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Gen Y Ushers in Promise of a Better Workplace

More than a few times while growing up, we Baby Boomers heard this exhortation from our parents: "Once you get a good job, hold onto it."

They meant well. After all, our parents lived through the Great Depression, when they saw their own parents struggle with day-to-day living and not knowing where their next meal would come from.

So, for the most part, they didn't teach us how to be take-charge people, especially when it came to work. The dads of our parents' generation (most of the moms stayed home to keep house and watch over the kids) endured, rather than enjoyed their jobs. In some cases, their jobs would make them sick out of frustration and anger, and inflict a seemingly helpless feeling (self-induced) that they were stuck.

If you're part of Generation Y (aka, the Millennials or the 20-somethings) and you find this a bit hard to believe, find a DVD of the old ABC-TV series "The Wonder Years," which takes place in the 1960s and '70s. Study the character Jack Arnold. For most of the series, Jack works in a middle management position he not only hates, it makes him physically ill. If Jack were working today, he probably would have told his bosses long ago where to shove the job.

So now, Gen Y'ers: With your emphasis on striving for happiness at work over complacency, your reluctance to put work over leisure and family, your willingness to take more control of your own destiny, and use your superior command of information technology to advance your career, how does all this talk of the past make you feel? Huh?!?

Take this from a Boomer: You've got it right! I just wish most of your grandparents' generation was around to listen and take notes.

In theory, at least, your attitude toward work makes us both envious and proud. You saw your Boomer parents struggle, even with two full-time incomes, to give you a good life and send you to college. Hopefully, along the way, they encouraged you to make your own decisions and taught you that you could do anything you wanted as long as you put your mind to it. You value having a life outside work, and when you work, you want to have fun. If the fun leaves the job, chances are you will too.

A Paradigm Shift in the Workplace

It's that attitude that has ticked off many a workplace, especially those run by my contemporaries who believe you have to give your heart, soul, and a few pints of blood to your job - and damn the leisure or family time.

As for those Boomer executives who act like Captain Queeg (the rigid, authoritarian commander in The Caine Mutiny), here are three words of advice: Deal with it! Life does not revolve around work, nor should it.

And it appears many are dealing with it. They have to, based on the demographic changes that are happening in the U.S. workforce. For instance, the American Society of Training and Development found that while 76 million Baby Boomers will retire over the next 20 years, only 46 million new workers will be available to replace them. Some of them will come from Generation X (born between 1965 and the late 1970s), but the majority will come from Generation Y.

That's why some companies are trying to become more flexible and more fun, offering the work-life balance Gen Y workers demand. What they should also be doing is hooking up the Gen Ys with Baby Boomer colleagues who can mentor them as part of a strategy to improve employee retention. After all, a high rate of employee turnover can be a drag on productivity and send a message - aided by the social networks Gen Y uses widely - that certain companies are just not worth working for.

If you're part of Generation Y, or not, what positive changes are you seeing in the workplace? Or, what changes do you believe should be made?

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