Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can "Spoiled" Millennials Make the Workplace Better

We've all heard the stories about the whiny young workers of Generation Y - or the Echo-Boom or the Millenials - who complain about the demands of the workplace and how it interferes with their quality of life.  Generation X and the Baby Boomers and the retired Silent Generation look with contempt on these spoiled youngsters who simply need to "suck it up" and put in their time and earn their privileges.  That seems pretty reasonable - it is "work" after all.  And you can't start in the corner office.  However, freelance writer Emily Matchar poses another interpretation of these "spoiled, coddled" children and their complaints about the workplace.  Perhaps these kids are on to something.  And maybe their complaints can help improve everybody's lives.

The reality for this generation is that they are never going to "get over it."  That's not the way they were raised.  They've come to expect better - and they are certainly a generation who has been taught that fairness is of primary importance.  And, of course, after seeing their parents work themselves crazy - and still ending up divorced and unhappy in middle age, the Millennials might be right to complain.  The reality is - according to Matchar - Generation Y "is right to complain about the workplace ... because the modern workplace frankly stinks, and the changes wrought by Gen Y will be good for everybody."  Certainly, the struggles of the middle class are well documented, as American productivity increases while wages remain stagnant or even regress.  Americans work longer hours, take fewer and shorter vacations, and have decreasing benefits every year.  And this is not good for society.  And, it doesn't appear that organized labor is going to do anything to improve the conditions of its workers.  Union membership is at an all-time low even as the auto industry recovers and companies like Caterpillar and GE are sitting on record profits and paying executives lavish salaries and benefits while boosting stock prices and dividends.

Generation Y is determined to "get theirs" and not make the same mistakes - or suffer silently - like previous generations, and that might just improve society overall.  CEO's like Howard Schultz of Starbucks and John Mackey of Whole Foods seem committed to creating a new paradigm for workers in which the responsibility is to the consumer and the employees - not Wall Street.  That sounds like a nice place to be.  As a teacher - from a teacher's view - I've always been impressed with the tolerance and good will of the younger generation.  As such, I've hoped that these future CEO's and executives would be more committed to making the world better at the same time they are making their own lives better.  That flatter view of the world and the workplace is what led MTV to determine that Generation Y - the Millenials - could be called No-Collar Workers.  Now, certainly we will continue to see divisions based on the value of the work and the level of education required to do it.  But Gen Y is right to ask "Why we have to meet in an office cross-country when we can call in remotely via Skype?"  

That said, Generation Y can be a bit much - with stories of their parents calling their bosses and asking for raises.  Really.  But the ideas that the workplace can be more convenient and comfortable and efficient and productive and well compensated are not entirely wrong.  And I'd encourage any and all to always advocate for something better.  It can't hurt to ask.

FOLLOW UP: For more on this topic, you might check out the news on firms and corporations who are starting to bend and give in to the demands of Generation Y.  The reality is employers are either finding some agreement with the younger workers or they are realizing it's fruitless to argue with them.  That's an interesting paradigm shift, and, again, it just might be good for America.


Dave said...

Interesting post.

It is astounding to me in my world (Corporate IT - more specifically, information security) that companies are starting to look at accommodating the Y's with bring your own device (BYOD) policies, while the Y's freely admit in polls that they have no intentions of following corporate rules and policies. The companies feel that they need to do this to attract new, young talent.

Perhaps we've been doing things wrong all along, after all companies have long since stopped being loyal to us, why should we be loyal to them? Slippery slope however. When does embezzling become OK?

I wonder if a call to the judge from Mom and Dad will keep junior out of jail?

mmazenko said...

Good points. You're certainly correct that workers don't owe much to companies - or any more than they companies owe to them.

The question is who has the leverage.