Generation Y: technology shapes attitudes to work

By March 01, 2016
Le rapport au travail de la génération Y

The Millennials will soon be in a majority on the job market. Here we take an inside look at what motivates this generation of young people, who are marked out by their use of digital tools and their relationship with the working environment.

The 18-24 age group are now taking over as the largest segment of the US job market, providing roughly a third of all employees. By 2020, ‘Generation Y’ will account for 50% of the global workforce. So now that their numerical superiority in the world of gainful employment is assured, this seems a good moment to ask how Millennials actually relate to work. Do their attitudes to work differ from their elders? There is of course a danger that trying to describe the characteristics of an entire generation will lead us to draw up a list of stereotypes, but it would still seem useful to pick out a few contextual elements that might help to explain some of attitudes and behaviours adopted by Generation Y-ers and perhaps even go some way towards fostering better working relations between the different generations. 

77% des membres de la génération Y en France estime important de donner un sens à leur expérience professionnelle

Some 77% of Generation Y-ers polled for a recent Deloitte survey said that their ‘company’s purpose’ was part the reason they chose to work there (Deloitte)

Giving meaning to one’s working life

A recent report by Deloitte entitled ‘Mind the gaps: The 2015 Deloitte Millennial survey’ highlights the importance that Millennials attach to the ‘purpose’ being pursued by the company that hires them. Some 77% of those surveyed – 7,800 Millennials representing 29 countries around the globe – say that their company’s overall goal is the main reason they chose to work there. They are sensitive to the impact the organisation they work for has on society, and they are constantly searching for meaning, a point which a survey commissioned several years ago by Steelcase Workspace Futures entitled ‘Gen Y: United States’ already highlighted.

Clearly the desire to give deeper meaning to one’s work is not the exclusive prerogative of the younger generation. However, a look back at recent history can go some way towards explaining the particular importance which Millennials attach to this aspect. The parents of Generation Y-ers are of course the post-war baby boomers, who entered the job market in the 1960s and 70s. The economic conditions in during these years of growth enabled baby boomers from developing countries to build stable careers. They grew up with a high degree of job security combined with a higher standard of living than that enjoyed by their parents. The Generation Y-ers however, having grown up bathed in the optimistic outlook of their elders, are nowadays having to cope with an entirely different economic situation, plus a saturated job market. Moreover, the Millennials can be caricatured as ‘Generation Me’. As he explains in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Cal Newport, an assistant professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University, has drawn on Google’s Ngram Viewer tool – which allows you to visualise how the rate of use of one or more words increases over time – to check on the phrase ‘follow your passion’.  Apparently this expression skyrocketed in the 2000s in printed English texts. Similarly, while instances of the expression ‘a secure career’ seem to be steadily declining, the phrase ‘a fulfilling career’ is demonstrably on the rise in general English language use.

Le sens donné à son expérience professionnelle est lié à la performance individuelle

Managing to give meaning to what you do is closely linked with individual performance and work satisfaction. Above: in green, those who feel a strong sense of purpose; in grey those who lack a strong sense of purpose. (Deloitte)

Generational conflict or technology divide?

The fact is of course that Generation Y-ers are the quintessential ‘digital natives’, the children of the Internet revolution, who have become familiar with new information and communication technology in an entirely intuitive way, by experimenting with it. This is moreover a generation that is used to being immersed in a constant flow of instantly accessible information. As Marylène Delbourg-Delphis, a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about linguistics explains: ‟Major corporations have become accustomed, largely due to their top-down hierarchical structure, to dealing with employees who focus on carrying out the task in hand without asking for anything more or indeed wanting anything more. Millennials however want to be spokesmen and women for what they’re creating at the company, to sort of carry the torch, and above all to be passionate about what they do. So there’s quite a job on here to explain to the older generation that the passion Millennials want to feel in their work is not about calling authority into question, but rather a desire to be part of the company’s true value and help to grow it. Millennials’ language habits differ from those of previous generations. Generation Y-ers have for instance grown up using text messages and in an SMS you get straight to the point. This fast communication isn’t meant as rudeness, it’s a linguistic approach geared to the technologies they grew up with. This represents a radical shift in communication codes from those learned during a traditional academic education. So it’s not really a conflict between the generations. This is a communication gulf that has been prised open by the digital shift.”

Nowadays most companies have Generation Y-ers working alongside older staff. While making a joint contribution to the firm’s development is not always frictionless, everyone concerned can learn a lot from this kind of collaboration. The easier communication that comes from the use of digital tools should serve to smooth relations at work and help create a harmonious balance of forces, making it possible to create a working environment in which everyone – whatever his/her age and relationship with modern technology – can find personal fulfilment.

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