Category Archives: Generation Y

Listen to Mom – Why I Want To Work With Gen Y

I’ve now been working with Gen Ys for a couple of years and I must say you’re a pretty amazing bunch. As Baby Boomers, we pretty much dominated the work place for most of my work life so I could easily relate to how we all did business.

Then entered Gen X. I couldn’t understand what they were or are about. But Gen Ys–I admire how smart you are, how ambitious, and your desire to have meaningful work. I totally get what you are even before I read Money’s Generation Y: They’ve arrived at work with a new attitude. I immediately felt that difference when I first met the 20-somethings in our organization.

I feel the vibrancy of new ideas, ideas that can make big changes in my old bureaucratic organization if only the Baby Boomers in power will allow it. I applaud you. I want more of you hired at my workplace. I want Gen Ys to change the face of how big organizations do business. And I want to mentor you to be successful at work place politics until you become the bosses.

Gen Ys invigorate me. You inspire me to do more outside of the box. Truly. But I’m a Baby Boomer minority. My advice is don’t be discouraged at how Baby Boomers work. I’ve learned that it takes time for change to take root. I’m even waiting for my older Baby Boomers to retire so that us younger Baby Boomers can make changes.

It always helps to know and understand the boss. This might give you some insight on Boomers and probably your parents.

I look forward to more from you. Hang in there! (A popular Baby Boomer poster from 70’s.)

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New Guest Post Series – Listen To Mom

 In an effort to keep this blog fresh and interesting, I have teamed up with HR Mom, a baby-boomer, civil servant with over 30 years of experience in human resources, to offer her perspective on what it’s like to work in Government in a new guest post series I am calling “Listen to Mom.”

About HR Mom in her own words:

I stumbled right out of college into human resources in 1973 when it was still called “personnel.” As a personnel assistant for a local Westin hotel, I learned personnel from the ground up. During that time I decided then that work experience was more valuable than a college degree.

I expanded my work and life experiences while with a small real estate firm, a branch office of Multi-List McGraw-Hill, a franchise of a national restaurant, and a local manufacturing company. Decided in 1989, that working for civil service could not be any worse than working for that local manufacturing company.

So began my 20-year career in local state and city government. I’ve worked as a recruiter, a labor relations specialist, labor relations manager, and now as the HR manager for a city department. And I’ve never wanted to return to boring, unchallenging corporate America.

In addition to sharing her thoughts on work and civil service, HR Mom is also happy to answer reader questions and offer advice as a seasoned HR professional. If you have a question for HR Mom, please email it to officenewb@gmail.com.

Wanted: Smart Students With No Experience

In light of a record number of layoffs at U.S. companies in just the past few months, you’d think that businesses who still had money to hire new recruits would be overjoyed with an abundance over-qualified, experienced candidates, desperate enough to work entry-level jobs for entry-level wages.

Not so at one popular online real-estate firm.

They’ve decided to take an alternate approach, foregoing the usual “experience=quality” theory in favor of a “quality” educational background. Here are some of their required qualifications (taken directly from their website):

Strong academic record: we are looking for people who excelled at a top-25 university.

Liberal arts degree: we want someone who not only writes clearly and precisely, but has some intellectual interests, and panache too.

Entrepreneurial energy, creativity: in your interview, we’ll ask you for three or four ideas on how our website could be better. Come prepared!”

Top-25 Student

As a graduate of a top-ranked state university (Go Huskies!), I take offense to the implication that a strong academic record can only be achieved from a so-called “top 25 university.” What exactly is a top-25 university anyway? A google search turned up nothing conclusive. Does this mean ivy-league? Does this mean US News & World Report ranked? Does this mean nationally-ranked? Regionally-ranked?

Does an ivy-league education always equate to quality academic achievement? Not in my experience. Sometimes smart people can’t afford to go to the best schools and have to (gasp!) attend a local university. But they do well in their classes, learn a lot and go on to be successful. And sometimes people go to ivy-league universities and whittle the time away drinking and majoring in a subject whose department only scheduled classes after 10am.

I suppose that academic achievement is one of the few measurements an employer can use to gauge an employee’s potential when interviewing, but in this economy, why would you take a chance on an unproven work history (note that internships are not even mentioned, just the quality of educational institution) when you have so many other experienced candidates out there?

Liberal Snobs

I’ve written before about how liberal arts degrees can be valuable in the workplace. But as a liberal arts degree holder myself, I don’t think liberal arts majors hold the monopoly on “intellectual interests.” Is this company implying that a business major is incapable of writing well and being intellectually stimulating? My boyfriend majored in business and he’s one of the most tuned-in, well-read, intellectually curious people I know.

And if liberal arts majors as a whole are more “interesting,” is there a hierarchy within academia that elevates certain subjects as more intellectual? Does the intelligence quotient go up the more obscure your area of study? Medieval history majors above political science majors above run-of-the-mill English majors?

Also, I find it funny that the job ad equates writing “clearly and precisely” with liberal arts majors. Don’t they realize that your grade on an essay is mostly based on length and depth and not necessarily on clarity or brevity?

Entrepreneurial Desk Job

What strikes me as so funny about this particular requirement is that Generation-Y is often labeled the “entrepreneur generation,” with many successful people under 25 starting their own multi-million dollar business. If I were a successful liberal arts graduate from a top-25 university and was entrepreneurially-minded, why would I come work for your company? Why wouldn’t I just start my own?

No truly intellectually-minded student would want to work in an industry that is rapidly shrinking, is suffering from negative PR because it just played a huge part in the worst economic crisis in close to a century, and for a company that just laid off 20% of its workforce.

I also find it ironic that this online real-estate company asks the candidate to come prepared with ideas on how to improve the site experience. What recent graduate just out of school has the money or wherewithal to buy real-estate? They might be able to suggest the latest and greatest social media technology. The truly tech-savvy ones might be able to give suggestions on how to improve the design for better usability. But I highly doubt that any fresh-faced 22-year old would have the occasion to use the site as a consumer, and isn’t the key to a successful service business providing the most useful service to customers?
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Why I Hate “Best Places To Work” Lists

Last week I was surprised to receive a press release from Fortune Magazine announcing the publication of their annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”. (How did they find me? Was it from the post I wrote blasting their Gen-Y expert? ). This instantly stirred up some negative feeling on my part because frankly,

I think “Best Places To Work” lists are a HUGE SHAM!

Why do I feel this way? Because I once worked for a company that would routinely end up on these “Great Places to Work” lists and let me tell you, it was anything but great. My company’s placement was more a testament to how skilled our PR person was at promoting the company than a true representation of the company’s quality of life.

However, most of the publications who publish these types of lists boast about how comprehensive their survey criteria are. For example, here is what was listed in the Fortune press release:

“To select the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” FORTUNE works with Levering and Moskowitz of the Great Place to Work Institute—a global research and consulting firm with offices in 30 countries—to conduct the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. More than 81,000 employees from 353 companies responded to the 57-question survey created by the Institute. Two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey, which is sent to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees. The remaining third is based on the Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about demographics, pay and benefits, and open-ended questions on philosophy, communication and more.”

Note how only “two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey” of its employees, while the extra third is based on some nebulous “Culture Audit” which is most likely a buzzword-infested love fest where management and HR get together in one room and espouse how they promote “work-life balance” and “family-friendly” policies (when in reality, they probably offer neither).

If a company offers such great perks and benefits, wouldn’t it show through in an employee survey?

I remember one such survey I was forced to take on behalf of my company (and when I say “forced” I mean they mass emailed us every week to “remind” us to vote and put up fliers all over the office about the survey. They even posted them in the bathroom stalls!), where I literally gave them negative values (on a scale of 0 – 5) and they still managed to make it onto a “Best Places To Work” list. And this was after my company “extended” the deadline to vote because they didn’t even garner the 50% response rate on the survey needed to submit to the publication.

It’s also interesting to note how many companies made it onto Fortune’s list who are now suffering from mass layoffs. In my home-state of Washington, 2 of the 6 “Best Corporate Headquarters” based in Washington (Microsoft  and Starbucks) just announced massive layoffs. Other struggling companies that made it onto the Top 100 list also included Whole Foods Market and eBay. Are layoffs not considered to negatively impact employee morale or company perks, bonuses and performance?

So when it comes to “Best Companies To Work For” lists, I take the advice of Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk:

“You can forget the lists. The bar is so low to get on the lists that which company is on and which company is off is statistically irrelevant.”

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English: The Hot New Business Degree

When I was a sophomore in college, I, like many others, went through an existential crisis about what to major in. Zoology? Sociology? Psychology? What subject could I stand to study non-stop for the next two years? How did I want to define myself and my interests for the rest of my life? After a taking a few personality tests and performing some deep soul searching, I finally settled on Comparative Literature. My decision was immediately questioned when I informed my family of my intended major.

Family: “Comparative Literature? What is that?”

Me: “It’s kind of like an English degree.”

Family: “English?! What are you going to do with an English degree? Why don’t you major in something useful like accounting or computers?”

I have always possessed a passion for reading and a talent for writing so majoring in English seemed like a natural fit. While my family was disappointed in the short run, I have proven how valuable good reading comprehension and quality writing can be in the job market. As a brand new graduate, I was able to land a full-time job as an editor for an internet company. My friends who choose the more “useful/lucrative” major of business ended up staying in school longer only to have the pleasure of paying for the privilege of a prestigious internship that consisted mostly of stuffing goodie bags for employee parties.

Can English majors be more successful than Business majors? And if so, what skills do they posses that make them more successful?

The key difference between English and professional majors (business, engineering, computer science) seems to be the quality of a graduate’s writing abilities. As reported by Financial Week:

In 2006, 81% of corporate leaders rated the writing of high school graduates as deficient and nearly 28% gave similarly low marks to four-year college graduates, according to survey data compiled by a consortium that included the Conference Board and the Society for Human Resource Management.

As writing skills slide, Americans are squandering an inherent competitive advantage, says Linda Barrington, a co-author of the 2006 report and research director at the Conference Board. “We have the asset of our language being the language of [international] business,” she says. “If we don’t write it well, we are wasting a huge asset that we have in the global economy.”

 

The bulk of my time in college was spent reading books and then writing analytical, persuasive essays about my interpretation of the material. There were no tests, no real “studying” of any kind. Many of my peers in the science disciplines often chided me for being in such an “easy” major since I wasn’t required to memorize facts, conduct lab experiments or solve complex mathematical equations (haven’t taken math since Junior year of high school and I’ve never looked back). While I can see how folks could view the English curriculum as less rigorous, frankly, it’s challenging to think critically about something you’ve read, develop an opinion about it and then fill 10+ pages with coherent thoughts about why you think what you do.

 

Being able to express ideas effectively and concisely is a prized skill in the corporate world.

 

Confusing or unclear writing can be costly in a variety of ways, say Mr. Appleman and other writing coaches. The fallout can include interpersonal misunderstandings, lost work time, jeopardized business deals—or all of the above. “Bad writing wastes time, and time is money,” Mr. Appleman says. “It hurts productivity. And I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.”

 

…Sloppy or unclear writing can corrode today’s business interactions, particularly given that in-person meetings and even telephone calls are less common, says J.D. Schramm, director of the CAT (Critical Analytical Thinking) Writing Program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “Because we are writing so much more, it becomes an extension and a representation of us.”

 

While students with professional-track degrees are always going to be sought after for their specialized knowledge that liberal arts majors just don’t have (I nearly failed Accounting 101), rounding out a professional education, be it business, computing science or engineering, with a few composition courses will make any graduate more valuable to a potential employer.

 

Related Reading:

 

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An Answer to the Gen-Y Question

As a young professional in the business world I try really hard everyday to fight the stereotypes bestowed upon my generation: lazy, incompetent, entitled. Sadly, for every qualified, ambitious young person I know who is trying to climb the corporate ladder, I know of five more who show up late, in flip flops and spend most of their day surfing the net and wondering why their bosses don’t treat them with the respect they think they deserve.

While the young generation may be ushering a new way to do business, the most successful young people I know are the ones who are following the rules, not the ones intent on breaking them.

Case in point, a recent profile by the Wall Street Journal draws attention to the deconstruction of proper business correspondence by recent graduates and other entry-level workers:

After interviewing a college student in June, Tory Johnson thought she had found the qualified and enthusiastic intern she craved for her small recruiting firm. Then she received the candidate’s thank-you note, laced with words like “hiya” and “thanx,” along with three exclamation points and a smiley-face emoticon.

“That email just ruined it for me,” says Ms. Johnson, president of New York-based Women For Hire Inc. “This looks like a text message.”

As someone who holds a literature degree, I understand the argument that language is constantly evolving, that grammar rules are dynamic rather than static and blah, blah, blah. But regardless of this, I have to ask:

Why are so many of today’s young people lacking basic social awareness?

The Wall Street Journal explains:

The trend may reflect a cultural divide between younger and older workers, says David Holtzman, author of “Privacy Lost: How Technology Is Endangering Your Privacy.” “It’s driven by the communication technology that each generation has grown up with,” he adds. Workers in their 20s and younger are accustomed to online and cellphone messaging, and the abbreviated lingua franca that makes for quick exchanges, he says. “It’s just natural for them. They don’t realize that it’s perceived to be disrespectful.”

Does emotional intelligence not dictate that we communicate differently with different groups of people? Language that would be appropriate for your peers would not necessarily be appropriate for your parents/teachers/professors/bosses. Is this such a hard concept to grasp? Hasn’t this social etiquette been unchanging for generations?

To add insult to perceived injury, young recruits are not only using communicating inappropriate messages, they are transmitting them using inappropriate media.

Some job hunters are earning the rebuke of recruiters by taking thank yous to another extreme — by sending them hastily from their mobile phones. The move suggests an on-the-fly mentality, as if the applicants haven’t taken time to think about why they want the job or why they are saying thanks, says Wendi Friedman Tush, president of Lexicomm Group, a boutique communications firm in New York. “It always says ‘From my Blackberry,’ ” she says. Candidates “should sit down at their computer in a thoughtful way and do it, not while they’re on their way somewhere,” she says.

Most folks over 40—heck, over 30—aren’t familiar with text messaging. So why would someone think it acceptable to text message an older, potential employer? And personally, I agree that as a hiring manager I would not appreciate a hastily written thank you written mere minutes after an interview. It just rings false. I would much rather hire a candidate that shows they can take time, think thoroughly through an issue and craft an intelligent, thoughtful response than a candidate that speeds through a “nicety” while walking and chewing gum at the same time they check their email and scan the latest sports scores.

I think young people today are just as smart, capable and productive as the generations before them. But they are stumbling when it comes to emotional intelligence. And emotional intelligence is what makes good managers, top sales people and successful business people. Until these folks learn the subtle intricacies of social grace, there will continue to be friction between old and young generations.

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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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