The split second you walk into the room, I know who you are – you are brimming with entitlement, overflowing with arrogance, saturated in confidence, and bursting with self indulgence.
Does this sound vaguely familiar? Have you found yourself in a similar situation where you’ve made a snap judgement about Gen Y - the younger generation? Perhaps it was when Gen Y entered the room for a job interview, stood up to speak at a meeting, took the stage to deliver a presentation, or walked into the office and was introduced as your new boss. Or perhaps, the Gen Y in front of you is your new financial advisor, lawyer looking after your legal issues, instructor teaching the course you signed up for, or doctor who is about to perform surgery on you. You can’t help yourself; a torrent of first impressions floods your mind...
The term entitlement is the moniker that seems to follow GenY almost everywhere they go! It signifies our frustration with a generation that we perceive as expecting (and some might say – demanding) special treatment or privileges even though they have not toiled as long and as arduously in the workplace trenches as we have.
Nothing is more distressing to GenY than hearing that they are entitled. While travelling across North America and meeting hundreds of Gen Ys as part of research for my book, Managing the New Generation: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Meeting the Workplace Expectations of Generation Y (Amazon), I was struck by GenY’s deep-seated frustration with the term entitlement that others subscribe to about their generation. GenY feels both misunderstood and misinterpreted. According to GenY the term entitlement doesn’t accurately or fairly reflect who they really are, and it has the potential to erode workplace relationships even before they begin. They agree that some GenYs rightly deserve to be crowned “the entitled one”, but they encourage us not to label the entire generation with one sweeping brush stroke. In reality, not every member of Gen Y falls exactly within the parameters of the portrait – some less so than others.
According to Gen Y, where we see entitlement, they see confidence; that is, self-assurance in their ability to express who they are, what they stand for, and what they want in their personal and professional lives. GenY reminds us that they have been raised by their parents (that’s us!) to have a compelling vision of their future and to persistently forge ahead toward their aspirations – slicing through anything that impedes their way. This confidence manifests itself in everything Gen Y does, including how they manage their careers. And we are on the receiving end of this tsunami of confidence! It shows up in our organizations as a “can do” attitude and sometimes as an overzealous game plan for career progression – they want it all and they want it now! To some degree, I wonder if we might be a tad envious of the precision and persistence with which Gen Y communicates and pursues career goals. Their pathways and efforts appear to be more razor-sharp in comparison to how many of us manage our careers.
Yet, at the same time, Gen Y is acutely aware that they face the same career struggles and daily setbacks as other generations: unemployment, difficulty securing their dream job, managing debt load (this is the generation saddled with the highest debts from post-secondary education), being sandwiched between raising children and caring for aging parents, and personal and professional disappointments that take a myriad of forms.
Gen Y’s advice for us?
Gen Y hopes we can put the term entitlement in abeyance so we can explore the similarities in our personal and professional lives that have the potential to unite us. For Gen Y, this means we can launch working relationships on a more positive note without the stigma attached to the concept of entitlement.
I invite you to exercise your leadership by initiating a new conversation with GenY. When you are caught in the moment of wanting to call GenY entitled...reframe. Change the message. Replace the language of judgement and evaluation with curiosity about the person in front of you. Instead of leading with assumptions about them, what can you ask GenY that shows your interest in getting to know them, and perhaps dismantling some of your initial first impressions? Start with a few questions that can enhance your awareness and appreciation of the person in front of you.
I’m not suggesting you do all the work here. I’m asking you to take the lead and invite GenY into an assumption-free conversation. Be patient. Change happens incrementally and when you change the way you engage with others, at first, they may be somewhat shocked and may not respond exactly as you expect. Keep trying; keep engaging in new ways. This is the first incremental step in reframing challenges as opportunities to connect on a deeper and more meaningful level with others.
Imagine where the new conversation will take you! Try it for a week or two and let me know what happens at firstname.lastname@example.org. A future blog will be devoted to sharing your experiences!