Generation Y stereotypes proven wrong

RSM Richter survey shows assumptions about Generation Y in the workplace aren’t always true

Employers often think 18 to 25 year-olds are overconfident, but according to a new study by RSM Richter, stereotypes like this about Generation Y simply aren’t true.

David Steinberg, co-managing partner of RSM Richter’s Toronto office, said his company’s August survey showed young people are often misperceived in the office.

He said Generation Y’s aren’t arrogant. In fact, the survey showed that 30 per cent of Generation Y’s were concerned about not meeting expectations once in a new workplace.

Sociology Department Head Vincent Mosco said the media often perpetuates generational stereotypes.

“The media likes to present information in small and simple language. As a result, they oversimplify and find it easy to stereotype generations,” he said. “Generation Y is labeled as overconfident because Generation X was labeled slackers and other labels were already used on previous generations.”

Mosco said there’s absolutely no reason for Generation Y’s to be labeled as overconfident in their abilities.

“If anything, Generation Y’s lack confidence because they don’t know if they have the skills to keep up in such a fast-moving world,” he said. “Generation Y people are better educated, which might lead to some sense of self confidence on their part, but I think this is entirely overruled by the state of economy.”

According to Mosco, the biggest challenge facing Generation Y isn’t the prevalence of stereotypes in the workplace but the lack of jobs for them in the job market.

“Saying the younger generation is overconfident in their abilities is a way of blaming the victim for their own circumstances. It’s a way of the older generation saying, ‘It’s your own fault,” he said, adding that Generation Y’s lack of success in the job market is due to the state of the market itself.

Mosco said Generation Y stereotypes aren’t harmful because most people who are serious about employing young people are aware that stereotypes are false.

“There isn’t a lot you can do to overcome stereotypes no matter what generation you’re in,” he said. “All Generation Y’s can do is prepare well for a job and try to do well once they’re in the workplace.”

Steinberg said the survey commissioned by RSM Richter might help companies recognize the truth about their Generation Y employees.

“We do the survey to determine myths and stereotypes in today’s work force,” he said. “We hire a lot of young people each year, so to become better recruiters we need to learn what younger people are thinking.”

Steinberg said the survey found that most young people would prefer to avoid giant conglomerates.

In fact, only 22 per cent of 18-to-34 year olds want to work in a company with over 500 people.

Over 1,000 Canadians aged 18 and over took part in the Aug. 16 to 17 survey. Age groups surveyed included 18-34, 35-54 and 55 and over, but RSM Richter looked at the results of the 18-34 group specifically, Steinberg said.

Generation Y was always taught to keep their options open.

Steinberg said roughly 25 per cent of 35-54 year old plan to work for the same employer for their whole career, while 41 per cent of respondents 18-34 anticipate working with the same employer for up to three years.

“Everything in life has become faster and better. Everyone wants to fast track, and it is common to fast track through school to get better grades,” said Steinberg, adding that historically people looked for jobs which presented the best opportunity, but the pace of the working world is much faster today.

“When the younger generation wants a quick fix at everything, you’d think this would apply to work life too.”

Jenny Zhang, junior audit associate for RSM Richter, said she was surprised to hear that a lot of Generation Y’s expected to stay with a company for longer periods of time.

“We assume that everyone in our generation is looking to jump from job to job but the survey showed people are looking to build a community and stay in the same place,” she said.

Zhang, Comm ’11, said that in her experience working in a smaller firm is a lot less intimidating and daunting than a big firm, where you wouldn’t get to know everybody you’re working with.

“In my experience, employers realize that younger people grew up in a world where the amount of information that hits us is much higher than what they would’ve dealt with,” she said, adding that she doesn’t feel she’s been discriminated against by employees because she’s from a younger generation.

Stereotypes arise if you don’t get to know the other party, Zhang said.

“Stereotypes about Generation Y’s arise of lack of knowledge, but employers see that Generation Y’s have a lot of different ideas and innovative ideas that can improve companies,” she said.

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