from The Economist, January 3rd – 9th 2009
The balance of power between old-school managers and young talent is changing – a bit
Their defenders say they are motivated, versatile workers who are just what companies need in these difficult times. To others, however, the members of “Generation Y” – those born in 1980s and 1990s, otherwise known as Millennials or the Net Generation – are spoiled, narcissistic layabouts who cannot spell and waste too much time on instant messaging and Facebook.
Ah, reply the Net Geners, but all that messing around online proves that we are computer-literate multitaskers who are adept users of online collaborative tools, and natural team players. And, while you are on the subject of me, I need a month’s sabbatical to recalibrate my personal goals.
The culture clash has been going on in many organisations and has lately seeped into management books. The Net Geners has grown up with computer; they are brimming with self-confidence; and they have been encouraged to challenge the received wisdom, to find their own solutions to problems and to treat work as a route to personal fulfilment rather than merely a way of putting food on the table. Not all of this makes them easy to manage. Bosses complain that after a childhood of being coddled and praised, the Net Geners demand far more frequent feedback and an over-precise set of objectives on the path to promotion (rather like the missions that must be completed in a video game).
Having grown up in good time, the Net Geners have laboured under the illusion that the world owed them a living. But hopping between jobs to find one that meets your inner spiritual needs is not so easy when there are no jobs to hop to. And as for that sabbatical: here’s a permanent one, sunshine.
Today narcissistic layabout is tomorrow’s new talent
In fact, compromise will be necessary on both sides. Net Geners will certainly have to temper some of their expectations and take the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. But their older bosses should also be prepared to make concessions. The economy will eventually recover – and demographic trends in most rich countries will make clever young workers even more valuable. Besides, most of the things that keep Net Geners happy – such as providing more coaching to young employees or embracing cheaper online ways to communicate – are worth doing anyway. But for the moment at least, the Facebookers are under the cosh.