Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Me Generation and Why Baby Boomers Can Go Fuck Themselves

One publication that I very much admire and enjoy reading is the locally-based UTNE reader. The premise: taking the "best" of independent media and reprinting it in a magazine format. Quite genius actually, a sort of media conglomeration in a way that makes sense. (Read: the spread of useful information).

I was quite disappointed, however, when I saw that the UTNE had latched onto this topic that is very trendy to report on: the Me Generation (or Generation Y, because the baby boomers can't come up with a more creative title) and how the children of the Me Generation are essentially spoiled rotten, needy, incompetent assholes who are negatively affecting the workplace with their constant need to be included in meaningful work and given praise for doing as much as taking a shit.

The argument goes like this: Children raised in the 1980s and 90s grew up in an environment of excess and babying. Their parents focused all their energy and interest on them, pushing them to be the "best" at all they do, getting them into the best colleges (often filling out their child's applications themselves), the best jobs (through networking) and likewise labeling their child as "genius" "gifted" and what have you.

So now, we have a new workforce coming in which is made up of this Me Generation. These manchildren are apparently needy, overconfident (how paradoxical) and exhibit depression once found in the middle-age crisis due to the fact that the entry-level positions they (or their parents) are able to secure is not the "dream job" they had been told they deserved.

In other words, these workers are not willing to do hard work, they are not willing to jump through hoops, nor are they willing to put in the time that their now disgruntled older superiors did to get that corner office and say in the company meetings.

There are many things that bother me about this oversimplification of generational shift in the world place, but the thing that irks me the most is this superior anger that the older workers have for these "babied" newbies because THEY ARE THE FUCKING ONES WHO CHURNED OUT THESE ASSHOLES.

The article in the UTNE does a bit more than what most mainstream coverage of this "crisis" does, in that it does point out that workers of the Me Generation actually have stronger loyalty to companies which are loyal to them, they are more civic-minded, they want the companies they work for to be socially and environmentally responsible and that they want to engage in meaningful work. Still, the overall tone is one of condescension which is focused on these young people, rather than the society that shaped them into these terrible employees.

So I wrote another letter. Unfortunately, I don't feel like it entirely expresses my musings on the topic, but it will do.

The letter:

Dear Editor(s),

Perhaps characteristic of my belonging to the
oh-so-creatively titled “Generation Y” age grouping, I
felt irritated while reading Julie Hanus’ article “The
Kid in the Corner Office: Are Gen Y workers worth all
the coddling?”

While I am glad that Hanus presented positive
counterpoints to Generation Y’s apparent “impatient,
needy and arrogant” traits such as demonstrating
“civic-minded loyalty,” wanting to “engage in
meaningful work” and wanting their workplaces to be
“environmentally, socially and personally
accountable,” it is disappointing that they come up as
afterthoughts to the apparent negatives of this new

The idea of a company believing it can trick its young
workers into feeling as though their work spent
staring at a computer screen in a cubicle (which
“previous generations rebelled against” but is a
practice still very much at play) is worth something
by hiring praise consultants and throwing confetti
around is indicative of the actual issue so many young
people are struggling with in the workplace: that it
is easier to hire a consultant to force artificial
workplace spirit than it is to provide work that is
substantial and meaningful.

I would find it very interesting to learn what sorts
of companies are dealing with this issue in this way,
perhaps it would tell us a little something about what
is really going on.

This corporate thinking, mixed with the crisis of
schools and society placing too much importance on
outcomes and results (ahem, No Child Left Behind), is
challenging the workplace as it operates today. I do
commend Hanus for suggesting that there might be
something for older generations to learn from this
apparent trend but I wish that it were presented in a
way that was not so derogatory.

Respectfully yours,


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