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Will Generation Y redefine work or fall into line?

Is Canadian corporate culture in for a major shake up? Count me among those who will be on the sidelines, popcorn in hand, waiting for the ground to shift when Guy Laurence, the incoming chief executive officer at Rogers Communications steps up to the plate.

For those not familiar with Mr. Laurence, the current CEO at Vodafone UK, he could be described as the proverbial bull in the corporate-culture china shop, laying waste to traditional trappings such as offices, landline phones and paper on desks.

Such cultural changes may foster better communication and creativity for all employees but many observers believe his approach is aimed squarely at enticing workers from Generation Y.

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If his objective is to Gen Y-ify the workplace, the question is whether these tactics work. It appears as though this group of young workers mystifies and baffles many older employees, giving birth to an industry of experts and researchers who believe that while Gen Y members are tech-savvy, they are in general, lazy, filled with a sense of entitlement and in constant need of feedback.

Not everyone buys that generalization, including me. This confusion dealing with Gen Y (those born roughly from 1980 to 2000), specifically how to motivate younger workers, is likely little more than the age-old clash of the young and inexperienced butting up against older and seasoned workers. It's easy to forget how many of us were clueless when we began our careers.

"Having unrealistic expectations of the working world is a product of inexperience, not a trait of a specific generation," said Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg, a Toronto-based online job board for students and recent graduates. "An individual with less or even zero workplace experience will be very likely to have some mistaken ideas."

Kendra Reddy, a Toronto-based leadership coach and founder of the firm It's a Big Life!, does not believe the stereotypes about younger workers. Rather than "a generation of lazy people who don't have any loyalty," she describes Gen Y employees as "questioning, challenging and redefining how work gets done."

As with any generation, there are nuances to this age group that differentiate them from others, but "there's no rule that says every human must follow the same nose-to-the-grindstone path to the same generic definition of success," Ms. Reddy said.

And just which kettle is calling the pot black? Many people who spend time finger-wagging and generalizing about Gen Y members who want a different style of working life are perpetuating a stereotype of "angry, narrow-minded old people," she added.

Certainly, some Gen Y leaders believe that businesses aren't making the best use of their age group. Kayla Cruz, a 23-year-old in Miami who runs the Lost Gen Y Girl blog said she began working for a large organization at 19 and was passionate to make a difference but found "a lot of corporate b.s. gets in the way of that."

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"While I agree that young professionals need some experience before they can make it to the top of the proverbial ladder, most [young professional graduates] can do much more than answer phones and make photocopies. Job descriptions need serious revamping," said Ms. Cruz, who is working on a master's degree in public administration and has a full-time job as a regulatory research co-ordinator at a Miami hospital.

Companies may be losing some of the best talent because of these misunderstandings. Ms. Cruz believes the inability of some businesses to effectively utilize this group's skills pushes young workers into more entrepreneurial opportunities.

"Big organizations aren't offering young professionals opportunities to grow and expand their job functions, so they're creating these opportunities for themselves. I think that's a wonderful thing," she added.

Kevin Shea, chairman of Ontario Media Development Corp., agrees. Mr. Shea, who acts as a mentor to many young entrepreneurs through Toronto start-up incubator INcubes, said he is wowed by youth people who bypass large organizations to launch their own business.

"In my generation, it was almost drilled into your head to get a job with a big company or the government and work toward that pension. I don't think I can name anyone I went to high school or university with who set out to be an entrepreneur," he said.

Still, Mr. Shea has some advice for the Gen Y cohort, including learning how to be effective in an interview and to not be afraid to send an old-fashioned letter or pick up the phone to get noticed.

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His last piece of advice for young workers is to leave their parents at home when they're looking for work. More than once, he said, his contemporaries have asked him to mentor or give advice to their children looking to enter the work force – and then insisted on tagging along.

"Parents today spend an inordinate amount of time being the advance person for their kids. When kids enter the work force, it's time to let them go."

Leah Eichler is founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. E-mail:

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