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Under The Hood(Ie): Realizing Gen Y’s Potential

This year, the oldest members of Generation Y will turn 30. By the time these people reach their 33rd birthday, Generation Y will have become the majority of the workforce. In other words, by 2015 the majority of our workforce will be in their 20s.

This year, the oldest members of Generation Y will turn 30. By the time these people reach their 33rd birthday, Generation Y will have become the majority of the workforce. In other words, by 2015 the majority of our workforce will be in their 20s.


For some, this is a terrifying reality. After all, Generation Y has perplexed employers, industries and associations nationwide. Criticized for being lazy, demanding and self-centered, the future majority has received a bad rap.

Take for example Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most successful entrepreneurs. At 28 years old, the billionaire of Facebook has been heavily criticized amidst its recent tumbling stock prices. Forbes positioned it as a case of the young whippersnappers vs. the old fogies.

Interesting enough, the stock price has nearly taken a backseat to the coverage of Zuckerberg’s decision to wear a hoodie when he courted would-be investors in New York. That hoodie has garnered such harsh criticism as a mark of immaturity,  a sign of Liberal communism and a trademark for the smug, Harvard jerk.

Yikes. Who could have thought that a hoodie would mean so much?

The point is, Generation Y–even the most successful of Gen Y–isn’t being taken very seriously. We’ve seen it before. When Generation X came of age, they were dubbed Slackers. But the mud-slinging seems to be worse this time around because the gaps are wider. Substantial change has occurred in the past 20 years and that has substantially altered the perceptions, values and choices of Generation Y.

Is it just age we’re talking about here? Is Mark Zuckerberg really immature and simply hasn’t grown up yet? Well, at 28 years old that’s a tough argument to make. Indeed, when we’re young we’re rebellious and we feel invincible. However, we can’t track all of Gen Y’s mannerisms back to youthful rebellion. It’s more than that.

Let’s face it: some of the differences we’re seeing in Generation Y have little to do with age. It’s their generation.

So why is Gen Y a Y? Why can’t they be more like the rest of us? By taking a closer look at their childhood influences, one can better understand the seemingly odd behaviors of Generation Y — and also realize their potential.


Unlike other generations, Generation Y has been raised as peers in the household. From a young age, their Baby Boomer parents listened to their opinions, heeded their advice and readily met their needs.

  1. The Result: Gen Y doesn’t understand the concepts of hierarchy or authority. They want meaningful relationships with their direct supervisors and expect to have the same opportunities and privileges in the workplace as their elders.

  2. The Opportunity: Gen Y wants to learn from their elders and they are fast learners, which makes them excellent candidates for leadership roles and increased responsibility.


From bike helmets to organized play dates to living with their parents post-college, Generation Y is the most protected, supervised and provided for generation in history.

  1. The Result: Gen Y struggles with independence. They prefer to work in teams and need frequent feedback and direction from their co-workers. Also, Gen Y may have difficulty dealing with disappointment and failure.

  2. The Opportunity: Gen Y has been raised with the proverbial safety net in place and is therefore more confident—even in the absence of experience. They are entrepreneurial-minded, willing to take more risks and think outside the box. This confidence, innovation and drive can be a positive asset to an organization.


Generation Y is the best-educated generation in history with a very high percentage pursuing advanced degrees and studying abroad. However, today’s education system doesn’t delve into workforce training.

  1. The Result: Gen Y needs training on workplace etiquette. They simply don’t know or understand the importance of dress codes and other protocols. In fact, many young job seekers don’t know how to interview for a job or prepare a résumé.

  2. The Opportunity: Globally-minded, marketing-savvy, technology-savvy and innovative, Gen Y brings a considerable amount of knowledge to the job and they tend to learn faster and produce more than their co-workers.


Generation Y is the first to be raised on technology. To them, technology is like oxygen. In fact, they rank it as important as oxygen.

  1. The Result: Generation Y may have more difficulty handling interactions with clients and customers—especially via phone or face-to-face conversations.

  2. The Opportunity: Here again, Generation Y has the upper hand on productivity. Their natural ability to use technology makes them capable of getting more done in a shorter period of time. In addition, they are masters at multi-tasking, information-gathering, and networking on a global scale.

Is it wise for Mark Zuckerberg to sport a hoodie during an IPO launch? Perhaps not.

But success has little to do with what you wear  — and clearly it has nothing to do with age, either.


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