Thursday, November 22, 2007

High Expectations at Work

I found this Utne article to be very telling. Indeed, while I am a Generation X'er, I have found that my work experiences have met with similar frustrations. It is illuminating and a bit humbling to recognize how egotistical my peers and I have approached the workforce. Now 6.5 years into my working career, I can see how the following statement accurately described me only a few years ago.

Nurtured on a steady diet of self-esteem, the swaggeringly confident children of the ’80s and ’90s are flying the nest and starting to land in the workforce. They’re clamoring for quick feedback, meaningful involvement, and pumped-up recognition—and roiling old-school colleagues who dub them impatient, needy, and arrogant. The kids are frustrated too: Entry-level duties are a far cry from the dream jobs they’ve been made to feel are their birthright.

Indeed, entering the work force post-college can be quite a shock. After years of performance driven education, in which you received continuous recognition of your development (grades), you enter an often slower paced work environment, where fitting into the system is often more important than your individual performance. I thought the following comment was spot on:

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says we’re too focused on
results with young people, and it has taught them to value performance instead
of process.

Valuing performance over process is something that I have definitely been guilty of. Indeed, I would say my education experiences trained me in this regard! So it comes as no surprise that many of us have a rough transition to the work environment, often leading to disillusionment or depression. The author notes that depression is now more common for those in their 20s and 30s than it is for older generations.

There is a silver lining to the changes that are afoot. Indeed, it is even exciting to anticipate the coming changes in the workplace as employers adapt to the needs of Gen Y'ers.
While previous generations rebelled against the cubicle-to-coffin mentality
and struggled for workplace flexibility and improved benefits, here’s a
generation that wants to get feedback, have input, and engage in meaningful
work. They want the companies to which they commit to be environmentally,
socially, and personally accountable. “I think young people are putting us
to task because they want managers to do their jobs—to develop people,” says
Martin. “We’ve got to make the distinction between unrealistic expectations
and high expectations that are calling us to be better.”
The sobering reality is that not all employers will step up to the challenge (I suspect mine will not). What this will mean for the long term viability of some companies remains to be seen, but I suspect that most creative and ambitious Gen Y'ers will not stick around at companies that do not embrace a new paradigm. Dynamic companies such as Google will attract the best and brightest of the current generation, the rest will depend on the aging baby boomer generation to keep their competitive edge.