A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

We Need to Wake Up–or Risk Pissing Off an Entire Generation

wake up There is a complete disconnect between people ages 18-25 and the people who hire them (employers–that’s us!) This is a huge problem–one that we as employers need to recognize, and respect, before we lose an entire generation of young workers.

What’s Wrong With Us?

The young people’s discontent starts off early. Their parents and grandparents push this mantra: “Go to college, get a stable job, and then be happy.”

But they don’t see it the same way. The younger generation, by and large, doesn’t want to work for big companies. They want to travel, make their own way in life, etc. They’ve watched the Baby Boomers splurge relentlessly on consumer goods and bigger houses, and realized that it doesn’t make the boomers any happier.

Oh, sure, the kids are trend-aware and brand-conscious–perhaps the most brand-conscious of any generation we’ve seen. But they would rather have one $200 pair of jeans that they love and wear every day than 10 pairs of $20 jeans that don’t fit and look bad. That’s one of the differences between the younger generation and Baby Boomers.

Warning: Generation Y Is “Opting Out”

Brand-conscious though they may be, many of Generation Y are starting to “opt out” of the traditional life their parents envisioned for them. Embracing minimalism, they keep all their things in one backpack and go “couchsurfing”.

Many of Generation Y/Z have gone to college and have college degrees. They have also usually had one of those “stable jobs” that their parents so raved about–working for some big company or government organization where they were a meaningless cog in the wheel. And they gave it up after a short time.

The younger generation has embraced cell phones and laptops as two of their most prized possessions. Their goal? To make enough money to live on while they explore their dreams.

The problem, then, is the giant gulf between what these kids want and what employers have to offer.

What Generation Y Values

The employees of Generation Y and Z value freedom and mobility, and want to have a job that is meaningful. They are willing to work for very little–if that job is for a company whose goals and values they believe in, and their job will make a significant impact on that company.

The employers (Baby Boomers and Generation X), who themselves value stability and security, want to put Generation Y and Z into cubicles and have them do rote work.

And then we wonder why Generation Y and Z are dropping out of the workforce, and choosing to live on a couch for a year or work at a coffee shop instead of doing what we (employers) want them to do.

Both sides need to have a realistic sit-down and come to grips with this reality. If we don’t, we’re going to be faced with an entire generation that abhors “work”, and we employers will have to rely on an ever-shrinking (and more expensive!) pool of older workers.

What Can Both Employers and Employees Do?

As employers, here is what we need to do:

  • Figure out how to satisfy the largely mobile workforce that is Generation Y.
  • Rewrite our job descriptions to show that we care, that we as a company have a mission to change the world in some way, and that we value employees’ freedom.
  • Strongly showcase our mission on our websites and in corporate branding.

And as employees, here’s what Generation Y/Z need to do:

  • Wake up and realize that a job at Starbucks is working for a large corporation, and that you might be far better off going out on your own, starting a startup, or working for a smaller company.
  • For graduates: Don’t shun your field entirely. Find a job that helps you utilize your degree, or start your own business in your field.
  • For Computer Science graduates specifically: Programming is fun! Find a company that values your contribution, and don’t write the whole computer industry off because you had a bad experience working for a huge company or government organization.

The Struggle Between Making a Difference and Making Money

I was born in 1981, and I straddle Generation X and Generation Y. I find I fit in more with the Generation Y way of doing things. I grew up in a large house with parents who weren’t always happy, and I have far less of an attachment to material things than my parents do. I would definitely rather have less stuff and love every item I own.

I’m content starting my own business, but also feel strongly that Generation Y needs to accept that revenue is directly correlated with the value that you give to the world. If you are a “life coach” with no clients who lets your spouse, parents, or other people pay your bills, are you really helping the world in any meaningful way?

If you refuse to get a job because you want to do something more amazing with your life, but then you move back in with your parents, are you really making a contribution to the world? The answer, in my mind, is a firm no.

Changing the world and making a profit don’t have to be at odds with each other. In fact, some of the people changing the world in the biggest way now are the ones who made huge profits and then used those profits to make a massive impact. (Look at the Gates foundation, and Warren Buffett.) Personally, I would rather become a billionaire and start a foundation that helps millions than become a life coach, struggle to find 2 clients, and barely be able to feed myself. I wish more people had this perspective on life. Sadly, many of us just don’t think big enough…

What Changes Can We Make?

Ultimately, I believe it is up to those of us who hire younger people to sculpt our job opportunities to their wishes–to allow more part-time employment; to open up our job positions and allow people to work from anywhere; and to make it clear that we are on a mission to improve the world in a significant way.

But it’s also up to younger people: to not give up on an entire industry because the big company they worked for previously was clueless; to be more open-minded about the types of jobs they accept; and to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to make a huge profit and change the world–that, in fact, making a huge profit may enable them to change the world in even more significant ways.

We have the opportunity to close this gulf now and get some younger people back into the workforce and helping us to change the world. We just have to sculpt our message to clearly resonate with them. Let’s take a page out of our own marketing playbook and apply it to engaging Generation Y and Z.

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