The Naturals: Gens X, Y, and Z
If we’re increasingly frustrated by the sixty-hour office week, the next generation has no interest in it at all.
When it comes to demanding freedom from the office grind, these guys are the power players. Because while we’ve learned it the hard way and are still racked with guilt about our choices, the younger generations just get it instinctively. It’s as natural as texting and interacting on Facebook. Family and personal lives are critical for them. Old-fashioned pressure-cooker work environments send them screaming. They want to create unique, nontraditional career paths so that they can achieve all their life goals. They are impressively confident about their priorities, and they won’t settle for anything less than liberation.
“Generations X and Y do have a very strong work ethic, but they want more balance—a satisfying work and personal life. And that is not just the women,” notes Kathleen Christensen.
Remember, these alphabet-enders have grown up amid significant economic turbulence: the dot-com boom and bust, labor force shake-ups, corporate greed scandals, and the credit collapse. Coming of age in the era of 9/11 has clearly affected their priorities. They were raised by boomer parents who gave them self-esteem and a desire to have an impact. Consultant Bruce Tulgan, who helps companies work with younger generations, quips, “They are going to be the most high-performing civic – minded workforce in the history of the world, but they are also going to be the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world.”
“Generation Y is completely untethered. They’ve been utilizing technology for years, so when they get into the work environment and they’re a little more chained to their desk and to desktop computers, they don’t know what to do,” explains Cali Ressler, one of the cofounders of a radically flexible work program at retail giant Best Buy. “So rather than try to get them to conform to rules and guidelines from the 1950s, we should listen to them, and let them lead the way for what this future will look like.”
Indeed these are the folks truly forcing corporations to think change—or risk having no workforce to take our place. Gen X and Gen Y together are smaller than the boomer crowd, and their very scarcity drives up their value. To employers looking at a labor shortage, their wants and needs are critical. The War for Talent survey puts it bluntly: “These workers demand more flexibility, meaningful jobs, professional freedom, higher rewards and a better work-life balance than older employees do. Companies face a rate of high attrition if their expectations aren’t met.”
Young women are especially focused on a well-rounded existence. A University of Michigan and Catalyst study discovered that many of the country’s brainiest women are actively avoiding business school, their future-focused gaze honing in on the fact they won’t be able to balance work and home life in the corporate world.43 Concerned about business schools’ inability to recruit some of the most talented women in the country, Wharton Business School makes a point of examining, in their program, how women can navigate the workforce in a savvy and family-friendly way. They know it’s a subject the students want to discuss. “These women, now twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, are saying ‘I have an MBA, and maybe it’s going to be a problem,’ ” says Wharton’s Monica McGrath.