Generation Y is leading the social revolution

To all the millennials reading this – remember that time in school when your teacher spotted you texting? He or she triumphantly interrupted and asked you to repeat what they had just said. You did, to their astonishment. But they took your phone away anyway: ‘no mobile phones allowed!’

This is where the generational divide lies. There is a common conception and a myriad of research proving that the millenials are distracted, and that they lack work ethic and discipline. But who is conducting the research? What viewpoint is this from? On the other side of the table, Gen Y is fuming at authority because they were listening to the lesson, it just so happened that they were just also replying to a text message.

The divide translates in the workplace, with companies such as Ernst and Young research showing Gen Y to be perceived as more ‘difficult to work with’ than Gen X and the Baby Boomers (see here). Notably realbusiness.co.uk quotes Will Davies, founder of property maintenance company Aspect.co.uk: “The latest batch of young people lack any drive or desire to work, largely thanks to the warm, punch-drunk, sedated feeling of being permanently online to their friends on the internet”. Now whilst this might be a sweeping statement, the idea perfectly supports the general conception of Gen Y’s working ethic.

The fact is that social media has been the fastest adopted media in human history. Businesses need to adapt and Gen Y is driving the change. What may seem like passivity at work and a lack of work ethic could just mean that Gen Y is working differently; constantly even. Gen Y as a whole is a social, connected generation in which leisure and work get confused. They call themselves entrepreneurs when they could just be labelled as unemployed? Who can blame them for trying to make profit from passion in a market where only 54% see their job as secure?

Negative preconceptions aside, Gen Y’s digital ability coupled with their narcissism and refusal to accept defeat is actually driving the economy forward. EY’s research shows that between 2008 and 2013 alone, 87% of Gen Y managers surveyed took on a management role vs. 38% of Gen X and 19% of baby boomer managers. By comparison, from 2003 to 2008, 12% Gen Y, 30% Gen X and 23% of boomers moved into management. So although Gen Y digital natives may be the ‘me me me’ generation, they’re at the forefront of the social revolution.

Infographic:  UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

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