Generational Gyrations

Meeting Halfway

Renee Hillman, 22, is the marketing director for Raleigh, North Carolina-based Concept 2000 Realty Inc., a 17-employee firm. She agrees that today's job market, combined with Gen Y's tech-savvy abilities, has made people in her age group very optimistic. "We have lots of expectations paywise and respectwise when we're first going into a job. We've been overwhelmed with options," she says. "In fact, I left my last job because I felt that my work wasn't appreciated or my opinion valued." What do Gen X leaders need to realize about today's younger twentysomethings? "Remember that we're not that much younger than you are. Speak to us and involve us," she says.

Her boss, Sheri Phares-Moritz, 27, Concept 2000's owner, says the younger twentysomethings in her company want instant advancement, total involvement and regular bonuses. She and Hillman discuss a raise every six months. "She lets me know her worth," Phares-Moritz says with a smile. Even though the age difference isn't huge, Phares-Moritz feels light years away from her younger workers in what she's experienced in the working world. When she told her Gen Y employees that one of her first jobs in the mid-1990s had a salary of only $18,000, they were amazed. "For a whole year?" they asked.

Phares-Moritz constantly assigns of-ficial benchmarks so she's ready when Gen Yers approach her for raises. "It gives me a tool based on company policy," she says. Discussions about raises often concentrate on long-term goals and on what employees' skills are worth. "They want change right now. You try to keep them focused and tell them the money will build if they stick with it."

Rothberg says Gen Xers misinterpret Gen Y's desire for more money and responsibility early on as a signal that they want to leave. That's because the groups have different time frames for advancement. "Gen Xers want to get two to five years on a re-sume or they think it looks bad. Gen Yers think that if they have two to five years in one place, they're not advancing."

And Gen Y is only the tip of a very large iceberg. The Millennials-the kids of the Boomers who will be entering the work force over the next decade-are hot on the heels of Gen Y and will have even higher expectations toward work, says Bill Strauss, co-author of Millennials Rising (Vintage).

For Gen X leaders, Gen Y is just a test-run for bigger changes ahead. Raines says that as today's teens move from the soccer field to the office, Gen X entrepreneurs can expect calls from anxious Boomer parents checking in on their children's career progress. "This is already starting to happen," she says.

The challenge for thirtysomething entrepreneurs is to keep everything in perspective and to acknowledge that times have changed since they started out in the early 1990s. Chuck the dues-paying mentality, Rothberg says, and stop trying to apply yesterday's rules to today's jobs. Failing to change is counter-productive, and Rothberg has seen leaders struggle. "Some Gen X company leaders refuse to acknowledge that reality has changed," he says, "and they're having a difficult time recruiting."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the April 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Generational Gyrations.

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