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The Top 14 Myths About Generation Y in the Workplace

March 16, 2009

Bruce Tulgan, the author of several books about managing Gen Y, offers some common misconceptions about what the younger generation will and won't do in the workplace in today's story.

By Bruce Tulgan

Back in 1993, I began my first in-depth interviews with young people in the workplace. We've been studying young workers ever since. Based on what is now nearly 15 years of research, I am absolutely convinced that Generation Y has been much analyzed but largely misunderstood. Most of the so-called 'experts' have been simply reinforcing prevailing misconceptions about Generation Y.

Here are the top 14 myths about Generation Y in the workplace and the corresponding realities:

Myth 1: Gen Yers are disloyal. Reality: They offer the kind of loyalty you get in a free market—that is, transactional loyalty (whatever you can negotiate).

Myth 2: They won't do the grunt work. Reality: They are so eager to prove themselves they will do the grunt work or anything else. But they won't do the grunt work, or anything else if they start to fear that nobody is keeping track of what they are doing and giving them credit. They are not about to do the grunt work in exchange for vague, long-term promises of rewards that vest in the deep distant future.

Myth 3: They don't know very much and have short attention spans. Reality: They may not have the same shared knowledge base that people with a certain level of education used to take for granted, but they walk in the door with more information in their heads and more information available at their fingertips than anyone ever has before. They think, learn and communicate in sync with today's information environment.

Myth 4: They want the top job on Day 1. Reality: They have no interest in taking their time to "get a feel for the place." They want to hit the ground running on Day 1. They want to make an impact.

Myth 5: They need work to be fun. Reality: Gen Yers don't want to be humored; they want to be taken seriously. But they want to learn, to be challenged and to understand the relationship between their work and the overall mission of the organization. They want to work with good people and have some flexibility in where, when and how they work.

Myth 6: They want to be left alone at work. Reality: If they actually care one bit about the job, they want managers who know who they are, know what they are doing, are highly engaged with them, provide guidance, help them solve problems and keep close track of their successes.

Myth 7: They want their managers to do their work for them. Reality: They want managers to teach them.

Myth 8: They don't care about climbing the proverbial career ladder. Reality: Gen Yers will follow a self-building path made up of learning, relationships, proof of their ability to add value and lifestyle flexibility. Instead of climbing a ladder they are making a tapestry.

Myth 9: Money and traditional benefits don't matter to them. Reality: Of course, money and benefits matter to them. They want to get the best deal they can get. In fact, they are usually quite savvy about comparing what each employer offers. But money and benefits are only a threshold issue. If you offer money and benefits that are competitive with other comparable employers, then you can keep the conversation going.

Myth 10: Money is the only thing that matters to them Reality: If they are asking for more, what they are really asking is, "What do I need to do to earn more?" Once you meet the threshold of competitive money and benefits, Gen Yers care about five other things: schedule, relationships, task choice, learning opportunities and location.

Myth 11: They don't respect their elders. Reality: They do respect their elders. They are closer to their parents than any other generation has ever been. But they want respect, too. Their parents, teachers, and counselors have always treated them with respect, so they feel they deserve respect from their managers, too.

Myth 12: They want to learn only from computers. Reality: From computers, they want to learn stuff that is easy to learn from computers. But, they absolutely need the human element to do their best learning. They learn best from a combination of the human element—coaching, direction, guidance, support, shared wisdom—and the powerful capacity of menu-driven information systems to guide them through the tidal wave of information available at their fingertips.

Myth 13: It's impossible to turn them into long-term employees. Reality: You can turn them into long-term employees. You'll just have to do it one day at a time.

Myth 14: They will never make good managers because they are too self-focused. Reality: They make perfectly good managers if you help them learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice.

Bruce Tulgan is an internationally recognized expert on young people in the workplace. He is the founder of RainmakerThinking Inc. ( and author or coauthor of numerous books, including recently released "Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y."

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