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Generation Next Changes the Face of the Workplace

December 14, 2006 at 3:05 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: At Muse Advertising Agency in Los Angeles, CEO Jo Muse finds himself in a generational tug-of-war between his older managers and the firm’s young employees, including his own children.

JO MUSE, CEO, Muse Communications: Some of you ask for vacations in your first two months of working here. Now, you get — your bosses are boomers. They don’t understand that at all. We’re really used to people putting in their time before they get a vacation.

I want to understand that better. Why do you think that you can work places for a couple months and then get a vacation, and unpaid? You don’t care if you get paid. What’s up with that? I don’t understand it.

YOUNG WORKER: The idea of working 10 years at a mediocre job to possibly have three or four weeks of vacation is not — everything that we’ve ever experienced, in terms of growing up, has been microwavable.

Like, you get things now, and you work hard, and everyone wants — and what’s successful, and what we’re striving for is to be millionaires and fantastic successful by the age of 40.

YOUNG WORKER: Thirty.

JO MUSE: What’s with this thing about time? You guys seem to think it’s instant, and you throw the seniority thing out of the window. That’s a serious issue.

Well, if you come to work, we expect you to work for a year, maybe two, before you really get that designation of being a manager. But it seems that you think that, if you work really, really hard for six months, then you can get the same reward as someone who’s put in time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Muse Advertising is not alone when it comes to employers trying to understand this younger generation. In many companies, it’s now common to have four generations — those in their early 20s, Generation Y, working side by side with people in their 70s, the baby boomers, and the 30-somethings of Generation X.

Inevitably, certain tensions arise. At accounting giant Deloitte and Touche USA, Stan Smith analyzes generational differences.

STAN SMITH, Next Generation Initiatives, Deloitte: Basically, it’s baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. And the differences, I think, are well-known in some cases.

I put it this way: The baby boomers are “work, work, work.” It’s a very important part of their live. Gen X is “work, work, I want to work some more, let’s talk about it.” And Gen Y is “work, work, you want me to work even more? How lame. I think I’ll I.M. my friends and tell them how lame you are, asking me to work even more.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: From the sprawling federal government to large and small private firms, employers are trying to adapt and cater to their younger hires. Why? The law of supply and demand.

A 'tech-savvy' generation

JUDY WOODRUFF: As baby boomers edge toward retirement, there are fewer people to replace them, let alone talented young workers. But what's so different about this new generation? First, their familiarity with technology, which has influenced their workplace expectations.

STAN SMITH: For those of us of a certain age -- let's say baby boomers -- technology is either a tool or a toy. For these younger people, it's something that's really an extension of how they relate to each other, whether it's digitally or physical contact.

And that really changes how you work, how you think of work. You might say, "How has it changed it?" It says, "Look, I know that I can work any place, anytime, anywhere, and I really want to be looked at as 'What is my work product?' not 'How did I get it done?'"

DOAN PHAN, X-Ray Technician: There is a clash. You have the older people who had this amazing experience, yet they lack the modern-day technology or they lack the up-to-date skills that my generation have. I mean, we have all these skills. We can type faster. We're more proficient with computers and stuff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty-four-year-old Doan Phan, who works as an x-ray technician in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, says it's not that young people lack ambition.

DOAN PHAN: We want to bring in new ideas. We want to change things. And it doesn't matter what age you are: Change is scary. And the older generation is, like, already set and settled in their ways, and they're like, "We don't want to change. This is good. Why mess with it?"

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gen Y'ers are tech-savvy multi-taskers, used to instant communication on their cell phones. They mastered computers early in life, and the Internet exposed them to new ideas and information.

As we traveled around the country on our Generation Next R.V., with a computer and a Web cam, dozens of young people mentioned their grasp of technology as one of the biggest difference between them and their parents.

NICK PAPPAS: With computers and everything now, the flow of information is such that you're able to access more information more readily than previous generations. And I think it's one thing that you're able to understand the world around you faster than previous generations.

SCOTT TREADWELL: I know that, for my parents, when they want to go somewhere, they just bust out a map and tried to figure out where to go. But for me, I can go to Google Local and use the, you know, online map to find out where I'm going. It plots out everything.

And I've noticed that my generation in general sometimes likes to have things instantaneously, whereas in my parents' generation, they could wait a little bit.

A sense of entitlement

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gen Y'ers are the product of parents and teachers who praised their accomplishments growing up and encouraged them to follow their dreams. Anya Kamenetz writes about economic concerns facing her generation.

ANYA KAMENETZ, Author, "Generation Debt": We were raised to be individualists; we were raised by individualists. So we were born and grew up with the idea that everybody is entitled to become what they want to be, and I think that makes us more ambitious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Young people have brought their skills and the attitude that they're special to the workplace. Marketer Jane Buckingham studies generational trends.

JANE BUCKINGHAM, President, The Intelligence Group: They were told, "You're smart, you're different, you're the smartest generation, you're the most tech-savvy, you're going to be different. It's about finding out, you know, who you are, and fulfilling that." And it's a great message, but not when you then have to go fit into a mold in a company.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In New York, Jaclyn DeLamatre echoed comments we heard from many young adults.

JACLYN DELAMATRE, Young Adult: We feel like we are entitled to have creative jobs that are very interesting, that are high-paced, that we're our own bosses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But won't they lose that youthful sense of entitlement when faced with the realities of the workplace? Deloitte's Stan Smith.

STAN SMITH: Is what we're talking about simply stage of life and everyone outgrows being young, just the way they outgrow being middle-aged or old? No, I think there's something more to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifteen percent of Deloitte's workforce is under the age of 25, and almost two-thirds is under 35. After investing money training these young workers, the company found that many left after only a few years, often for positions similar to ones available internally at Deloitte.

To keep some of these employees, Smith started Deloitte's Next Generation initiatives. Under the new program, workers can use Web-based resources to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Smith also oversees a network of career counselors who provide confidential advice to employees.

STAN SMITH: Do you see any differences over the past four years of what people are looking for, that sort of thing?

CARLY GOLDSMITH, Career Coach, Deloitte: When I look what the younger generation, and those who are in their first, you know, three to five years, is that there's this real desire to really try on a whole bunch of different things, that they want that variety of experience. They want to work hard, and to be challenged, and to be pushed. And they want an environment that will let them do that.

Flexible schedules

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of Smith's most important findings was that young workers expected flexibility in both their work environment and their schedules.

KAVITA RAJAGOPAL, Tax Consultant, Deloitte: Hi, I'm here to check in for the space I reserved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We found 25-year-old Kavita Rajagopal in New York, checking into Deloitte's local SmartSpace, an area where traveling employees can sit down and work for a few hours. She has already worked for Deloitte at three locations: in Bangalore, India; Chicago; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now she has a new baby, and Deloitte has encouraged even more flexibility.

KAVITA RAJAGOPAL: The best part is they're actually asking me if I want to, you know, start working from home, and this was not even something I was thinking of. So it was really nice to have them call me and say, "Hey, are you thinking of, you know, working from home once, twice, you know, a week?"

And so they've just been extremely flexible. And they're usually very, very open to things like that, or for you to switch your schedules, you know, telecommute more. If anything, they encourage it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Deloitte's research also found that Gen Y'ers desire a more collaborative approach to working and are resistant to traditional corporate hierarchies. Jane Buckingham has noticed similar trends.

JANE BUCKINGHAM: I think that they are going to look for workplaces that value them, that reward them, that mentor them, that help them see how they're going to get ahead, how the company might have a commitment to them. I think that young people have to be more mercenary, because they know that a company will fire them the minute the stock price drops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In its workplace survey, the Pew Research Center found that half of all young adults were likely to change careers, not necessarily surprising, given that they are just entering the workforce. But Gen Y'ers have also grown up in an era of diminishing trust between employers and employees.

ANYA KAMENETZ: Our parents may have lost jobs after, like, you know, 40 years being with the same company or -- you know, it just isn't the same kind of deal that you're going to get from an employer that you would have gotten a generation ago.

It's much more pragmatic, in the end, to pursue your own dream and your own passion, because the only guarantee that you have is that you did the thing that you could do for yourself to make yourself happy. You're not going to get the long-term security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stan Smith says that his program has persuaded over 700 employees to stay at the company, saving Deloitte over $100 million. Now, other companies have contacted Smith for advice. And for companies that don't pay attention to the next generation, Smith has a warning.

STAN SMITH: This reality is not optional. This is not something that can be avoided. It's happening. And it's those of us who are baby boomers who are used to starting out in a career, where if one of us didn't work out, there was someone else standing in line. That's not the truth today. It's a reality; it's here; and we better deal with it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As boomers age out of the workplace, and Generation Y ages in, employers will increasingly face a new reality: The next generation has arrived.