A career coach who recognizes and understands generational diversity is better equipped to provide effective coaching. Individuals born within a specific range of years are classified into the following groups: Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. Research has demonstrated each group shares a unique culture of values, attitudes, and beliefs. This paper explores the cultural attributes of Generation Y and summarizes the impact this subculture may have on the coaching process. Using research data collected through case studies, coaching attributes valued by Generation Y is analyzed. Findings presented illustrate how a career coach who understands these generational differences may positively affect the outcome of the coaching session.
According to the latest data from the United States Census Bureau, 65% of the estimated 236 million individuals over the age of 16 are members of the American workforce (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Besides a rich mix of culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender, the workforce has become segmented into four distinct generational subcultures: The Silent Generation, the Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X, and Generation Y. Each of these groups shares certain values, beliefs, and characteristics that were influenced by the era the individual was raised in.
Understanding that motivational influences may be different for each generational subculture is an important consideration for the career coach. This may be especially important when the coach represents one generational subculture and the client represents another. Coaches must be attentive to not become judgmental based upon his or her cultural upbringing. One way the coach develops this skill is through empathetic listening. In Emotional Intelligence, empathetic listening is defined as hearing the feelings behind what is said (Goleman, 1995).
This paper defines the characteristics of Generation Y, now the largest subculture currently employed in the U.S. Workforce, and examines literature presented by authoritarian sources in the field. Statistics will demonstrate commonly documented motivational influences of this subculture that may assist the career coach in uncovering hidden beliefs and understanding the foundational roots of core values.
Generation Y was the last defined subculture having entered the workforce. Members of this group were born after January 1, 1981. In 2008, Generation Y made up the largest slice of the United States labor force with 78 million workers (Sprague, 2008). Of all four generational subcultures, Generation Y is the most educated and technologically sophisticated group currently working (Crampton & Hodge, 2007).
Generation Y has also been referred to as the Millennial Generation, Generation Next and Gamer Generation; however, one reference that best described Generation Y was an article in HRMagazine referring to this subculture as The Tethered Generation (Tyler, 2007). Whereas Generation X introduced the digital age to society, Generation Y grew up not knowing any different. Generation Y was digitally tethered to their parents. Many of the earliest born Generation Y carried pagers to school, while later born Generation Y carried cell phones as early as elementary school. This group grew up educated with e-mail, texting, blogging, and other forms of collaboration.
Unlike the latchkey child of the 70s, children of the 80s and 90s had much busier schedules consisting of music lessons, sports, and scheduled play-dates (Baldonado & Spangenburg, 2009). Significant events occurring during the era of Generation Y include theOklahoma Citybombing, the popularity of the Internet, the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Columbine High School Massacre, September 11 attack, and several high profiled company failures. While these external influences helped to create a subculture morally and civic-minded, the family-centric model helped mode Generation Y into an optimistic and upbeat subculture respectful of authority, socially conscious, with high self-esteem (Sprague, 2008).
If Generation X was coined the Me Generation, Generation Y could be referred as the Why Me Generation. Actively involved parents influenced this generation to ask questions rather than settle for the status quo. Although they have respect for authority, this generation is completely comfortable walking into the CEO’s office and telling him or her they do not believe something is being done correctly (Durkin, 2009). Other generational subcultures may perceive Generation Y’s behavior as an unjustified sense of entitlement, or lack of work ethic, but this group is only following the guidance of their upbringing. They witnessed the failures of WorldCom, Tyco, Enron, and other corporations, and wondered why others failed to question what was happening.
Generation Y has no reason to think equal opportunity is anything special because for this group equality, just like technology, has always existed (Goldgehn, 2004). Civil rights, the women’s movement, and other struggles are history lessons for Generation Y. Whereas the Baby Boomer saw the injustice and unfairness of Jim Crow Laws, and fought for equality for the Negro, marriage between blacks and whites during 1970s and 1980s remained uncommon. In 2004, however; one out of every 35 Generation Y members had parents of mixed race, and over 30% were of Hispanic heritage (Goldgehn, 2004).
Just as previous generational subcultures changed the cultural of the American workforce, business can expect the same from Generation Y. As a tethered generation for whom instant response through e-mail and text messaging is the norm, this group looks for instant feedback. Generation Y will eventually redefine how business communicates and shares messages (Timmermann, 2007). No longer will the yearly review suffice, Generation Y will look for and require monthly, if not more frequent one-to-one review sessions.
The Carleton University study (Mayeda, 2004) listed “Salary” as the most important job attribute for Generation Y. Considering this generational subculture is the best educated of the four groups, the expectations for a high salary is no more surprising than expectations for instant feedback, and expectations for technology. Listed below are the top five work-related job functions Generation Y seeks:
- Good Salary
- Advancement Opportunities
- Interesting Work
- Work-Life Balance
- Good Benefits
Interestingly, although advancement opportunities did not make the top ten lists for Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation, and came in as number nine for Generation X, Generation Y saw this job attribute as extremely important for them. Another notable finding was “Interesting Work” was also not in the top five for either the Baby Boomer Generation or the Silent Generation, but was listed as the most important characteristic for Generation X. For Generation Y, “Interesting Work” was listed as the third most important job attribute. Only Generation X and Generation Y shared two of the three top job attributes which may be a direct link to the tethering environment Generation Y grew up with.