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Lyons: A defense of Generation Y from a Gen Xer

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 10:53 p.m.CDT

One subject many writers tackle is how one generation compares with another, and as someone who supervises employees of a later generation, I’m drawn to such pieces in hope of gaining some insight.

It’s not out of frustration from working with them. It’s just that I don’t want to sound like an old man who speaks in ancient dialect, and I seek common ground.

Yet another piece on “Generation Y” or “Millennials,” elicited an audible sigh. The treatise now clogging up social media is an Internet piece on called “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” And all I could really think was, “Why do we do this to young people? They probably read this stuff even more than I do.”

What many of these pieces seek to do is tell you why an upcoming generation is inferior to another. They’re popular because the latter generations like to feel better about themselves. It’s the writing equivalent of, “Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!”

There are different reasons given for the inferiority. If these pieces are to be remotely credible, even to a willing audience, there has to be historical context and discussion of social trends to support the conclusions.

Generation Y is described as an entitled group who believe they’re all as unique as snowflakes, deluded in their pursuit of having it all –a philosophy that makes them remarkably ununique in the history of 20-somethings throughout time.

Most of these pieces gain steam when the generation under the microscope is well into their 20s, entering the workforce and starting real life. Of course, some circumstances of their childhood were different from previous generations, as are the economic conditions.

Those of us from Generation X should recall this from our own 20s. We were the slacker generation. Rudderless, latchkey kids raised by MTV. Cynical, distrustful of authority and more interested in spouting pointless theories than working.

Hollywood tried to define it with films such as “Reality Bites,” which in reality is just a film that bites.

While I couldn’t even tell you which channel is MTV, I might still be cynical.

Unsurprisingly, today’s pieces on Generation X find those stereotypes didn’t last. A recent Bloomberg Business Week story noted an Ernst & Young study stating that Generation X workers were viewed as the best at generating revenue and building teams and least considered difficult to work with or condescending.

Survey respondents said Generation X workers were more inclusive and flexible than the previous generation and had better vision and communication skills than younger peers.

While my credentials as a social scientist are admittedly suspect, I’ll offer two guesses as to why Generation X is viewed more favorably today in no particular order: 1) We now have real jobs, kids and mortgages. 2) We edit business magazines and commission Ernst & Young studies.

So what makes Generation Y so unappealing today? The ambitious ones want to succeed, and they sometimes get frustrated along that path. Those of us with any sense of perspective would call it young adulthood, and at least some of us walked that path during better economic times.

Having supervised many from Generation Y over the past several years, all I’ve noticed is that they’re generally better educated, more technologically savvy, better suited to work as teams, and people who take initiative and pride in what they do. In my experience, the sense of entitlement is a nonfactor.

If you find yourself struggling through young adulthood today, you’ll deal with much bigger problems than how another generation defines you until you eventually and inevitably prove them wrong.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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