Clients often ask me who Generation Y are. I am not always sure how to interpret this question. Do they mean how old are they now, or what makes them tick? I shall attempt to answer both questions. Generation Y were born roughly between the 1980’s and 2000’s. As Dr. Graeme Codrington in his book ‘Mind the Gap’ says, they are the generation too young to remember the world before Communism ended in 1989, and too young to remember the world before the Internet, cell phones and email. The rest of this blog shall answer the second half of the question: what makes them tick, or who are they really?

I love the Millenial Generation. They are full of contradictions. Otherwise known as Generation Y (because they wear their jeans so low), the Echo Boomer generation (because they actually have a lot in common with Baby Boomers in their optimism, desire to make the world a better place and their networking abilities), the Born Free generation (the first generation born in the new South Africa), the Net Generation (because they have grown up with the Internet), the ‘Me-We’ generation (because they are great collaborators but also look out for themselves) – and the generation with the most names because they have always grown up in a world of so much choice. I am very familiar with this generation, because I had the good fortune of teaching them at high school for 7 years, but actually they taught me far more about life than I could have imagined. They are wise, astute, perceptive, emotionally generous and articulate, but only if they feel safe enough to have a voice (which the system does not always afford them). That is their gift. I love them because they are difficult and opinionated, honest, tolerant and open-minded. I love them because they are idealistic and curious, creative, imaginative, and innovative. I love them because they care and they know they will change the world, because they have to, because they know we live in a world that cannot sustain itself they way we are going. They are civic minded, charitable and caring. This has been my experience of them anyway.

But in the corporate world I am often confronted with managers lamenting that this generation have a sense of entitlement, that they want too much too quickly. That they require too much hand holding, that they are molly-coddled and don’t know to survive ‘the way we did’.

I want to leave you with these thoughts: Generation Y have entered a most confusing workplace. Youth unemployment is at it’s highest ever, the education they are told to get doesn’t guarantee them anything, all industries as we know them are under threat and the future is uncertain. Now imagine being young, hopeful, naive and desperate to navigate your way through a workplace you are not familiar with in order to get ahead and survive.

Next time you come into contact with a Gen Y at work, ask them questions, they will willingly offer up an opinion, and see how much you can learn from them.

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