(Mis) perceptions of Generation Y in the Workplace (Part 1)

Generation Y has been stereotyped as entitled, coddled, demanding, and dependent. But how did these perceptions come about and do they really fit? The Public Speaker takes a close look at the communication divide between Baby Boomers and Gen Y.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #189

by Lisa. B. Marshall

Generation Why. The Entitled Generation. Trophy Kids. Demanding. Coddled. Lazy. Dependent.

These are all terms that have been used to describe the generation known as Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation. This is the generation born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s. It’s interesting to me that none of these terms are flattering, yet I’ve worked with many from this generation and my own experience has been somewhat different. Today is part one of a two-part mini series on Generation Y in the workplace.  

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Generation Y: Everything is Possible

One time, I asked Mallory, a Gen Y intern at lisabmarshall.com, how she would you describe her generation. Here’s what she said,

“My parents are Generation X and they made sure I knew I was special. Not only that, I’ve got a room full of trophies. I was rewarded for everything – just for participating. I was told over and over, ‘You’re so smart; you're so talented.’ I really believed that anything was possible and that I could achieve whatever I wanted in life.  Our parents are important to us. My parents are very involved in my life. Some of my friends’ parents were so involved they even handled any issues when my friends had problems with friends, coaches and teachers!”

I think most experts in Gen Y would agree with Mallory’s description. I thought it was interesting that she didn’t mention anything about technology—it’s so ingrained in her life, I’m not sure she could imagine living without it. Of course, this is the first generation to grow up with the internet, cell phones, and unlimited data plans. They are tech-savvy and more connected to family and friends than any previous generation. Some say they are expert in communication, however, for me I think they are simply accustomed to a different type of communication.

Generation Y: Meet My Parents

Also, as Mallory alluded, many people in this generation grew up with “helicopter parents” who managed nearly every part of their lives. These parents are known to threaten college professors with lawsuits and to accompany their grown children to job orientations. A friend of mine is a professor at a large university and she often shares stories of parents doing their college student’s homework or emailing teachers with excuses for incomplete assignments or missed classes.  

I recently read an article in Personnel Today called “Recruiting Young People – Meet the Parents.” The pieces cited two crazy examples of parents getting too involved in their kids’ lives:

  • "My son is very interested in a career with you. Can I give you his CV? No, he's not here, he's in bed, but I'm here on his behalf." (Careers fair)

  • "My daughter always travels first class. Is she really expected to travel second class on business?" (In response to query from HR)

These may be extreme examples, but stories like these contribute the perception that when you hire a Generation Y worker, you’re also hiring their parents! It’s what leads to the words I used at the beginning of this episode to describe Generation Y: The Entitled Generation, Trophy Kids, Demanding, Coddled, Dependent.

Generation Y: Work Hard to Land a Job

Here’s the problem: In sharp contrast to the expectations Generation Y was raised with, they have entered the workforce at one of the worst economic moments in U.S. history and with more college debt than any previous generations. For many, the only way to even land a job is to have a long series of unpaid internships. I think that’s why my view is different. I have found that the most successful Lisabmarshall.com interns, all of whom have been Gen Y, are the students willing to go the extra mile, who understand what it takes to succeed. 

The problems happen after graduation. Because of the substantial experience and skills they accumulate via these internships, these new graduates often find themselves in entry level jobs or taking assignments that older, more experienced workers won’t accept. So they’re not viewed as special and they certainly aren’t using their skills the way they expected. It can be quite a blow to the ego.

So while some of these initial perceptions of Gen Y may be legitimate to an extent, they don’t take into account the strengths and skills this generation brings with them to the workforce. In part two of this mini-series I’ll cover tips for Gen Ys to overcome these perceptions and what the rest of us can to do to make working with this generation a positive and productive experience. 

This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker.  Passionate about communication; your success is my business. 


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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.