Let us stop stereotyping Generation Y workers

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There’s an article titled “How Will Millennials Manage?” on Harvard Business School’s web site. It’s written by James Heskett, a professor at Harvard’s b-school. According to his own experience and that of the many managers he’s known and interviewed, Heskett writes this summary of the work habits of Generation Y (bolds mine):

They are generally bright, cheery, seemingly well-adjusted, and cooperative. They’ll pull an “all-nighter” for a good reason, but they won’t let that kind of thing intrude regularly on their personal lives. Their work styles are sometimes confounding. They need to work in a social environment, often one that would appear to some of us as chaotic. This means, however, that they are very good at working in teams. They are good at multi-tasking, understand how to employ technology productively, and as a result can often produce good work at what appears to be the last minute. They are focused on their own personal development. They want an accelerated path to success, often exaggerate the impact of their own contributions, are not willing “to pay the price,” and have little fear of authority. As a result, they are often not a good bet for long-term employment, because they are quite willing to seek other employment (or no employment) rather than remain in a job in which they are not growing. They want their managers to understand their needs and lay out career options. As the authors of a recent book, Managing the Generation Mix, put it, they demand “the immediate gratification of making an immediate impact by doing meaningful work immediately.” In short, they are high maintenance, high risk, and often high output employees.

You’ve heard this all before, especially if you’re actually of the group born after 1978. Americans loooove to slap labels on groups of people–seems the bigger the group and the broader the generalizations, the better. It’s hugely annoying if you’re the one being labeled–particularly if the label is negative. But the stereotyping is so rampant that pretty much all of grown-up, working American thinks today’s young workers are, in a world, spoiled.

I propose a moratorium on workforce labeling. It irks me no end to be lumped in with all working moms (conflicted, frantic, bitter!), or with all of Generation X (surly, lazy, no-good!), or with all gum-chewing, karate-chopping 36-year-old writers in New York of multi-ethnic descent (oh, right, that’s probably just me).

It’s not that some of those labels don’t apply; all you Millennials (gah, I hate that term–propose others, readers, puh-leeze!) probably see something of yourselves in Prof. Heskell’s description, too. But fer cryin’ out loud. Does it really do anybody any good in any work situation to stick people in behavioral categories? I’m sure there’s an industrial/organizational psychologist out there who’d argue–well, yes, it does help. But in the open forum of public discourse, I argue it doesn’t.

Let us be who we are. Let us prove our own worth. Let young people new to the workforce discover their career strengths and weaknesses on their own, without the weight of cultural expectations. Let’s stop stereotyping Gen Y workers.

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