The big lie about Generation Y

If you google “Generation Y” there are 276.000.000 hits, 90.400 sources on Google books appear and you’ll find 3.640.000 videos on Youtube, including TED talks and scientific presentations. Obviously people are interested in this topic, but what are we actually talking about?

Generation Y (or Millennials) is the generation born between 1980 and the middle/end of the 1990s and its reputation could not be worse. The Millennials are charactarized as lazy, illusionary, self-regarding, spoiled and having too high expectations, but no capability to work hard. In addition, the ones belonging to this generation don’t really know what they want, but frankly searching for their own passion they want to go big, because every single of them feels special. There is more: these sneaky Millenials are demanding to have a fulfilling career and work-life-balance – absolutely unrealistic dreams. At least this is what the Huffington Post and Harvard Business Review Blog claims. Ouch! That hurt. On the positive side, their technical skills are highly developed and they are adapting to new innovations quicker than any other generation before. Why discussing this? Because apparently these attributes will be important factors in economic terms in the future. The Millennials will be future employees and co-workers and they seem to be challenging.

As I said – the reputation of today’s young people could not be worse, but this concept actually does not apply to a whole generation, although we are living in a globalized world, only to a small group and therefore makes the whole discussion absurd.

Economic challenges and Generation Y – an impossible combination

Let’s face it – there are people who definitely fit into this pattern describing Generation Y, but there is one condition to fulfil the criteria: money. No lifelong soul search is possible if your bills aren’t paid and no passion is worth a risk if there is no food on your plate. Many young people have to deal with these problems and they won’t have time to think about work-life-balance.

One factor supporting the idea that the debate about the terrible generation is unnecessary is poverty. Talking about industrialized countries, we are facing the increase of inequality, meaning that the rich become richer, the poor become poorer but the shocking fact is that the middle class is slowly vanishing in countries like the United States (poverty rate 15%), Canada (poverty rate 10%) and Germany (poverty rate 16%).
Observing other countries in South America, Africa and Asia, poverty rates are much higher (Bolivia – 51%, Namibia – 56%, India – 30%), which leads us to the assumption that the number of typical Millennials is much lower – if they even exist. But don’t forget that poverty does not mean poverty. The poverty index used differs from country to country since pathologies depend on the overall economic status. Logically, in order to develop the above presented characteristics, a certain mind set is necessary, inspired by liberal values, freedom of act and speech and security.

Another aspect is that a lot of young people have witnessed the meaning of lack and poverty in their childhood. In China, Mexico, Brazil, other transforming economies and some Eastern European Countries (after the fall of the Iron Curtain) within the last 20 years, a great number of people found the way out of poverty through the increase of economic development. Childhood memories of harder times influence the value system and work ethics – chances and social mobility aren’t taken for granted, but with gratitude.

Furthermore, the people discussing Generation Y are forgetting the economic crisis – a crucial period in the lives of many young Europeans. Poverty, unemployment and social instability became reality to millions in the past five years and many of them would do everything for an income, regardless of their education and background.

The myth about the digital natives

Although the Millennials are referred to as “digital natives” living in social media, this portrays only a small part of the truth. Facebook currently has 1.1 billion members and out of these, almost 150 million are from the United States, but only 44 million from India (considering the country has 1.2. billion inhabitants and the average age is 25, this is a very low number). Only 5 percent of the people in Africa and Asia use Facebook – the country with the highest population, China, still bans the website. The discussion about Generation Y leaves these facts completely out.

Some might say that this is not an indicator for technical abilities, but then again, the digital divide probably is a reliable one. According to recent data, in regions where almost half of the world’s population lives (India, China, the whole African continent), only less than 25% have a computer, in some regions even less than 10%. So the technical aspect can’t be a distinguishing element in the discourse.

The cultural bias – the real element of the Generation Y debate

What has become clear by now is that there are several conditions in order to belong to the Generation Y. Culture, ethics and values are mostly forgotten when talking about the topic.
As already mentioned, a liberal environment, social and democratic environment is required in order to develop all these demands and expectations. The freedom to choose a passion and follow it, seeking for work-life-balance and the security need a stable ground to emerge. Considering that of all countries, only 50% are democratic and out of these more than the half are illiberal governments, again we can expect that due to life realities in many regions of the world, people are busy dealing with other problems than the pursuit of happiness.

Furthermore, often people forget that regardless of the political system, work ethics and social values are completely opposite than the aspects of the Generation Y debate. In some countries (e.g. in Asia) people don’t fit in if they refuse to work hard in order to achieve something in their lives. After economic transformation or poverty, the maintenance of a certain status as well is more important than the search for own goals. In Germany for instance, a new “German Angst” is growing: students of the economically strongest country in the European Union fear not to get a job and try to optimize their profiles by gaining further qualification, such as experience abroad and language skills. In addition, worldwide the number of Non-governmental organizations is increasing. Hence, people decide to become active and engaged instead of being lazy and self-regarding.

In conclusion, the debate is culturally biased by the ones who developed it. The concept does only apply to a small part of young people, but of course they are the ones who are most visible. Considering they need resources and have access to media to portray their way of life, other groups can be easily forgotten. It is the same principle of distribution like in economics – 10% of the population own 90% of the world’s capital, so do probably 10% of the world’s young people fit into the pattern of Generation Y, but these ones are more memorable than average workers without technical equipment and time to fight for civil rights. The cultural bias and the focus on the mainly Western and rich group to which the model can be applied, is probably the only real characteristic of the discussion and the ones defining themselves as Millennials.

But to all employers – calm down! Due to globalization probably you will meet a lot of people from different backgrounds that will be relevant and should be taken into consideration for vacant positions and won’t be hard to handle at all.