Generation Y. Too Demanding? Or Misunderstood?

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Sep. 10 2012, Published 8:53 p.m. ET

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The debate about Generation Y and their ongoing demands in the workplace has been a hot topic as more millennials enter the workplace/the real world.

The Wall Street Journal got the conversation going again a few weeks ago with an article titled “More Firms Bow to Generation Y’s Demands”. Of course I decided to indulge, because I wanted to know, are they bowing to our demands and what are these demands that we’re requesting?

Many articles I’ve read in the past call Generation Y spoiled. They say we feel a sense of entitlement, and that it is basically all our parents’ faults for telling us our whole lives how great we are. Well blame our parents. But the issue is definitely a bit deeper than that. In the second paragraph of her article Kwoh states:

“Employers, however, say concessions are necessary to retain the best of millennials, also known as Generation Y, which is broadly defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s. They bring fresh skills to the workplace: they’re tech-savvy, racially diverse, socially interconnected and collaborative. Moreover, companies need to keep their employee pipelines full as baby boomers enter retirement.”

As a millennial myself, the argument is clearly defined and summed up right there. Our skills are what make us not only in high demand, but require some incentives in return.

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However, I disagree with the notion that we are all walking into entry-level positions asking for promotions, and for perks like the ability to leave at 4 everyday instead of 5, and to be able to use Facebook and Twitter whenever we please.  But I do know that Generation Y has some skills other generations weren’t quite aware of making us a necessary asset to any company.

The generations that precede us (Gen X and Baby Boomers) worked because they had to. According to a 2010 article in Business Insider, in 2010 more than 25% of American’s held a bachelors degree – five times more than in 1950. We see here that Gen X worked because they wanted experience, not because they had experience or the education required to do the job.

If you’re an avid reader, movie watcher, or happen to be an American Studies major; you know exactly how to describe the generations that precede us. One of the key adjectives would definitely be, rebellious.  Rebel Without a Cause, Catcher in the Rye, and Goodbye Columbus weren’t written based on the unforeseen future of Generation Y to come. They were based on teen culture in the 1950s.

And films like “Over the Edge” and “Dead Presidents” weren’t set in 2012; they were based on events that took place in the 1970s. If you’ve seen any of these films or read these books, you know the chain of events that occurred, and you also know the endings.  So why is the entitlement of the millennial and the rebellion of Gen X different?

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They would probably argue that they were fighting for a cause; we on the other hand want everything handed to us. For some of us this is true. And only true because we feel like our four and for some of us six years in college was work. In an article written in 2007 for CNN, Alison Balin who was 27 at the time stated that she believed her generation wanted to see a significant return on years of education.

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If I had a nickel for every time I heard a millennial say “I paid too much for college, now its time someone pay me” I’d not only be giving away my nickels but I’d be rich.

But it’s true. This is how we feel. The cost of college rises exceedingly every year, and because we have little to no control over government spending, the money we expect to receive in the form of loans and pell grants is sometimes taken away. The word loan by itself is enough to make someone cringe. I remember meeting someone who was already $20,000 dollars in debt their first year of undergrad. And myself, I’m looking at a total of $60,000 after completing my Masters.

According to the University of Pennsylvania archives, the average cost of tuition to attend undergrad there in the 1950s was a mere $600. Today, tuition and fees at the University of Pennsylvania are a whopping $43,738 for the 2012-13 school year.

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So excuse me baby boomer, I don’t mean to be rude, and yes I want to learn many things from you, but the $2,400 you paid for four years of college doesn’t hold a candle to the mounds of debt millennials are finding themselves in. So yes, we want jobs, we also want decent pay, all so that Sallie Mae will stop calling our phones from seven different numbers everyday.

We, like you, want to live our lives and then retire. There’s also a difference in stability. Baby Boomers have retirement plans that Generation Y is essentially paying for. Millennials on the other hand, are accepting jobs without retirement plans and unmatched 401ks.

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But there’s another aspect to this argument, that if I leave unmentioned, I’ll regret. As I mentioned before, our skill set is what makes us pseudo “demanding,” but the advice we get is what makes us walk into a workplace with this sense of “entitlement.” And who gives us this advice? No not our parents, but our professors.

If you think about it, they hand us the blueprint along with tools needed to go into the workplace. They give us the details on what to expect, what to know, and what to ask for. I’m by no means blaming them; I applaud them, because they are simply teaching us how to be competitive and the drive that is required to succeed in the workplace. They are merely helping us work towards the positions that we spent four years in college becoming experts on in our majors.

The fact is employers want to be connected to the innovative, tech-savvy, new media connected generation. They want employees who are self-starters and know how to use technology without being taught. What Gen X and Baby Boomers should know is that we millennials are simply trying to meet the demands that HR managers expect of us, not ones we demand from them.

If it makes things any better, Generation Y is already complaining about Generation Z and their attention to technology and under appreciation for the physical outside activities we once loved; and soon they’ll be kicking us out of our jobs… from their iPads.

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