience and humility to go with their optimism and confidence. It's all about growing up - that weird and wonderful life long adventure.


Of course stereotyping people by an age bracket is absurd, Julia Stolzenberg ...but, the young, groping to find their way in the world, are more likely than others to cling to such diagnostic analyses, just as they are more likely to read horoscopes.

I asssume that some benighted and hubristic self-styled "GenX" person introduced the nonsense of classifying people by their age. Yep, we are all clones. All the same. Depending on our star or animal sign, of course ... modified only by our palm lines.

Of course, such an attempt is far more suitable for an authoritarian regime. that needs to identify and classify age groups. Is that the way that Gen Y is taking us, Julia? There is no individuality, just competition, with the prizes going to the fiercest?

Now, there's a scary thought.

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