A Gen Y Perception on the Great Recession

There is no question the economic downturn is adversely impacting most Americans.  But, the recent recession serves as a severe wake up call for those of us under the age of 30.  Generation Y was brought up during the height of American prosperity.  Our teachers taught us the United States is the best country on Earth, with more opportunities than any other land.  We were powerful. We learned about The Great Depression and that we lost the Vietnam War, but those things were just in history books, assuredly just flukes; they wouldn’t happen again.   In general, our parents were more successful than parents had ever been before, resulting in our more privileged childhoods than previous generations experienced.  Such prosperity prompted our teachers, parents and grandparents to instill in us that we could grow up to be anything we wanted – the choice was ours.  All of this led Gen Y to develop a false sense of security.  It never dawned on Gen Yers that the world wasn’t our oyster.  It was a foreign notion that America was vulnerable to economic struggles.

But it happened.  The recession took off our rose-colored glasses and smashed them.  It’s got our full attention, affecting our work behaviors and attitudes regarding employment most drastically.  But it’s not breaking our spirit, 50% of Gen Yers feel our job outlook is still positive.

Rocking our sense of stability, we endured our friends, coworkers, bosses, parents and perhaps even ourselves being laid off or receiving a cut in pay.  Often Gen Y employees are spared because of our much lower salaries compared to Gen Xers and Boomers.  Fortunate Gen Yers evading a job loss are absorbing the responsibilities of these former staff members.  If we’re smart, we’ve accepted the challenge handed to us and we’re mastering the tasks performed by Gen Xers and Boomers who were let go, performing their jobs just as well as they once did.  Our motivation is selfish. It’s not for the benefit of our employer; it’s to expand our skill set in preparation for our next job, perhaps in-house but more likely for a competitor.

While the capable of us have taken on the roles of Gen Xers and Boomers, we’ve likely done it without a raise, or at best, a minimal one.  Put simply, this infuriates us.  Gen Y was given constant positive reinforcement. We had piggy banks full of allowance earned just for making our bed or cleaning our own room.  The worst player on the team was awarded a “Most Improved” trophy.  When the economy changes for the better, we expect to be compensated, handsomely, for our efforts. Or we’ll leave.

But for now, we’ll stay put; 67% of Gen Yers are likely to stay in his or her current job.  Prior to the recession, Gen Y employees were in high demand.  We didn’t think twice about quitting a job that wasn’t quite fulfilling because there were employers waiting in droves to interview us.  But now, we empathize with our unemployed friends and family agonizing over their unsuccessful job search, ourselves learning that sometimes a paycheck from a mind-numbing or demeaning job beats depending on Mom and Dad and the government.  For now, we’re thankful for employment and have temporarily stopped job hopping. 

One would think that a recession would force maturity on Gen Y and we would begin to take on the characteristics of previous generations, but this isn’t so.  If anything, the recession is reinforcing our attitudes on employment, affirming to us we’ve been right all along.  We’re gaining even more confidence and becoming more self-assured from taking on the job responsibilities of Xers and Boomers.  This is falsely perceived as arrogance by our elders.  A true Gen Y employee will always crave learning and additional training. We understand we don’t know everything, though we will rarely publically admit it.

If you thought we had no employer loyalty before the recession, you were right.  In 2008, 70% of recent grads left a position within two years of being hired.  As a result of this recession and how we or our friends have been treated, our employer loyalty is declining.  Depending on the extent of how unfairly your Gen Y employees perceive they are being handled, they’re likely looking for a job now (and have been for quite some time), even before substantial growth in the job market.  We’ve learned to be more selective in choosing our next employer, lest we get “stuck” somewhere again.  We’ll do our research and turn to social media, friends and family to get the inside scoop on working for an organization.  Our decision to accept an employment offer will heavily weigh on the manner in which the organization treated its’ employees during the recession.  Gen Y won’t settle next time: they’ll only accept a meaningful job, with flexibility, a decent salary and at a stable company that treats them with respect; allowing them to grow and advance in their career.

When the economy does rebound, to retain your current Gen Y employees, make sure your organization makes it up to these individuals for all of the cutbacks endured or risk them leaving.  Give them the raises, promotions and office perks they deserve for a job well done and for sticking it out during tough times.  Assuredly, many of them will find new jobs anyway.  However, these offerings will be seen as good faith efforts for other Gen Yers seeking a new employment home.  To replace exiting Gen Yers, you’ll need to prepare your organization for the surge in recruitment and include Gen Y candidates in your recruitment strategy.  Gen Yers like to be pursued.  To maximize your appeal to younger candidates, give them individual, personal attention and make them feel needed.  We like to be the star of every show.  Ensure your work environment and corporate culture are attractive: implement work-life balance initiatives, allow us to network via social media, embrace a culture of learning and sharing to keep us constantly engaged and improving our skills, allow us to utilize new technologies to complete our tasks and publically recognize and reward us for our accomplishments. Create philanthropic programs for us to participate in, develop a structured career path for us to advance ourselves and provide adequate coaching and feedback on our performance.  Love us or hate us, most all organizations need Gen Y employees to succeed.

Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

2 Comments

  1. MichaelG

    True with a capital ‘T’. I can especially appreciate the all too relevant reference to perceived arrogance. Age, while it tends to provide ample time for garnering experience, is not and should not be directly correlated with ability. Recognize your employee for what they can do, not how old they may be.

  2. Ted

    Great insights/summary – I agree with everything you wrote. There also seems to be a fundamental shift in gen y: they work for more than a paycheck and they want to work for a company that provides meaning to their life.

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