[FoRK] Dude, where’s my job?

Adam L Beberg beberg at mithral.com
Wed Jan 14 11:47:21 PST 2009

This reflects what I see the undergrads (and everyone else much younger 
then me) thinking around here. The 99% of undergrads who wanted to work 
at a hedge fund to make their millions and retire at 30 are suddenly 
very very confused about confronting reality.



Dude, where’s my job?

What happens when the most entitled generation ever hits a recession
Jan 14, 2009 by Lianne George

It was only 18 months ago that the Wall Street Journal ran an article 
outlining the lavish demands of a new generation of workers, known 
collectively as Gen Y or Millennials or Net Gen. At the time, the 
thinking was that this group—ages 30 and under—had employers over a 
barrel. For one thing, there were relatively few of them, and employers, 
facing an imminent wave of boomer retirements, would be competing for 
the best of this young cohort. Also, since this is the Internet 
generation, they were believed to possess magical and mysterious tech 
skills that would prove invaluable in the workplace of the future.

Emboldened by these dual advantages, Millennials set their expectations 
high. Not only did they want fun, fulfilling work, with flexible hours, 
good salaries, and ample vacation, they wanted to be celebrated, too. 
Literally, feted. Savvy employers had taken to embracing measures like 
prize packages for a job well done, “public displays of appreciation,” 
and, in the case of one manufacturer in Texas, retaining a “celebration 
assistant” in charge of helium balloons and confetti. This was smart 
business, according to 30-year-old Jason Ryan Dorsey, a self-appointed 
Gen Y expert—who consults with companies like Kraft and Four Seasons 
Hotels and Resorts about the peculiarities and preferences of his 
generation. “Marking milestones is major,” he told Forbes magazine. “No 
birthday should go uncelebrated, and the first day on the job should be 
unforgettable.” Which is great, except for one thing: what happens when 
the most entitled generation in history slams into the worst job market 
in 30 years?

At the turn of 2009, in the midst of massive layoffs and hiring freezes, 
not to mention cut-rate Christmas parties where punch just wasn’t in the 
budget, these demands seem cringe-worthy—even more so than they did 
before. If ever there was a sign that the era of the sellers’ employment 
market is over, it came last month when Google—the Santa Claus of 
corporate perk-giving—instituted a hiring freeze and, among other 
things, cancelled its New York office’s decidedly Millennial-friendly 
tradition of afternoon tea. Almost as soon as they began for this 
cohort, it would appear its halcyon days are over.

In November alone, 71,000 Canadians lost their jobs—27 per cent of the 
newly unemployed are people aged 24 and under—and economists predict 
this is only a bellwether of worse to come. Suddenly, many of those 
retiring boomers can’t afford to retire. Making matters worse, 
Millennials are saddled with more debt than any previous generation (an 
average of $5,631 per year in student debt alone, not to mention the 
load sitting on their credit cards, and what they’re doling out in car 
payments). This recession is not what they signed up for.

“They were absolutely told that ‘You’re part of a blessed generation and 
you are going to be in control of your own destiny,’ ” says Winnipeg 
native Steven Rothberg, owner of CollegeRecruiter.com, a company that 
recruits college graduates mostly in the U.S. “The spring 2008 grads 
have had to do some major adjusting. They graduated with the expectation 
that it was going to be a sellers’ market, that they were going to have 
multiple offers, step into an upper management role and have significant 
strategic impact on a Fortune 500 company, and that’s just not the 
reality.” Until last year, he said, university and college students in 
their senior year, even the mediocre ones, could expect job offers as 
early as Oct. 1 of their final year. Now, employers are waiting until 
the spring to make hiring decisions, waiting to see how the economy 
shakes out, and leaving more students graduating into uncertainty.

There will be schadenfreude from those who see Millennial entitlement as 
a moral failing. “I hear people say this a lot,” says Dorsey of his 
boomer executive clients. “They say, ‘Your generation just needs one 
good recession and then they’ll appreciate their jobs.’ ” But this is 
too simplistic an assessment of why “kids today” are the way they are. 
They’re not genetically lazy or spoiled, any more than children of the 
Depression are inherently thrifty. Whatever overblown expectations this 
generation has are the product of decades of conditioning, and not only 
by overzealous boomer parents. Well-intentioned attempts to make this 
generation feel good about itself have, in fact, left them poorly 
prepared to weather a tough economic storm.

Consider that this is the first cohort to come of age in a time of 
institutionalized self-esteem. Beginning in the seventies, programs 
designed to boost children’s self-esteem were installed in schools and 
at home, in the form of books and TV shows like Mister Rogers’ 
Neighborhood. Throughout the eighties, according to the research of Jean 
Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, the 
number of studies published on the benefits of self-esteem programs 
doubled, and in the nineties, it doubled again. Then came the 
elimination of competition, harsh red marking pens, and the arrival of 
books with titles like Celebrate Yourself: Six Steps to Building Your 
Self-Esteem. “Generation Me’s expectations are highly optimistic,” 
Twenge wrote in her 2006 book on the narcissistic tendencies of this 
group. “They expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps 
even to be famous.” Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between optimism 
and confidence, and irrational entitlement.

But it wasn’t just indulgent teachers and coddling parents that formed 
this generation’s world view. The self-esteem revolution happened to 
dovetail with a consumer shift toward an ever-greater focus on the 
individual. Marketers trained their sights on young people more intently 
than ever before, piggybacking on the self-esteem movement to offer 
youth heaps of affirmation in the form of a countless array of 
products—just for them! They realized that parents, flush with credit 
and disposable income, were inordinately concerned with their kids’ 
opinions, even when it came to grown-up purchasing decisions (from cars 
to family vacations). Tweens spend about $2.9 billion a year and 
influence purchases worth another $20 billion. From the age of eight, 
Millennials saw themselves reflected everywhere: in ads for tween 
shampoos, designer fashions, and fragrances. By the time they got to 
university, credit card companies were handing out application forms 
along with student orientation packages. The message, as always: if you 
want it, you should have it.

It only makes sense that the environment in which they were raised would 
inform what they expected from a job—namely, flexibility, authority, 
instant respect and continuous affirmation. (This is a generation, after 
all, in which seven out of 10 rank themselves “above average” in 
academic ability.) “They’re not going to put up with the ‘paying your 
dues’ and being in the mailroom for the first three years,” says 
Rothberg. “In their mind it’s, ‘I graduated. I’ve always succeeded. I’ve 
always got a trophy for everything I’ve done. All of my friends and 
everyone I know is above average, so when I go into a place of work, I’m 
either going to set that place on fire or they’re not good enough for me 
and I’m out of there.’ ”

But there is a surprising upside to this attitude that may wind up 
benefiting both the young workers and the companies that employ them. 
Ironically, the Millennials’ addiction to affirmation may also turn out 
to be their saving grace. “What is interesting about this generation,” 
says Max Valiquette, president of Toronto-based youth marketing firm 
Youthography, “is that a lot of the carrots and perks they’re asking for 
have nothing to do with money, and almost everything to do with how they 
work.” Very few of them have had hard experience scrimping to make rent. 
(In fact, in 2006, 44 per cent of Canadian adults ages 20 to 29 were 
living with mom and dad). Instead, Dorsey says, the incentives they 
crave involve self-determination, being recognized for good work, and 
regular feedback—things that cost no money at all. In other words, to 
some degree employers may be able to substitute applause for hard 
currency and still keep young employees perfectly happy, a potential 
boon in a cash-strapped economy.

For those young workers fortunate enough to find or keep work in the 
midst of the storm, life is about to provide some eye-opening lessons, 
and the same might be said for the companies trying to balance their 
need for young ambitious workers with their immediate need to keep costs 
down. “Smart companies are going to see this as an unparalleled 
opportunity to build Gen Y loyalty,” says Dorsey. “I always mention the 
birthday thing because it’s so simple, but Gen Y really does believe 
that the most important holiday of the year is their birthday because 
it’s the one they don’t have to share.” If this turns out to be true, 
expect to be eating a lot of cake in 2009.

Lianne George is the co-author of The Ego Boom: Why the World Really 
Does Revolve Around You (Key Porter), due in stores Jan. 27

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