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'Y?' Because we're on the way to the top

Mike Morefield
By Mike Morefield
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 18, 2005
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We are motivated, goal-oriented and fully educated; we are the new work force, and we have come to take over.

As December graduation moves upon UA students, job prospects become more important than weekend plans. Realizations of the fast-approaching working life affect many seniors leaving the campus this winter. A quick look at the environment in which they will be thrown would be wise.

Generation Y is moving into the workforce with gusto, taking positions of power and superseding the baby boomers and older generations in the workplace. The differences in the two groups are staggering and are already causing some conflict, and this generation hasn't even hit 30.

An accepted definition of Generation Y is people who were born between 1977 and 2002. This means that there are 70 million people who will be entering the workforce in the next 20 years who have been raised differently than the generations before them, and have different mindsets in the workplace.

The times are gone when the employers will rule unquestioned by Generation X. Generation Y has been raised with high self-worth and feels its opinions need to be heard.

Problems begin to arise when these differences become more frequent in the workforce. Workers will demand more pay as they sermonize their great contributions to the company.

It's difficult for companies to choose between old experience and young education.

This is radically different from the baby boomers, who saw that humility and work go hand in hand. They have patience in their advancement and will keep their noses to the grindstone until someone notices.

The immediate problem becomes apparent; an employer will more likely promote a person who is more visible and aggressive because he or she is overshadowing the hard-working baby boomer.

The new generation has also grown up with a questioning spirit, one that does not mesh well with the command-and-control environment that dominates the corporate world. When a generation has grown up asking "why?" about eating habits, the world around it and the way things are, it will not easily accept the unpersuasive "because I said so" employer response.

When a company has rigid structure that has been in place for years, the new group of people from Generation Y will question its efficiency or practicality. "Why are we dealing with these paper slips instead of Peoplesoft or Workbook?" we may ask while outwardly pondering the practicality of the internal structuring of a department.

We have no problem expressing our opinions openly on issues or differences, which is shockingly different from previous workforces. The baby boomers see this as hubris or out of line. They don't celebrate the ability to express opinions like the new generation does, causing rifts when the two groups work hand in hand.

Certain middle ground needs to be reached when people are sharing cubes or cooperating on reports, but the differences may segregate the two groups. This could be a failure in the work environment.

One of the largest issues that has arisen is the fast move of members of Generation Y to positions of authority. Young people, fresh out of Accounting 461, are taking responsibilities for employees 10 or 15 years their seniors. They are becoming directors or partners faster than previous generations because higher education has played a vital role in their lives and they are applying their skills.

The baby boomer era did not place the same importance on college that the Generation Y era did. Baby boomers are working with the skills they learned on the job and the life lessons they have accumulated. This is a tough comparison when a generation is armed with bachelor's and master's degrees.

The road of employment will be paved with many things, and sadly, with many baby boomers' careers. It's difficult for companies to choose between old experience and young education, but the decision seems to be falling to the latter. Like all things, change is inevitable and problems will arise.

The choice now is whether to greet the entrenched Generation X with hostility, or to openly accept the wizened workers, brimming with experiential knowledge. Again, choosing the latter is the most advantageous.

Mike Morefield is a political science senior and fellow Generation Y'er. He can be reached at

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