In the 1980s Jobs were predictable. So were people. Work was structured around 8-hour days and 40-hour weeks and pay related to experience. Getting into the office early and staying late was therefore the way to the corner office with a potted plant.
I was talking to the marketing director of a big food company recently and she was lamenting the fact that after 5.30pm her office was empty. Her exact words were: “You have absolutely no idea what it’s like”. The reason for this is that her office is full (or rather it isn’t) of aged twenty-something members of Generation Y (people born after 1980) and they have much better things to do.
Similarly, I recently heard about company that had hired a member of Gen Y as a receptionist. After two weeks the director in charge received a text message that simply read, “I quit â˜¹ ”. Ridiculous? Of course. It’s called Instant Digital Gratification. But then there’s a firm of accountants I work with that sends prospective graduate recruits acceptance/rejection letters by text so perhaps we have only ourselves (and them) to blame.
So what is going on here?
First of all the economy has changed. Talent is in great demand and in most industries demand for Gen Y employees outstrips supply. Hence Gen Y is in the driving seat and they are behaving just like anyone would given a powerful new car and no driving lessons. This has recently changed due to the economic situation but things could soon return to normal.
However, I think there is more to it than this. Gen Y is promiscuous because they don’t want to get screwed. If you are old enough to remember your mum or dad being sacked or made redundant (retrenched, downsized or de-layered) you will do anything in your power to avoid the same fate. Corporations might be playing the tree hugging loyalty card right now but it wasn’t too long ago that unwanted employees were thrown to the wind with no more than a backward glance.
So what goes around blows around.
But the real reason for Gen Y behaving like it does is technology. Gen Y employees are good workers. They are diligent and task oriented but they are not concerned about time or place. Hence, if the work is done, why hang around? Moreover,Gen Y is famed for their ability to multi-task and to collaborate within networks.This means that they can do some things quicker. So, if you can do your work on a laptop at 11.45pm at home what’s with the 5.30pm physical presence thing?
And this, whether you like it or not, is part of the future of work. Offices will become drop-in centres (40% of IBM’s current 386,500 employees have no official office) and remuneration will be piecemeal. Individuals will not be paid for their time, but for what they produce. Contracts will become more flexible and telecommuting will be an option for those that want it, so some people will become digital nomads.
Technology will revolutionise work in other ways too. At simplyhired.com you can view job postings but you can also click to receive information about salaries in similar jobs and hyper-link to networking sites where you can find someone you know who already works for the company that you are interested in. Mash this up with Google maps and you will soon be able to check out potential commuting routes, travel times and even the proximity of friends and local shopping malls.
Things like this may seem revolutionary but to Gen Y it’s just how things are.
Gen Y has grown up with rapid technological change and this makes them expect change and speed as a matter of course. They have zero attention spans and get bored easily. They also have less loyalty to organisations, especially when the organisation seem not to care (about them or the wider environment) or fails to provide a quick and hassle-free route to the top within the next 36-months.
Those last two points are actually quite serious. It is well known that Gen Y is concerned about social and environmental issues. Hence a job with meaning is de rigor these days. But it is also a common Gen Y desire to accumulate as much money as quickly as possible. This means that Gen Y is ambitious and optimistic. But they are also debt ridden and anxious. They expect things to work out but there is no Plan-B, C or D if they do not.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression will be the most significant condition in the year 2020. Do they know something we don’t?