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Move Over Baby Boomers

January 8, 2009
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Having been born in the late 1940s, my peers and I have had the luxury of being the focus of society our whole life. Boomers were the largest generation ever born, dwarfing the 45 million Gen X kids that were a result of the baby bust. At each life stage, from babies to teens to 25-34 and up, society focused on that demographic.

Having been born in the late 1940s, my peers and I have had the luxury of being the focus of society our whole life. Boomers were the largest generation ever born, dwarfing the 45 million Gen X kids that were a result of the baby bust. At each life stage, from babies to teens to 25-34 and up, society focused on that demographic. We were special and we not only enjoyed the attention, we expected it.

Well, our time is about to end. We are no longer the largest generation. Babies born between 1977 and 1997, dubbed Generation Y, Millennial or the Digital generation, total 81 million. It is not that the 4 million additional people are overwhelming; it is that they are so incredibly different from the boomers.

Author Don Tapscott wrote Grown Up Digital based on a $4 million study and also on his son and daughter, who were born in the eighties. Tapscott wrote a previous book Growing Up Digital in 1997. Studying this generation has been his life’s work.

While boomers were distinctive from their parents, dubbed the “matures,” the difference is more drastic with the digital generation. As boomers we were free to roam the outside world with our friends making up games. We seldom were in the house. With a total of three channels on TV and nothing more exotic than board games to entertain us, there was little interest in staying inside. For Gen Y the world could be viewed from the inside through the Internet and awesome video games. Their parents preferred them to stay inside as the outside world could no longer be trusted. Boomers were playing pick-up baseball with a few close friends; Gen Y was playing World of Warcraft video games with kids and adults around the world. Ask a boomer about his avatar and he will think you’re talking about the strange instrument George Harrison played.

As a young teen I was happy when I owned a dozen “45” records and my friends listened to the one AM station that played Top 40 music, not that old Perry Como stuff my parents listened to. Compare that to life in 2009 for Sean, our average 25-year-old Gen Y person.

He wakes up to his Blackberry which serves as his alarm clock, phone and watch. He checks and responds to emails or simply texts. On his way to work he skips the radio and plugs in his preprogrammed iPod to listen to his “on the way to work songs.” For news updates, he checks the NewsGator RSS aggregator, and then checks up on the other blogs in Bloglines, the Google Blog search tool and Technorati. He may even “tweet” a few friends. In the evening, Sean may talk on Skype, check in with a few friends on Facebook and scan the latest YouTube videos. The TV might be on in the background but seldom is he watching it by itself; in contrast, boomers watched almost 23 hours a week.

Gen Y is the first generation to grow up with computers and the internet as part of everyday life. My eldest daughter helped my wife put together our first computer when she was 6 years old. As a child I don’t remember my father asking me how to do something. Actually, my dad used me as the remote control for the TV: “Billy, change the channel to Walter Cronkite.” But I was always asking my kids how to program the VCR or how to do something on the computer. My Gen Y daughter will review this article to make sure I didn’t write something stupid like confusing MySpace and Facebook.

During the sixties the family was set up like a corporation. Dad was the CEO, mom was the vice-president and the children were the employees. My father liked to remind me that with 15 children our family was not a democracy. Today the family is built in concentric circles with kids in the center, parents/step-parents in the next circle, and grandparents in the outer ring. This gives the children the feeling that they were equals, so they enter the workforce with very different ideas of how the organization chart works.

This is the most important part, as this generation is and will continue to be 90 percent of our workforce in the cleaning and restoration industry. I want to compare how Tapscott views Gen Y versus another rather disparaging viewpoint.

Tapscott provides several recommendations in how to work with Gen Y.
  1. Rethink authority; be a good leader but understand that in some situations these people may know more than you about a subject. Gen Y needs plenty of feedback. Once a year reviews won’t cut it.
  2. Rethink recruitment; advertising for talent is a waste of money. Social networks based on trust help influence people about your company.
  3. Rethink training; engage for lifelong learning – traditional training isn’t working. Encourage employees to blog to share their knowledge and experience. Tools like company wikis are effective.
  4. Don’t ban Facebook; this one will drive managers crazy. Gen Y employees stress collaboration in everything they do. Blogs, wikis, filters, and social networks may actually improve the performance of the workplace. Here is a little justification for that idea.
  5. Gen Y is bringing plenty of energy and a fresh perspective to the workplace so take advantage of it.

Here is some additional information just released:

“Herman Trend Alert: Engaging Millennials” January 7, 2009
Recently JobFox.com conducted a poll of recruiters with predictable results---Millennials were judged to be the least effective performers of the four generations now in our workplace. A paltry 20 percent of the responders characterized them as "generally great performers". Compare this statistic to the 63 percent who said Baby Boomers (43 to 62 years old) were great performers and 58 percent who gave high marks to Gen Xers (29 to 42).

Jobfox CEO Rob McGovern believes that corporate leaders, not Millennial professionals, "need attitude adjustments". Certainly, the Millennials, sometimes called Gen Y, are the most educated and technologically savvy generation ever. Once you understand them and choose to make an effort to engage them, they are a very impressive group of workers.

According to McGovern, there are four "major motivators" for Millennials at work: The most sought-after motivator is balance. The Millennials do not embrace the value of the Boomer-created nine-to-five work week. They work best when they can set their own hours.

Second, they want to be on the leading edge. Millennials understand that technology is changing rapidly. If not updated continuously, their skills promptly become obsolete. "They have seen their parents and neighbors downsized and right-sized out of jobs." Staying marketable is justifiably very important to them. Even though in a recent JWT survey, 60 percent of Millennials agreed that "an employee owes loyalty to their employer” companies that do not provide new learning experiences will see this generation seeking job opportunities elsewhere.

Third, they do not want to be treated "as junior anything.” Millennials want to begin contributing right away. Companies must do a better job of helping younger workers see how their work is vital and how that work relates to the bottom line of the company."

Finally, Millennials are looking for stability---especially now. Gen Y workers can be loyal team players as long as they can balance work and life goals, gain new learning opportunities, and feel like they are supporting company goals. The employers that will be the most successful over the next two decades will be the ones that can best inspire and engage this challenging generation. ("From 'The Herman Trend Alert,' by Joyce Gioia-Herman, Strategic Business Futurist. (800) 227-3566 or www.hermangroup.com

So it appears the battle lines are drawn. How does a boomer manager convince a Gen Y tech that texting in a customer's home is unacceptable? One thing is certain; Gen Y will remake the world. They have already shown their power in the recent presidential election. Gen Y organized not by fighting Mayor Daley (the 1968 convention did lend itself to a great CSN song) but through groups on Facebook and MySpace and by texting every person in their Blackberry/iPhone/cell phone to “get out and vote.” Employers can figure out how to collaborate with this generation or they can hold on to old ideas because they are in charge.

At least for now.

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