Straight Talk About Gen Y from a Generation Y Apartment Manager


A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post, “Solving Gen Y’s Passion Problem. I would encourage you to take the time to read the blog in its entirety. But in a nutshell, it maintains that Generation Y demand a lot from their work life right away and are frequently disappointed in the reality not matching their expectations, resulting in a “passion problem” in the workplace.

Thinking the precept was interesting, I shared the blog with my social network. While a few of my connections replied with, “I agree” or “I still don’t get [Gen Y]” a few had more to say, including one who completely opened the door to understanding for me.

She happens, not coincidentally I’m sure, to be a member of Generation Y and an apartment manager—jackpot!  She had some interesting thoughts to share about her generation, the apartment industry, and the reasons she believes said “passion problem” exists. I wanted to share her insights with you below.

The Sky Is the Limit

I agree with the author’s assessment of the “passion problem”.  I, for one, have certainly been fed a TON of “do what you love” and “the sky’s the limit” from my family, schooling and social interactions, and I have noticed that it has affected my perception and expectation of my desired career path. But not necessarily in a bad way, because I also learned about hard work and I think when you balance the two together, you can actually breed a whole new brand of employee that is more engaged than previous generations but in return does expect more opportunities.

Sink or Swim?

I was at a seminar recently and the speaker was laying out the presumed characteristics of Gen Y; one in particular made me chuckle.  We “don’t like to think”, we “like to do” is how he put it. We don’t like to read instructions and we believe in the sink or swim approach to teaching… just throw us in there and we’ll figure it out…and if we don’t, you can fire us and we’ll just go work somewhere else…because, honestly, we aren’t attached to any one company anyway.

I was laughing because I think this is why so many of our employees think they should be promoted before they have had enough cross-training. They/we feel like we will learn more, and much faster, if we learn while doing the job. Of course, for the organization, it’s more of a risk, but it does make for happier and more loyal Gen Y employees which is a tough thing to achieve since our generation is not very loyal to a job.


Admittedly, we are far less loyal by nature than previous generations. We don’t stay in one job for as long as our parents did for several reasons. One is because of sheer boredom. My mom has been doing the same job for 35 years and I think she is loony for doing it. I’m always asking her, “Don’t you ever want to do something different?” She has worked in the same office, with the same people, doing the same things for 35 years! She’s seemingly happy as a lark, but I think I’d be in the corner crying, eating a carton of ice cream and wondering what happened to me.


We are not only used to it, but we welcome and look for change. And since we were raised in the “you can do it” era, we are extremely confident. The world we grew up in is fast paced, ever-changing and promotes instant gratification. Everything we want is at the end of our fingertips (or smartphone)… so if the opportunity for more (be it challenges, change, or learning) isn’t available at the company we are currently working for, or at the pace we feel is reasonable, we are more inclined to find it somewhere else rather than wait years (or what can feel like years) for the opportunity to emerge.

So if we ever decide our job opportunities are lacking, or our supervisors make us feel like those opportunities will take many more years of “experience” to be within our grasp, we will simply find a new job. We are not afraid of change, and since we are so good at what we do, it should be easy. Right? Ultimately, after years of doing the same thing, we get restless and feel like we need to challenge ourselves to do more. We believe complacency is a disease and do our best to run from it.

Finally, we don’t believe in company loyalty for the sole purpose of “retiring with good benefits”.  We don’t trust that a company will really “take care of us” like our parents’ generation. We feel like it’s in our hands to build our own future. Many in my parents’ generation still subscribe to the idea that the job will take care of you when you retire, which is why they stick around even if they aren’t being fulfilled. But that philosophy is a foreign notion to Gen Y.

Paying Our Dues

While I feel like I still have a good grasp on the concept of paying my dues to get where I want to go, I do find myself feeling like that process is sometimes slower than I expected. And the feeling that the “growing” or “diamond-cutting” process will take longer than I originally expected has at times made me consider different career paths. I was a bit disillusioned after speaking to a supervisor about my future with the company. It was evident to me that her opinion of how long it would take me to become ready for a promotion was considerably longer than I was thinking. I expected that opportunity within the next 2-3 years, and she was thinking more like 10 years. That was an issue for me given that I already felt like I had reached a learning plateau in my current position.

We Like Challenges

I think my generation needs to feel challenged much more often than the older generations. We want to feel like we are constantly pushing ourselves to achieve more than we did last year or last month or yesterday…we always want to be “growing”.

For instance, over the last few months, I have been feeling like there isn’t THAT much new stuff for me to learn in my current apartment manager position and I need to be pushing myself and stretching myself by learning new things—I feel lazy staying where I am in my career. I’ve done it now for 6 years, and while I do learn some new things at each property I go to, the overall big picture is the same.

I know I am capable of more and it can sometimes feel like I am settling or being complacent to stay in the same role when I know I’m ready, and very capable, of more… more responsibility, more intellectually challenging work, more problem solving.

Desire For A Promotion

So, really, this desire for “promotion” is not entitlement – it’s stemming from a desire for newness and more challenges and to push ourselves to always be getting better and never settling… not so much for a bigger title or more money…well, it’s a little bit about more money.

Our world costs more than it did 20 years ago, and my generation is experiencing the debt roller coaster right now. We used debt more than any other generation to get what we wanted right now!  This invention of taking home our toys now and not paying for them til later was genius! But then… we all realized how dependent it made us on jobs to carry around all this debt and we are furiously trying to paying it all off right now, which takes money.

Debt isn’t the only thing we are all freaking out about. How the heck are we going to retire? Our parents’ 401K accounts lost thousands in the past few years… my grandparents conserve their income like they are back in the depression again because their money isn’t making money anymore. But my generation thinks that is the biggest joke we have ever heard, so our choices through our career are more selfish because we believe we have to plan for our own retirement, which causes us to make a lot of decisions that “are the best thing for me and my family” and in turn, not usually the best thing for the organization we are working for.  Herein lies the basis for the lack loyalty I was talking about before.

My Final Thoughts

There is a slogan out there that I think can be helpful in painting the picture of “paying your dues” to the younger generations. Nike has picked it up and has a couple t-shirts that proudly display the mantra.

There’s a lengthy process of using high pressured equipment to slowly saw off small shavings of a rough diamond until it’s finally a beautiful gem. We must be reminded that success, in whatever form we seek it, must be earned and developed. It isn’t given to us. The HBR article said Gen Y doesn’t need slogans, but since we don’t like to read instructions and just like to “do”… the message should probably be short and sweet.

‘No Pressure. No Diamonds’

-Maria Lawson

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