At a moment when the youngest members of Generation Y graduate from high school, it would be interesting to address a somewhat common complaint about the young population starting their first job experience: “They only think about their salary”.
Far from me to engage in a polemic discussion about the correctness (or not) of this rather unalluring statement. It is my belief that in all generations, we’ll find people adopting this behaviour and its opposite, and any generalization would only fuel controversy. However, I invite you instead to join me in an empathic exercise on the root causes on why this statement is heard so often lately and add some nuance to the debate.
a) The age effect
By definition, the end of adolescence is a period in which young individuals thrive to obtain both a place in an enlarged social group (by joining a company) and financial autonomy. The reason these goals are sought after is that they embody society’s representation of adulthood: social responsibility and autonomy.
Since this is a period of great confusion about one’s own singular identity and the disruption from the peer group can be sudden, young adults tend to cling to parental representations and projections for their future, while at the same time seeking physical separation from them.
b) The context effect
It is precisely on these 2 last points where the current context has seen significant changes in the last decades.
From Traditionalists’ to Boomers’ time, though family expectations and social class limited the career choices, the easiness to acquire a job facilitated the expression of natural inclinations. There was a focus on career orientation that was first talent-based and then limited by social status. Back then, house mortgages were reasonable even on sprawling cities and young adults were able to leave their parent’s homes quickly and constitute family.
With the oil crisis and the massive lay-offs, we’ve entered the age of diploma “overbidding” to land a first job. Not long after that, city realstate prices skyrocketed and haven’t stopped since. These 2 factors combined were responsible for a delayed adolescence period and de-nesting process of Generation Y.
At the same period, corporate raiders changed the way the general population viewed the business world: from a community of engaged individuals with a common goal to a profit-based dehumanized structure. The speech given by Boomers and early-Xers parents, teachers and career counselors about the job market became quite different. Concerns about financial stability and social de-classification gave rise to a message of caution: “focus on market needs and on studies that pay well”. Career orientation became first financially driven and then socially driven. Vocation and meaning were to be pursued outside careers.
c) The generational effect
Pressured by social demands of financial autonomy, most Yers followed this terrible advice and redirected their passion to family, friends and volunteering.
After gaining work experience and attaining the coveted financial independency, many Yers in their early 30s discovered themselves severely dissatisfied with a job or profession that never passed the personal alignment test.
What for previous generations is a cross to bear, for Generation Y it can’t be endured (as they grew up in a social environment in which the meaning of one’s life is determined by the individual). Some turn to psychotherapists and coachs to reconnect with their early passions and prepare meaningful job transitions. Less fortunate ones hop from a job to another in a vain hope of finding one that motivates them without knowing what values drive them in the first place. In either case, the impression they leave with those who stay at the company is one of “mercenaries”.
d) The eye of the beholder effect
By now, you might have experienced not only the complexity but also the personal tragedy behind the origins of this loosely used statement. Empathizing with other generations is the first step to tackling the challenges of today’s world.
By looking more broadly into our societies and businesses for the kind of people we need and value, by realizing the most sought after professions didn’t exist 5 years ago, I hope that you might have realized that as a society we’ve failed in the meaning of work we’ve transmitted to Generation Y. Had the focus remained on vocation, self-discovery and meaning, the story might have been different.
In the midst of a new world crisis, we (parents, teachers and counselors) have the same question in front of us: “How do we prepare our children for entering the job market and adulthood?” The way we answer this question will determine the way future generations will find personal fulfillment and put their real talents to the service of society.
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we should save our country.” Abraham Lincoln
How do you prepare your children for adulthood?