Gen-Y Changing the World: the Future of the American Workplace

Ryan Healy over at Employee Evolution wrote an extremely interesting post the other day describing the 10 ways Generation Y will change the workplace. With all the media hype about the “challenges” of recruiting a new generation of workers (there are even entire companies dedicated to helping firms do a better job of attracting young workers), it was refreshing to actually see a young person lay out in clear terms what they’d like to see in today’s workplace.

While some of Ryan’s points were definitely valid, I think a few of them missed the mark. Here’s my response to each of these visions of the future:

There Will Be No Such Thing as an Unproductive Meeting

I think that to some extent, there will be a decline in meetings overall as the younger generation of workers take over–not so much because we value efficiency as Ryan claims, but because we are more comfortable using alternate methods of communication such as email or instant messenger. I’ve personally sat through countless meetings where as we all get up to leave you hear people muttering, “Why couldn’t they have just sent us an email about this?”

The older generation of workers are used to different forms of communication, often preferring meetings or phone conversations for something that a Millennial would easily deal with over email. As the workplace becomes more and more tech-savvy, I predict the number of unnecessary face-to-face interactions will decrease.

The Workday Will be Shorter

Ryan foresees that Generation Y is more productive and therefore will have to spend less time at the office to accomplish the same amount of work. Maybe advancing technology will improve productivity in the workplace, but the assumption that Millennials are more productive, is just that, an assumption. It’s been my experience that roughly half of workers at any given company spend most of their day at the office not doing any real work, while the other half works overtime to get everything done. It doesn’t matter how old you are, there will always be lazy people who like to do the minimum and there will always be ambitious people around to pick up the slack.

However, I do agree the Americans are being overworked and that we could all benefit from shorter work hours. But the key to successfully implementing flexible work hours is to create a culture of personal accountability with clear measures of results. How many businesses can say they do that today? And what if your work doesn’t lend itself to that model (like customer service or retail jobs)? It’s going to take a huge attitude shift by upper-management in order to create a model as successful as Best Buy’s or Google’s. But if we can accomplish it, we’ll all be better off for it.

Administrative Assistants Will Make a Comeback

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss’ advocates hiring a personal assistant who can take care of the menial tasks so you are freer to tackle the big projects or just enjoy life fullest. However, the outsourcing model only works if there are people willing to take on menial jobs. But if everyone decided to outsource, who would be around and willing to do the work?

A more sustainable solution would be to completely automate a lot of the menial tasks such as filing or mailing. Or better yet, use technology to eliminate them altogether. Who needs paper copies of anything nowadays? Why not just keep all records online? Most companies are already doing this with things like pay stubs and bank statements. Surely, most other documents will eventually follow. Imagine—a world with no filing cabinets!

Retirement Redefined

Again borrowing from Timothy Ferriss, Ryan proposes the idea of several “mini-retirements” spread out over your lifespan instead of a huge bulk at the end. I think this is a great idea. Who wouldn’t want to take two years off to travel the world, pursue a hobby or just spend more time with their kids?

However, two things currently stand in the way of this being a corporate norm: 1) Americans propensity toward living in debt, and 2) a poor off-/on-ramping corporate culture. The mini-retirement plan is only feasible if you can afford to take a few years off from work or can negotiate extremely favorable vacation terms with your employer. As long as people make smart money decisions and budget accordingly, taking a few mini-retirements is completely possible. But, this does not account for the hostility you might face when trying to explain the gap in your resume once you return and start looking for work again. And if you think resume gaps don’t matter, ask any stay-at-home mom who has tried to re-enter the workforce after a few years at home. It can be done, but the risk of losing career momentum is definitely real.

Real Mentors Will Exist

Personally I’m not sure why everyone is so obsessed with obtaining a mentor. I was once assigned to write an essay in junior high about my role-model. While the other kids wrote about why they admired Michael Jordan or Madonna, I spent three pages explaining why I shouldn’t have to model myself after anyone and that I was happy to forge my own path, thank you very much. But hey, that’s just me.

HR Will Get the Respect it Deserves

What I think Ryan was getting at with this point is that workplaces should do more to encourage a sense of community among workers. Work can and should be a lot more than just a place you go to type on a keyboard all day. The best companies are the ones who engage their employees and make them feel like they are a part of something. No matter how much money they make or how nice the office is, people stay at companies where they have personal ties. This can be as simple as bringing homemade cookies to share each week or setting up college funds for the children of a deceased co-worker (something that actually happened at a company I worked for).

Promotions Will be Based on Emotional Intelligence

Ah, what a wonderful day it will be when all managers will be required to be nice, attentive and encouraging to their employees. While a great thing to strive for, I highly doubt that this will happen anytime soon. People are promoted for a variety of reasons, good and bad. Unless there is a way to eliminate office politics, there will always be an incompetent manager or two out there.

Besides, if we only had good managers, think of all the Dilbert cartoons we’d miss out on?

Parents Will Continue to be a Source of Valuable Information and Advice

I agree that parental advice, especially when just starting out in your career, can be very helpful. However, I’ve found that discussions about work often lead to both me and my parents discovering something useful. The relationship is no longer so much of a teacher-student relationship where I ask for help and my parents give it, but has morphed more into a colleague-to-colleague exchange where we swap stories and get new ideas on how to do things. This will always be valuable to any worker, regardless of age.

Starting Salaries Will be Higher

Ryan’s theory is that with a wealth of information on the internet combined with a decreased desire for raises or promotions will allow Millennials to command higher starting salaries. While I don’t really agree with that, I do think that starting salaries will become higher and higher just due to natural inflation and cost of living increases. With students spending more and more on a college education and finding that their dream of owning a home and supporting a family slipping further and further away, most young people will have to have higher salaries just to maintain a decent lifestyle.

Performance Reviews Will be Re-Invented

Thank goodness! This is a point I can wholly get behind. Nobody likes performance reviews–not employees, not managers, not HR. So why do them? Why not create new systems of evaluation that are actually practical? Why not train managers to give better feedback throughout the year instead of saving up a list of mistakes the employee committed over the year and then throwing it in their face during a formal meeting? There are much better ways to conduct performance reviews than what is currently happening in most American offices. Ryan, I’m rooting for you on this one!
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10 responses »

  1. Pingback: Online Reviews » Blog Archive » Gen-Y Changing the World: the Future of the American Workplace

  2. intersting. regarding retirement redefined..what about maintaining health insurance? this is an issue wih taking extended leaves of absense from the work force. most people can’t afford private insurance nor can they take the risk of theirr family being without it.

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  4. I like the idea of the generations respecting each other’s strengths and learning from each other. Thanks for a thoughtful commentary.

  5. This was a great post. It started me thinking of a lot of topics.

    I’m doing the job as an administrative assistant right now, and I love it! A lot of my current job is based on my superiors not being as computer savvy as I am. So I thought that the opposite would happen, that my position would be phased out. If it proliferates, I’d love that.

    As someone who retired at 26 or so, I can say that I totally agree with mini-retirement. No, I didn’t make a fortune, I just decided to opt out of life for a while. This “retirement” is something that I’ll always have with me. Oh, I was basically retired for a third of this year due to not being able to find a job that did not include blood, animals, dangerous chemicals, or heavy commuting.

    I think that people want a mentor because they believe that people can open doors for them that they can not. In the past, we’d just do what our parents did. Since we rarely do that, we want someone who will care about our career just like our parents to make things easier for us. I would have been overjoyed to have a mentor, but I don’t think I’m the type.

    I have a friend in HR, and I have known HR people to be very kind and helpful. On the other hand, for most jobs I have not gotten, I see HR as a person who knows little about the job they are hiring for. They are gatekeepers to get past. Since I have had a motley assortment of jobs, this looks “risky” to HR people despite the fact that I am a great worker both on paper, according to old bosses, and in reality. When I do not get a job I want and that I am qualified for and they end up hiring people who are not intelligent, and highly unmotivated, this gives me a very bad feeling toward HR. Why do they hire people who are inferior to me to do a job I want to do?

    As the price of energy goes up salaries will go down. With the population going up, and the environment is getting destroyed, there will be more people sitting at a smaller table to fight over a pie that some people are shitting in. Less pie means less money to go around.

    I have to be the only person who likes performance reviews because mine are always high. Even when I have a ton of friction because I am working with someone that nobody can get along with, they rate me super high. It’s nice to see that employers are forced once a year to praise my hard work.

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  7. Pingback: Communication - Personal Development - Business » 9 Ways Gen Y Provides Leadership, and Productivity to Business

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