business news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting piece on 60 Minutes last night about the so-called “Echo Boomers” – sometimes known as "Generation Y" or "millenials” – and the impact that they are having on American business and culture.

The “genetic offspring and demographic echo” of their baby boomer parents, there are almost 80 million people in this demographic group, and while many of them cannot yet vote, they “spend $170 billion a year of their own and their parents' money,” according to correspondent Steve Kroft.

As a group, according to experts, these echo boomers tend to be over-achieving, over-pressured and over-programmed. They are more sophisticated about media and culture than any preceding generation. They’ve never ridden in a car without wearing a seat belt, never ridden a bicycle without a helmet, and never played a competitive sport without getting a trophy at the end of the year – regardless of whether their team won or not.

But because of this emotional coddling and attention, when an echo boomer shows up for work at a first job, they tend to have unusual expectations.

"They expect to be immediate heroes and heroines. They expect a lot of feedback on a daily basis. They expect grade inflation, they expect to be told what a wonderful job they're doing," Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrician and professor at the University of North Carolina, tells Kroft. "[They expect] that they're gonna be allowed to rise to the top quickly. That they're gonna get all the credit they need for everything they do. And boy, are they naive. Totally naive, in terms of what's really gonna happen."

Levine says that is not the only part of their cultural conditioning that's going to require an adjustment in the workplace.

"I talked to the CEO of a major corporation recently and I said, 'What characterizes your youngest employees nowadays?'" says Levine. "And he said, 'There's one major thing.' He said, 'They can't think long-range. Everything has to be immediate, like a video game. And they have a lot of trouble sort of doing things in a stepwise fashion, delaying gratification. Really reflecting as they go along.' I think that's new."

Levine calls the phenomenon visual motor ecstasy, where any cultural accoutrement that doesn't produce instant satisfaction is boring. As echo boomers grow up, they'll have to learn that life is not just a series of headlines and highlight reels.
KC's View:
Fascinating piece.

At some level, it probably is up to employers (and parents, for that matter) to educate kids about real life – that they won’t always be coddled and nurtured, that life is hard work and more hard work, that process is as important than reward, and that gratification isn’t always immediate.

But at the same time, it certainly makes sense for employers to start figuring out how to structure their businesses to appeal to the specific needs and yearnings of this new generation. After all, if an employer can figure out how to do that, it’ll help push that employer to a preferred position.

It’s a challenge. Both ways.