Since my PhD work is largely a study of a particular generation (Generation Y a.k.a. Millennials or Net Generation), I wanted to share some of my thoughts on what I’ve learned so far about Generation Y. There are a number of stereotypes being tagged to this generation and like all other generations, Generation Y is sharply criticized by its parent generation. I myself am very guilty of this. The one advantage I believe I have over others is that I’m actually academically studying this generation. I am starting to understand (which is not always the same thing as condoning) the way they think and interact in their ever evolving world. Hopefully this will shed some light on this generation and maybe increase your understanding. Lack of generational understanding, I believe is the root cause of many of our problems today.
Generation Y is unique in our study of generations. Since we began naming generations, which is a relatively new thing in our history, no other generation has been as defined by technology as Generation Y has. Generation Y consist of anyone born between 1980 and 2001 (Van Meter, Grisafee, Chonko, & Roberts, 2013). Those that came of age in 2000 are referred to as Millennials and those who were born around the 1990s are referred to as the Net Generation. Millennials had many of the same things that Generation X had, including cable TV, Atari game consoles, big hair, and dial up internet. The Net Generation subset of Generation Y has no conscious memory (as a generation) of a world without internet access. They have grown in a world where communication technology has eclipsed our abilities as humans to effectively use it.
I remember my parents (Baby Boomers) complaining about my generation’s (Gen Xers) expectations, and I’ve heard my grandparents (The Greatest Generation) complain about the Baby Boomers. Complaining about the next generation is cyclical in human history and will probably never change. Now, I have heard and even used the argument that Generation Y is a generation that feels a since of entitlement. It’s hard to refute that they feel entitled but they are this way because we, the older generation, have fostered and even encouraged that since of entitlement through our actions. I am not attempting to make excuses for behavior but I am equitably assigning responsibility for that behavior. Generation Y is not unique in their since of entitlement. The entitlement mentality is a byproduct of our prosperity as a country and each generation since the Baby Boomers have felt entitled based on the benefits they receive on a day to day basis.
I have trained members of Generation Y since 1999 when I received brand new privates into my squads and platoons who were born in the early 80s. Since 1999, I have had to work with, train, and in some cases learn from this generation. I can tell you that as individuals, many of this generation can change your perceptions through their deeds. I’ve heard it said that Generation Y expects everything to be handed to them (and yes, I have uttered this phrase myself several times). This morning when I walked into the library, where my office is located, I observed several students on a Friday morning, sitting together in groups studying, comparing notes, and quizzing each other. Yesterday, in a corner of the library, I saw a young lady with 3×5 cards spread out on the floor in front of her as she was preparing for a chemistry test. This generation does understand hard work. I just think the negative examples stick with out more prominently. I employ students with incredible work ethics. Many of the students I employ are high academic achievers and working several jobs to make ends meet. This constantly forces me to re-evaluate my stereotyping of this Generation.
Since my intent in this blog is not to portray the negatives which we all are aware of, I will expand on some of the positives of this generation. Adaptability to change is probably the single biggest advantage this generation has. The timing of my birth, the environment of my upbringing, and my 21 years in the Army have made me, an early Gen Xer, exceptionally adaptable to change. My adaptability pales in comparison to Generation Y. Like the Viet-Nam Veterans of the 1960s and 70s, Generation Y has performed phenomenally well on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and most of those things attributed as failures associated with that conflict are political rather than that of the soldier (as was the case during the Viet-Nam War). In 2003 when the GWOT started the bulk of the fighting force consisted of Generation Y soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, & coastguardsmen. (https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/dcas/).
According to Burstein (2013), this generation is very aware of its impact on the world around it, and many in this generation set the example in philanthropic pursuits. Before we rush to judge, which is a very human characteristic, maybe we should attempt to understand and evaluate. Most of my employees are from Generation Y, with few exceptions I wouldn’t trade them. Over half of the firefighters I work with are from Generation Y, and I absolutely want them backing me up when I’m working a fire, traffic accident, or psychiatric call. And now, as I enjoy my middle age, I don’t want to ever forget the thousands of Generation Y individuals who are daily freezing or sweating their ass of in remote parts of the world, ensuring my safety, feeding the hungry, educating the illiterate, policing our streets, and ensuring my standard of life continues to be comfortable for the foreseeable future. So make it a point to look for the positive!
Author Patrick D. Stoker, MA
Burstein, D. (2013). Fast future: How the millennial generation is shaping our world. Boston,
MA: Beacon Press.
Defense Casualty Analysis System. (2014). https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/dcas/
VanMeter, R., Grisaffe, D., Chonko, L., & Roberts, J. (2013). Generation Y’s ethical ideology
and its potential workplace implications. Journal of Business Ethics, 117(1), 93-109