Generation Y: The Workplace Shift Part III The Future Leaders…Generation “Why”


The Future Leaders…Generation “Why”

In Part II of The Workplace Shift, “Generation X Prepares to Take the Baton,” we discussed how the most difficult elements of Generation X’s past may provide them with the strongest capabilities as the “next-in-line” corporate leaders.

Both Generation Y and Gen X place a strong value on work-life balance. They don’t want work to define their life. This connection alone between the two generations may transform the workplace as we know it today.

Generation Y wants to work but how they work is very different from their parents’ generation.

According to The Society for Human Resource Management:

  • By 2013, Gen Y will represent the largest percentage of the US workforce
  • By 2016, Gen Y will be a larger group than all other age groups combined

It’s time to stop whining and complaining about them and begin to understand and embrace them.

Let’s take a closer look at “Generation Why”, our future leaders.


1. Generation Y has been stereotyped as slackers, but in reality they are motivated and creative workers. Meaningful work is important to this generation. Long hours, a large corner office, or extensive travel do not appeal to them—-but this does not mean that they are lazy. Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers agrees:

“I don’t think this is a generation of slackers.” “This image of the kid who goes off and skis in Colorado, I don’t think that’s the correct image. Today’s young people are very focused on trying to work hard and to get ahead.”

2. You may also have heard this generation referred to as the, “Entitled Generation”. Why? Since childhood they have been over praised and protected from feeling unsuccessful. They grew up during a time when there were no winners and losers—everyone was a winner! No wonder they feel this way. In the workplace they appreciate acknowledgement even when their work doesn’t merit it.

3. Some refer to Gen Y as “Generation Why”. Why? They tend to ask a lot of questions while at work and they are not afraid to speak up. There are times when the questions may be perceived as challenging authority or a decision. This can cause conflict in the workplace.

4. Poor work ethic? Generation Y are willing to work hard, but they want to work when and where they want. They don’t buy into the face time concept if it is not necessary. This can be a difficult concept for a Baby Boomer supervisor to embrace and may be perceived as a poor work ethic.

5. Not willing to pay their dues? They find little value in doing the same thing over and over again. If they have mastered the job quickly, regardless of their time in their position, they want to be considered for a promotion. They don’t buy into “paying your dues” as a requirement before a promotion is considered. This type of company philosophy will cause them dissatisfaction and they may leave—it’s that simple. Current research shows that the average tenure for Generation Y employees today is 16 months.


Perhaps the major difference between Gen Y (and Gen X) and previous generations is their view on success. Rather than race to the top of the corporate ladder, success is defined increasingly by the achievement of personal and family success, according to

This desire and value placed on a work-life balance will likely change companies once the Baby Boomers hand over the leadership baton. Gen X will begin the change— then Gen Y will take over!

In a 2007 survey conducted by, hiring managers and HR professionals provided the following examples that highlight some key Gen Y differences in the workplace, Gen Y employees expect:

  • to be paid more
  • to have flexible work schedules
  • to be promoted within a year
  • more vacation or personal time

The survey results point back to the work-life balance that they value. Companies will need to take a closer look at policies and benefits to make sure that they appeal to this generation. They want it all and they want it quickly! They will drive the changes that are important to them and when they shift into a leadership role they will support them.


It may be time to dust off your copy of, “High Maintenance Employees”, written in 2005 by Katherine Leviss. Gen Y is here to stay—they are the new talent pool and they can be high-maintenance. Learning what makes them tick and how to work with them will bring out their high potential.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a leading generational research firm believes that Gen Y will be the most high-performing workforce in history.

“This is the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world. The good news is they’re also going to be the most high-performing workforce in the history of the world. They walk in with more information in their heads, more information at their fingertips – and, sure, they have high expectations – but they have the highest expectations first and foremost for themselves.”

Generation Y is the most integrated, high-tech generation in American history. They are smart and are driven to make a difference. It is true that they may challenge workforce conventions but this may be the long-overdue reality check that the workplace needs. In fact, they may change it for the better with their desire for a greater work-life balance, positive feedback, training and cutting-edge technology.

This is a generation that has been infused with the idea that they can be anything they can imagine. They are a product of the self-esteem movement that infiltrated schools in the 90’s when all children were proclaimed ‘winners’. They are eager to learn, ambitious, family-oriented, appreciative of flexibility and diversity, tech savvy, and optimistic. They want to change the world for the better. They are the future leaders.

Do you understand them? Tell us about your experience.