Working with Generation Y

Much attention has been focused on Generation Y in the United States, a lot of it negative. Those who belong to this generation were born from 1980 to 1994, coming of age from 2001 to 2015.

As digital natives, they are adept in using digital devices, though many use them for entertainment rather than work.


Coddled by parents, Gen Y are used to constant praise and rewards for minimal effort. Competitive, they have high expectations, possibly unrealistic, of working in companies that are rewarding in every way: financially, socially, emotionally, creatively.

Living in an era of relative peace, Gen Y in the United States nevertheless lived through the 9/11 attacks, though many were too young to remember the details.



I have taught several generations for years, starting with Generation X, then Generation Y, and now, Generation Z. Though the negative characteristics above are indeed present in a lot of young people today, I am also heartened by what I view as their strengths.

Tolerance is a welcome characteristic. Gen Y (and even more, Gen Z) not only tolerate, but celebrate, differences. Differences in ethnicity, religion, background, gender are not an issue for young people, who do not much care how people dress, what they eat, even how they behave, as long as they are a friend or coworker.

Pushed by the Baby Boomer or Gen X parents, Gen Y value formal education highly, and believe that an MBA is a must for family businesses. They pride themselves on honors and a lengthy curriculum vitae chockful of activities. They spend time and effort decorating their Facebook page or increasing their Twitter feed, and attending tutorial schools, enrichment sessions, coaching seminars, to burnish their image to the world.

Gen Y desire competence. Respect is not a given; for young people, respect has to be earned. They dislike incompetent bosses, and prefer merit-based systems which gives rewards regularly.

Work-life balance is extremely important for Gen Y. They clamor for flexible hours, informal dress codes, meaningful work. Though they pride themselves on high pay, sometimes they may give up positions of authority in favor of businesses that have a huge social component. They constantly question their elders regarding the significance of what they are doing, and, if not satisfied with the answer, they readily pack up and leave.

“This is my third job in three years,” says my former student Mike (not his real name), now 26. Mike graduated with honors, but could not stay long in any job. I would not write another recommendation letter for him, I warned, if he would not stay at least two years in a job.


“The first six months are challenging and fulfilling,” Mike says. “But afterwards, things are boring. I was told that I can only apply for promotion in two years. But, frankly, I have done good work, better than many of the old people in the business. I don’t want to wait for two years, so I leave.”

“Handling other people’s money is not where my heart is,” says another student, Tessa (not her real name), 23. “Sure, I was paid well, but I am not too happy with the company’s CSR. Life is too short to waste on things I don’t enjoy doing.”

Tessa left a family business bank for a family business-based non-profit and, today, seems to be happier there.

Gen Z

Those belonging to Generation Z were born after 1995, and now are still in school. I predict that they will share similar characteristics to Gen Y, even more so. They will not expect to work their way up the business ladder. They will insist on being heard, regardless of age or seniority. They will continue working in teams, multitasking on fun and entertaining tasks, often using shortcuts, so wise employers would do well to be patient and give these youngsters a second, third, or even fourth chance.

Gen Y and Gen Z will insist that job requirements are made crystal clear. Employers have complained that young ones today need a lot of guidance and praise—well, young ones today generally enjoyed a better relationship with their parents than older groups, so they expect their boss to be as encouraging and affirming as their parents.

Young people are idealistic, and will insist that the business they work for should be ethical and socially relevant. Many also prefer to be entrepreneurs, starting their own ventures rather than working for others—something family businesses should celebrate.

(Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press [e-mail [email protected]] E-mail the author at [email protected]

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