Is Gen Y Getting Smarter? No. More Careful? Probably.

The venerable WSJ was talking about us this week, and I saved it till the weekend as post fodder. The gist:

“People said many Gen Y-ers, also called Millennials, had an excess sense of entitlement and were arrogant and lazy. They wanted to do work on their terms and it seemed they wanted feedback on that work every five minutes.

But then the economy tanked. Now, millions of Gen Y-ers are reinventing themselves to show how much, and how quickly, they can add value to their organizations.”

The author goes on to use one young woman as an example of a reinventor who is doing it right. Kudos to Holly Hoffman in TX, for being one of the Gen Y-ers who “gets it.”

Lauded strategies included: Becoming good workplace citizens and adding value to the company.

Clothes Casualties

First, the low blow about becoming a good workplace citizen: Now we can dress ourselves. Appearance has for some reason become a sticking point for our generation. In our defense, increasingly casual workplaces where client interaction is solely virtual or flextime schedules allow for a brief in-office stint in jeans on a Tuesday, also play a role in our ability to dress ourselves “appropriately.”

Also, there is a learning curve when you enter adult life. College classes have become so informal, it’s acceptable to go to class greasy, hungover and wearing a hat. Yeah, I did it too. So if learning to dress appropriately is a baby step for us, ok. Leave your flip flops at home, kids.

It’s also an age of self-branding and a strong investment in individuality in a cluttered world. Our debt-ridden generation might occasionally slip in a low-cut blouse or Killers tee under a jacket just to stretch the wardrobe out a little. (Plus, I need more cool clothes if every time I go out, Facebook proves to the world I only have so many go-to heels + fancy top combinations. No one posts pics of work days and accompanying attire.)

The Duh Moment… Maybe I Should Actually Try

The better points of  becoming good workplace citizens are promptness, following up and exercising better judgment. None of this is rocket science. We knew we should be doing this. If we weren’t pushing ourselves to be our best versions of ourselves on the job, it’s our problem. Finding motivation in your 20’s, when you’re still several career moves away from your passion, can be an issue. But these good traits of simple accountability to your job duties screams that our generation wasn’t pushed hard enough for it earlier in life, in fear of damaging our precious self esteem. If the economy is scaring us into putting our best feet forward, good.

Also, “better judgement.” I guess that means heeding the forever reminders of “(Potential) Employers can SEE YOU on FACEBOOK. You might drink a BEER out on Friday night with your friends at a BAR” (where presumably everyone is over 21). We get it. If any of my peers have pictures from freshman year keg stands still unprotected on Facebook, I have no pity for you. It’s called privacy settings, and they are there for a reason.

Adding Value and Learning

Innovation

Adding value is largely dependent on two things: Innovation and a big picture focus. If a company can allow a Millenial to try something new that is well-researched and thoughtful, give them a chance. We can’t add anything new to our processes unless you let us. Employers, we know we’re barely above making coffee in your eyes, and I realize that more than you do. Don’t scare away any initiative by creating a hierarchical culture that intimidates us, and let us make a mistake or two. We’ll respect you for listening to us and being open to change. If this idea didn’t work, the next one will be better.

However, I’ve seen Gen Y’s pitch before they do their research, often stepping on toes by suggesting something new without understanding the big picture or knowing the backstory.  Maybe the department already thought of, discussed and discarded an idea, possibly painfully. Know what you’re talking about – be careful to vett your idea around before talking to your manager – or they’ll just be irritated to have to go into something that’s dead and gone, that you thought you were so smart to have thought of first.

Networking

Finding smart people to learn from isn’t just a newbie strategy. We all need personal think-tanks and sounding boards to rely on when we need help. I think most Gen Y’ers know that they aren’t on the top rung of the ladder, for a reason. We have a lot to learn, and need smart people who are willing to listen to our ideas and cultivate honest dialog.

Using the social media and other online tools we’re proficient with, to either network or teach the company how to improve workflow and community, is a great way to both add to your personal contact list and add value.

The worst Gen Y’ers are the ones who are still self-centric and immature. They forget to invest in other people by listening, making personal connections with as many people as possible, and thinking the job is there to fulfill your needs — not vice-versa. The best are building a smart network to broaden their worldview, add valuable perspective and wisdom, and using that base to innovate.

That’s how Gen Y adds value, while minding their P’s and Q’s.

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