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Generation Envy

How petulant Generation Y haters can be worse than the “Gen Y is Better” crowd.

It is a sunny day and I am inside. While I long for the outdoors, I am reminded that the flexibility to let me go outside and play is embedded in my GDNA (that’s short for Generational DNA). Ah, the life of Generation “Why can’t I go out and play? I’ll work on my homework later.” My ultimate plea doesn’t work and I sit here, occasionally looking out my window ready to go.

Scenes like these flash through my head every nice day here in the Pacific Northwest. While it is easy to come in and work when the days are five hours long and the rain never ends, it becomes impossibly difficult to convince me I should be wearing something other than my shorts and sandals. While generations before me may have been used to waiting for the work day to come to an end, my generational based desire to be out there now and work at night is undeniable.

I have been writing on this blog for over two years and in that time I have discussed Gen Y in both positive and negative ways. I feel like my negativity about Gen Y overshadows the fact that I don’t like absolutely loath knee jerk Gen Y haters.

Yes, I do think generational issues are overstated. I think there is a lot of hype about them and I am lucky enough to have become self-aware before the hype took hold of us all. Sometimes I feel surrounded by zombies and question my own membership to the very group that I belong to (by birth, not by virtue). That being said, it is unfair to castigate the entire generation based on the (often times overstated) actions of the entitled whiners with helicopter parents that have come to represent Gen Y.

They Are Jealous, But Not For Those Reasons

There is this common perception that other generations are jealous of Gen Y. While that may be true, it isn’t because “we are so ambitious”, “we do better at our jobs”, or “we ask for things in the workplace that they had to work for”. That may make some members of Gen Y feel better about the jealousy but it doesn’t make sense. The boomers started and led employee friendly companies like Southwest and Starbucks, Gen X had huge entrepreneurial surges and workplace improvements typically benefit everyone.

In talking with other generations, it seems like the greatest amount of envy comes from the amount of opportunity many generation y’ers give up to act like complete babies about workplace issues. Looking at the numbers, it is hard to argue that our generation is the best educated and the most politically, socially and economically prosperous of any of our previous generations. We have technology at our finger tips that just blow everything from the past 20 years out of the water. I went from playing Oregon Trail on Apple IIe’s to creating web pages on the internet in the span of seven years of education. The environment for innovation has never been stronger. The small business environment is as good as it has been. With all of this going for us, we can’t even figure out how to get along while working or when interacting with other generations without coming off as complete pricks. Demanding that workplace rules secede to our needs is just a cherry on top.

The problem with that view is that many in Generation Y aren’t like that, never will be like that or don’t do it in the disgustingly offensive way many outside of our generation portray it. I think it is amazing the opportunities I have and because of that genuine appreciation, I make the best of it every day. I know many in Gen Y who do the same. And while it is understandable that Generation Y has this rose tinted view of the world (we are young and dumb), what isn’t understandable or excusable is the blanket that Gen Y haters have often thrown over our fire. Honestly, you’re older and should know better. These actions only help to further alienate people in my generation who also seek to bring generation y back to reality. Using grandfather colloquialisms like “When I was your age…” doesn’t help you either. These sorts of actions make people feel like you’re the one entitled to make people go through the same steps in life you have gone through. That isn’t any more right thansaying that Gen Y is entitled to skip past you and go straight to CEO.

The Individual, Not The Generation

When it comes down to it, we are all generations of different people. While it is easy to look at statistics about generations and say “This generation believes this, this generation believes that,” but that doesn’t mean anything when considering a person individually. I work in a place that is 5% Gen Y (I’ve run the age analysis) and I do really like (many of) my co-workers. We have a lot of shared values and a shared course for success. Knee jerk Gen Y haters are as unwelcome here as knee jerk haters of any other group. We all need each other to be successful.

That whole part about me wanting to go outside and finding a flexible work arrangement has nothing to do with my generation. It has to do with me and my utter inability to stay focused when I see sunshine (reasons why I can’t move to places with nicer weather until I can be a bigger slacker). I love being outdoors. That’s me. That’s my Dad. That’s my uncle and my Gen X cousin. And I just bought my first iPod. That flies in the face of the generational stereotype.

The message for me is clear: in almost all instances, the individual is more important than the generation. The labels are meant to elicit a certain response (that I understand, as I’ve just abused the hell out of them). But that’s all it is, a label. It is a statement of fact based on when you were born not onwho you are or what you can accomplish or where you can get hired or how you get things done.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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