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How Generation Y Works

He's scored the Generation Y dream job -- one that lets him head to the pool with his laptop rather than being cooped up in a stuffy office all day.
He's scored the Generation Y dream job -- one that lets him head to the pool with his laptop rather than being cooped up in a stuffy office all day.
©iStockphoto.com/IsaacLKoval

First there were the Baby Boomers. Then Generation X, popularized by Douglas Copeland's 1991 novel "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture." Now, as a logical (if not very creatively named) next step, we have Generation Y -- a term that's often credited to a 1993 Ad Age article.

This demographic designation generally refers to people who were born between 1978 and 1989, although the group is sometimes expanded to include all those who entered the world between 1977 and 2000. The large discrepancy in dates is because when it comes to defining a generation, the boundaries are quite fluid. It's never the case that a switch is thrown and all new babies born afterward suddenly change their characteristics.

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Yet, as the 76 million kids who grew up in the '80s and '90s are beginning to become young adults, certain overall traits are emerging that do tend to distinguish them from the Gen X'ers that came before.

The most significant difference between generations X and Y are that X kids are often thought of as the abandoned generation -- raised at a time when both parents had to enter the workforce leaving their "latchkey kids" to fend for themselves -- while Gen Y'ers are considered the most parented generation in history.

They are also the largest generation of youth in history -- being three times larger than Gen X'ers -- which often earns them the term "Echo-Boomers." Other terms used to describe Generation Y include Millennials, the Net Generation and the Trophy Generation, due to the tendency for kids in this demographic to get trophies from activities regardless of their actual achievement levels.

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These young Gen Y women live life in the moment while enjoying their vacation in Madrid, Spain. They have fun looking goofy in oversized sunglasses, as long as all their friends look goofy, as well.
These young Gen Y women live life in the moment while enjoying their vacation in Madrid, Spain. They have fun looking goofy in oversized sunglasses, as long as all their friends look goofy, as well.
Eyes Wide Open/Getty Images News

They have hundreds of friends who are part of their online social networks, yet they deeply value family connections. They're often considered egotistical and brash, yet they're eager to learn and contribute. They want to make a lot of money, but they also believe in supporting nonprofit causes. They'll pay high prices for brands, but are also aware of the value of a good 401k plan.

The members of Generation Y, perhaps like all the generations to come before them, are a mosaic of traits that often seem incompatible. Perhaps chief among these is their unceasing optimism despite the fact that they grew up at a time when students were gunning down other students and terrorists were crashing planes into buildings. But it seems that instead of making them fearful and introverted, this has imbued Gen Y'ers with a marked positivity. This seems to come from the philosophy that practically anything can happen in life, so you should enjoy the moment while you can.

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Not only have global events shaped their outlook, so have personal moments.

As they watched their parents divorce and friends come out of the closet as gay, Gen Y has become one of the generations that's most open to change of any that came before -- in fact, 93 percent approve of interracial dating relationships [source: Pew].

Yet despite their liberal leanings, the members of Generation Y tend to be much bigger conformists than the more radical, individualistic X'ers that came before them. They want to have an impact on the world, but they're happy to do so wearing the same "cool" jeans and sneakers as the rest of their friends.

Next: how Generation Y fits -- or doesn't -- in today's workplace.

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Due to the endless positive feedback that was showered upon Gen-Y kids throughout their lives, the young adults of this generation tend to be extremely confident -- some would say overconfident. They tend to enter the workforce with very high expectations both for themselves and for their employers, and they often have plans to effect change at their company from day one. They also often have much higher salary expectations than entry-level positions actually pay, although this has been tempered somewhat by the Great Recession.

Additionally, because many members of this generation have headed home after graduating college (giving them the nickname of the Peter Pan Generation for not really "growing up" and heading out on their own until their early 30s), they have the luxury of bouncing from job to job until they find one that suits them. This lack of fear about holding on to one job tends to make them outspoken and unafraid of the boss.

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While job security might not be near the top of the list for young Gen Y'ers, financial security certainly is. Often having watched their parents loose bundles in the stock market or as a result of the housing market crash, Gen Y'ers tend to be savvy about finances and value a robust 401k plan from their employer.

Yet this generation tends to keep money -- and work -- in its place. Gen Y'ers are likely to see work as something that helps them live the rest of their lives rather than seeing work as life -- in other words, they work to live rather than living to work. On the whole, they'd rather work at an interesting job for less money that allows them plenty of time out of the office (or working at home) rather than putting in 12-hour days for a six-figure salary.

In short, Gen Y'ers want stimulating work that gives them lots of opportunity for change and growth -- both personally and professionally. They crave instant feedback at work, much in the same way text messages to their friends are often answered within seconds, or their posts on Facebook are quickly "liked." They don't want to be cogs in a corporate machine, nor do they want simply to be told what to do by an overbearing boss. They want to shape and be shaped by their daily work experience -- and if that experience could include working with their friends in a casual and fun environment, so much the better.

Want to know more? Keep reading for lots more information about Generation Y.

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Sources

  • Armour, Stephanie. "Generation Y: They've arrived at work with a new attitude." USA Today. Nov. 6, 2011. (April 26, 2011)http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2005-11-06-gen-y_x.htm
  • Asthana, Anushka. "Generation Y: They don't live for work … they work to live." The Guardian -- The Observer. May 25, 2008. (April 28, 2011)http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/may/25/workandcareers.worklifebalance
  • Brand Strategy. "GENERATION Y RESEARCH: What makes 'y' tick. (capturing echo boomers' market." Feb. 5, 2007. (May 4, 2011)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-158887447.html
  • Cape Argus. "Generation Y 'will make history'." May 26, 2010. (May 2, 2011)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-227367631.html
  • GenYPedia™. "Welcome to GenYPedia™ -- The Gen Y Encyclopedia." (April 30, 2011)http://www.genypedia.com/
  • Levit, Alexandra. "Gen Y Gets Working." The Wall Street Journal. May 3, 2009. (April 29, 2011)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124131312939880579.html
  • Lusk, Brittani. "Study finds kids take longer to reach adulthood." The Daily Herald. Dec. 5, 2007. (May 5, 2011)http://www.heraldextra.com/news/article_3db6743c-35bc-5e6a-a737-938b93f57ac3.html
  • M2 Presswire. "Ashridge research into 'Generation Y' sorts fact from fiction." June 17, 2009. (May 1, 2011)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-201947963.html
  • Pew Research Center. "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next." Feb. 24, 2010. (April 25, 2011)http://pewresearch.org/millennials/
  • Theilfoldt, Diane and Devon Scheef. "Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations." Law Practice Today. August 2004. (April 27, 2011)http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt08044.html
  • Treuren, Gerry and Kathryn Anderson. "The employment expectations of different age cohorts: is Generation Y really that different?" Australian Journal of Career Development. Dec. 22, 2010. (May 3, 2011)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-231506184.html
  • Trunk, Penelope. "What Gen Y Really Wants." Time. July 5, 2007. (May 1, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1640395,00.html
  • Tulgan, Bruce. "Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y." Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint. 2009.

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