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Gen Y Myths Debunked

Are young employees really the slackers, whiners and praise-junkies they're made out to be? Here's what the experts have to say.

Lazy. Selfish. Demanding. America, meet your new generation of employees. At least, that's what the media would have you believe. Generation Y, those born between 1978 and 1990, is being hailed as the most narcissistic generation to date, a group of "uber-stroked kids" who, as adults, are demanding from their employers the same supervision and self-esteem building their parents gave them.

Certainly, some of the horror stories about these young employees hold true. After all, stereotypes are born from realties. To make sweeping statements of an entire generation, however, isn't only unfair to young employees, but it's also dangerous to employers who blindly believe them. Generation Y, also known as millennials, is the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Over the next four years, close to 10 million more Gen Yers will enter the workforce. Can you really afford to write this generation off?

We asked two generational experts to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding Generation Y. What we discovered is that some of the "negative" behaviors these young employees exhibit are actually intuitive responses to a changing economy. And if employers want to keep up, they better change, too.

Myth #1: They're disloyal.
Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking and co-author of Managing Generation Y, argues the complete opposite. "They're very loyal. It's just not the kind of blind loyalty you get in a kingdom--blind loyalty to the hierarchy." Gen Yers want to know they'll be compensated fairly for the work they put in.

Gone are the days of working for a company for 30 to 40 years. In today's environment, nobody trusts the system to take care of them long term. From the collapse of Social Security to the fall of major companies during the dot-com era and, more recently, the Enron scandal, millennials are acutely aware that nothing is a "sure thing." These events have created a generation skeptical of loyalty.

"Younger, less experienced workers are, in a strange way, more in sync with the reality of today's economy than other generations because they've never known it any other way," says Tulgan. "I think that if you don't trust the system to take care of you in the long run, you walk in the door looking to your immediate boss to take care of you in the short term."

Part of that short-term care is a fair salary and benefits. According to Tulgan, employers are reducing long-term fixed pay in favor of increasing variable performance-based pay. Part of this new compensation strategy, he says, is reducing the percentage of employee benefits. A lot of young workers feel that if an employer isn't willing to compensate them fairly, why should they feel guilty about chasing the buck to another company that will?

Rebecca Neider, 26, has been a faithful employee of Dillard's department store for more than six years. It's just recently that she's begun to question her future with the company.

After six years, she's hit the glass ceiling as far as yearly raises go. "I'm capped, so I can't do any better unless I decide to go into a completely different department," she says. "If that's not in your career path, you're screwed. They really need to re-evaluate how they do things and take care of employees who are loyal."

Neider feels she isn't asking for much, just something to let her know staying with the company will be worth it. "Just show that you care," she says.

Despite popular conception, Generation Y employees want to have a long-term relationship with a company; but they also want to trust that the company wants to have a long-term relationship with them.

"These are kids who've grown up in a period very unlike Boomers, a period where big institutions are much weaker and much less respected," says Neil Howe, an expert on generations, an author and co-founder of LifeCourse Associates. Because of this, he says, Gen Yers are looking to companies they feel will provide a safe harbor for them and encourage a more personal relationship between employee and employer.

He points to studies that show Gen Yers prefer to work at brand name companies, such as Google, Disney or Apple, because they view these companies as not only strong, but also personable. And for the first time in years, more young people are showing an interest in government and FBI positions because they feel it's an organization that will never collapse. "You also find that small businesses are very popular with millennials because they might not be as solid a company [as Google or Disney], but they'll have a very close personal relationship with the person in charge," Howe adds.

Myth #2: They don't want to pay their dues.
This myth goes hand in hand with waning loyalty, and stems from the fact that Gen Yers have a general mistrust of long-term support from a company.

"It's nonsense to think they don't want to do lots of work," says Tulgan. "In fact, I think that Gen Yers will absolutely do grunt work--they just want to know, 'OK, I did all this grunt work; what do I get?'"

This attitude can be infuriating to Boomer managers who had to spend years climbing the ladder, but today's workplace has changed. Putting your nose to the grindstone for a company no longer guarantees a secure spot in the future.

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