The Organizational Strategist

October 12, 2009

Unfortunate trends for Gen Y and more

Generation Y has been an interest of mine for some time now. My interest comes from many angles, but my being on the cusp of Gen Y and Gen X is a major part of it. Another aspect that I want to keep up on is how Gen Y will impact business and how best to work with and/or lead them. During my Masters in Positive Organizational Development and Change degree, I did a leadership paper on how to lead Gen Ys. I may do another post on that in the future.

To give some background, the time period Gen Y usually starts is in the early to mid eighties. The actual range varies depending upon the studies done and how the boundaries are defined in the study, of course. Generally speaking, most Gen Yers, also known as Millennials, are entering the work force or have a handful of years of working experience by now. This places them in entry level positions, where learning is absolutely critical to prove oneself.

Unfortunately for Gen Y, many of the jobs they want and potentially need to get into are less available right now. The world wide economic downturn is certainly a huge set back for everyone. However, that makes it even tougher for a newly minted college grad. How can they get an entry level job, which ironically often require a few years of experience, when they have to compete against seasoned professionals? Why would a company hire a new grad when they can get a seasoned veteran for the same price?

That’s not the only challenge and this next one extends beyond the plight of Gen Yers. There is an even smaller ratio of available company jobs than there might have been if this recession took place several years earlier from now. Baby Boomers have an extraordinary work ethic and they are staying at their job longer than previous generations have. A recent MediaPost article states that the long time veterans are staying on for the following “psychological and social factors:

  • ‘to feel useful’
  • ‘to give myself something to do’
  • ‘to be with other people'”

While I applaud the stamina and dilligence, this trend will lead to systemic problems. If the veterans are not vacating their roles, others will not move up the corporate ladder. This will make it so others do not have as many growth and learning opportunities. Beyond that, there are simply less jobs available. That compounds to make it so that Gen Y and others have a tougher time even getting into the workforce. Gen Y will be forced to wait or take jobs that they aren’t hoping to get into, meaning not in their industry(ies) of choice, and so their initial years in the workforce won’t be building toward long term efforts.

To bring this home, companies need to take action. Companies need to take action both for their own long term sustainability and for the sake of their stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, etc). Beyond that, Gen Yers need to have opportunities to rise up. Knowledge management has long been a hot topic, but this needs to become a proactive and not just a reactive measure. New and existing lower ranking employees will need opportunities to grow, either through their own promotion and initiative or by having avenues of growth created for them. Thinking of long term strategy, a company needs to constantly be cultivating its employees, especially those companies and industries where expertise takes a long time to create. What would happen if there was a 5-10 year gap in the corporate ladder and experience? What many companies are trying to do is to shift those who are in retiring ages and those who are important and likely to leave, for whatever reason, to more mentoring, teaching, and coaching roles. This idea seems like a great one to me. This will still keep the expertise available for the important business challenges, help ensure that the knowledge/skill is passed on, and satisfy the veteran’s desires to stay active, involved, and social.

I’ve seen knowledge management and personal development done differently in many ways. In some cases, I’ve been really impressed with a company’s efforts or forward thinking. However, I’ve also been worried for the long term business stability, strategy and sustainability of very impressive companies. Regardless, this is a topic of importance that will not soon go away.

Note that this post was edited slightly after its initial publication.



  1. Whit,

    This is thoughtful. Actually, Charles Handy gave great thought to this in the early 90’s as a futurist and his model considered factors of age and knowledge transfer. It was called the Shamrock and it was described in a book, The Age of Unreason. I based this website and its thinking on this future.

    I will visit here again.


    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — October 12, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    • Thanks Lavinia! I’ll add that book to my list to check into.

      Comment by Whit — October 12, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

  2. Good article — it is daunting for Gen Y right now, young workers without the credentials to potentially beat older competitors in the limited job market.

    On the flip side, when the Baby Boomers start to retire en masse, there should be plenty of jobs that will open up, particularly in upper management positions. The challenge, of course, is getting the experience now to have the proper resume to fill those open positions on down the line.

    Comment by Lou P. — October 12, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    • Thanks Lou. You’re quite right about the resume challenges. Do you know any ways to overcome such challenges?

      Comment by Whit — October 12, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  3. Thanks for linking in my blog. Whit, as you know I identified you from the Case Western Community as a person who was thoughtful and up and coming. You took the time to leap beyond the system of thought any engineer, technologist or project management would be confined to work within and chose to educate yourself and learn about Sustainability, Leadership and more.

    I have an up and coming post to report on the new format of education that will shake people of all ages out of their box cars to learn a new format of education that positions people of all age to build a common base of dialogue.

    I hope you will monitor this thought at both my blog and strengthen your association with my network as time goes on to bring to the Pacific Northwest the thinking and leadership you built into your own personal capacity and that has led you to build a network of association that moves business practice outside institutional walls that are restricting the global economy. There is a meeting in New York soon to begin a vision of practice that points innovation and leadership and core groups to begin to practice a method of thought in network that reaches out across all sectors and will both repair and sharpen our ability to build a future for all generations.


    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — October 12, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  4. Good article Whit, but let me react to your statement about why would a company hire a new grad when they can get a seasoned veteran for the same price?

    What I have seen in the market is that even do a seasoned veteran is willing to do an entry level or low experienced position for the same salary than a new grad, companies don’t feel comfortable hiring them, there are always the what ifs such as: Your are over qualified for this position and you are not going to be engaged or eventually you will get a better offer and you will leave us soon.
    My perception is that although Gen Yers are, in fact, competing now with experienced people they still have higher probabilities to be hired.


    Comment by Fernando Pliego — October 15, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    • Thanks for reading Fernando. You do bring up good counter points. For long term thinking companies, those what ifs are probably on their minds. They should think of rapid advancement or placement once experience leveling takes effect or deal with the veterans leaving. For companies that aren’t concerned with those what ifs, for whatever reasons they have, they may be getting great deals, but may be faced with filling similar roles that they are now.

      Comment by Whit — October 15, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  5. Very interesting, and social media will definitely play a part in knowledge sharing between newer and veteran employees.

    Did the MediaPost article predate the economic crash? Most common reason I hear for not retiring yet is recent hit to the retirement account!

    This made me think back on the trajectory of my own career. When I got out of college, unemployment was worse than it is today (assuming numbers are counted the same way, which I don’t entirely trust!). I was working for a dozen years before I found the career that fit me perfectly, but every work experience paid off in ways I could not have predicted. Given today’s circumstances, balancing ambition with a bit of “go with the flow” might be in order.

    Comment by Alice Dunlap-Kraft — October 15, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

    • Hi Alice,

      I did a quick search on those links and it appears that the survey was utilizing decades of information. However, the specific information that it’s pulling on to determine that the seasoned veterans are staying longer was not clear to me. Regardless, I’m sure that many people are staying on longer to add to their accounts as you mentioned.

      The employment percentages are only helpful for certain measurements. There isn’t a clear indication that if someone is employed that they are employed in the industry or role that they initially wanted. I expect that loads of people, young and old, are employed, but not in the ways that they desire. Of course there will be lots of people who want better pay, importance, perks and other aspects, but not being in the same industry that a person studied in would be a helpful measure. Knowing what people dream about versus what they have settled on would be truly telling. I do think that the variety of experience and diversification of a background is good though. So, that is one area where benefit can be observed despite difficulty elsewhere.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Comment by Whit — October 15, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  6. Whit, I have a question for you and your associates to think about. The term Millenial was first spoken from my experience by Danny Sheehan at a meeting I facilitated back in the late 90’s in San Francisco. Danny traced when he did a thesis at Harvard School of Divinity after many years of practicing law (e.g. he was the attorney representing NOW in the Karen Silkwood Case) a 4 generation cycle of which the 4th generation were casted as Millenials.

    It seems to me that as I recall the Millenials had a personality style of correcting the problems created by previous generations.
    When I was at Accenture for a short time in 2001, I interviewed numerous talented Millenials off line at Sun Microsystems who were C++ programmers. There was a reoccurring social theme that they were not going to make the same mistakes their parents the boomers made with downsizing and more. It occurs to me are most of the Millenials caught up in today’s Green and Climate movement to fix the mistakes of their parents and if so, are we forecasting employment from an old view of full employment (work for the same company for life) instead of looking at where Millenials have success in more social, eco and climate related ventures? Do we need to learn more about their employment model (portfolio work), which I coach and teach people to utilize as the new economic strength for employment?

    Just thinking and your message to my email box today sparked this idea and question.

    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — October 15, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

    • The green and sustainability movements certainly have been picking up and Gen Y is a strong proponent of that. To tie in Gen Y/Millennials, I bet that the people, planet, and profit (3 Ps aka Triple Bottom Line) will become more and more important for a company’s value proposition to entice new employees. Anyway, these areas would be good to monitor and integrate into ongoing efforts.

      Comment by Whit — October 15, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  7. I have to agree with Fernando. What I see happening is companies are cost cutting with higher paid seasoned employees and are backfilling with cheaper inexperienced employees. They can have 2 employees for the price of one and muddle through with less experience. I am seeing alot of 50 year olds in the unemployment line.

    Comment by Darla — October 15, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

    • Thanks for reading Darla!

      The people out of jobs will vary by geography, industry, company and more. With company hiring decisions, there will be tradeoffs. As you mentioned Darla, 2 employees for the price of one may get more work done when it requires less experience. While other companies may be seizing the opportunity to get more experience with less pay, simply because of the increased supply of talent available and decreased job availability.

      Comment by Whit — October 15, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

  8. Interesting post on Gen Y workers, Whit. Being one of the tail-end boomers (50+) I’d agree with your commentators that we’re seeing a shake out of many experienced workers in various employment sectors and a paucity of opportunities for Gen Yers to step up. The willingness of business to muddle through rather than develop and promote existing talent is not new, but that’s a discussion for another time.

    Perhaps Gen Yers need to consider alternatives to pure entrepreneurism which many folks consider overly risky or pure corporatism which leaves workers waiting to be noticed and promoted at someone else’s pace? Would working for a cooperative, particularly a worker-owned cooperative, with peers address some of the Gen Y needs and concerns?


    Comment by Marc Kivel — October 16, 2009 @ 7:26 am

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Marc!

      I have heard that some companies, particularly retail and sales oriented ones, are pursuing more flexible staffing models and orienting themselves around self-managing work teams. These set ups appeal to the work-life balance that many Gen Yers seek and allow for them to take on managing themselves more, which is another appealing factor. What have you seen and heard about Gen Y working with cooperative organizations?

      Comment by Whit — October 16, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  9. One factor you have not considered in the “boomers work longer” effect is demographics. In most developed countries, there is a a severe baby dearth right where the Millennials fit. The exception is the US, which has maintained its birth rate, at least at replacement level. Therefore, if Millinnials are blocked by Boomers from advancement, consider international assignments in Europe and Asia.

    As far as “getting Boomers out of the way”, a possible ‘win-win’ solution is to assign Boomers as mentors to Millennials, to pass on corporate knowledge and lessons learned. I, as a 53 year old Boomer, would enjoy that assignment.

    Comment by Jeff — October 19, 2009 @ 7:48 am

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for reading and commenting. International placement and roles is certainly a good option, especially since so many companies are becoming international or global. Regarding Boomers mentoring Gen Y individuals, I wholeheartedly agree. The Boomers, Traditionalists, and Jones were the groups I was referring to when stating that I’ve seen companies shift the retiring age veterans to transition into more teaching and mentoring roles.

      Comment by Whit — October 24, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  10. Lol … why all the fuss about Gen Y? I don’t recall ever being mentored as a Gen Xer??

    Does no-one realize that the Xers are sitting there in early midcareer after getting caught in the flat organization trap of the past 20 years, waiting for the seats once the boomers do depart. The Millenials have a long wait and they’re driving us Xers nuts!!!


    Comment by Matt Lawes — October 20, 2009 @ 8:10 am

    • Great point Matt. As an “Xer”, I share your thoughts. Additionally, I think the way GenY has been raised, they have an expectation that they can have what they want when they want it, and get to have a say in how that should play out. Businesses have been designed by Traditionalists and Boomers who have a very different approach. We in the OD space have a lot to do to prepare for the incoming conflicts!

      Comment by Lynette — October 21, 2009 @ 11:39 am

      • Thanks for reading and commenting Matt and Lynette. Gen Xers are the ‘do it yourself’ generation that has a fierce sense of independence. How they got that way may in some ways be by choice or through circumstance. Either way, Gen X has made great things happen through their own initiative and diligence.

        As far as Gen Y, I too have read that there is a sense of entitlement. The conflict resolution, communication development, and nurturing understanding are all very valuable ways that Organizational Development consultants can greatly assist.

        Comment by Whit — October 24, 2009 @ 1:10 am

  11. Lynette, say more about the OD space you have to manage. I describe myself as a “workecologist”, where I define WorkEcology as follows:

    “The “idea” of WorkEcology relies on an expectation that in all aspects of life we are embracing a need to explore a culture of change and not simply focused on personal change and personal growth. A “culture of change” implies that we are convening communities of practice into sustainable learning forums where groups of people come together to learn and apply that learning to lead change.”

    I am working on authoring a future scenario that integrates aspects of how to address a workforce that is now comprised of 4 different generations and has a funnel of welcome to people who are in early phase of education and a funnel of self-selection for people who chose never to leave.

    As an OD Practitioner what is your thought or anyone here on what this means?

    Whit was kind enough to post a link to my blog, on what I think about as I write my book, opeds for I view myself as an action researcher and found this conversation to contain quality of thought.

    Early, I mentioned that Futurist Charles Handy (London School of Economics, Open University and Harvard Business School) wrote the first scenario that thought about multiple generations and the more I think about this now, I believe it is definitely time for a new scenario, so I have decided to write one and organize a focus group on Sustainable Learning which I will launch in Manhattan as a live event at some point. Anyone interested in participating can write me to set up a call so I can evaluate if this event is right for your participation.

    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — October 21, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    • Workecology – VERY interesting! I too have quite a bit of experience launching Communities of Practice in a medium sized (15,000 person) firm, and have been a study of Knowledge Management, workforce trends, generational management, leadership, toxicity, and all things pertaining to the social sciences inside the walls of corporate America. I have been doing OD work within organizations for more than 10 years and am very interested in continuing this dialog and learning more about the focus group on Sustainable Learning. How can I get more engaged?

      Comment by Lynette — October 22, 2009 @ 6:46 am

  12. Lynette, thanks for your interest.

    1. RE: my cop — it is intersector and not corporate based

    2. It is a new model that is not easy to practice and most experiments fail or have been fraught with such chaos people spend more time angry than productive

    3. It is based on years of my own personal research on what works and what can be working better

    4. It has input from some remarkable advisors at my original web site for WorkEcology here:

    5. The new website is 70% complete and wont’ be launched until the community forms its dialogue in a focus group in person

    6. To qualify for an invitation requires some work and a modest amount of funding.

    Whit is in my network because I am a mentor with Reasearch Group and on the Advisory Board for the World Business Academy EthicMark(r) Award which is associated with Case Western’s WeatherHead School MBA program on sustainability which produces the annual conference where the award is given.

    7. My commmitment is to see any student with an education in Sustainability who has a track record and experience to contribute to be employed to work well to live well.

    My blog which describes my current thinking is at Read some of the material there contained within recent posts about a Culture of Change and then feel free to email me through my personal website at if you would like to begin exploring with me an invitation to come to the community launch on Sustainable learning.

    Now back to previous programming here. I would still enjoy learning how you think we can address multiple generations in a community of practice or work. I have some strong ideas at present, I am preparing for my focus group and why and welcome your ideas.

    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — October 22, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  13. I couldn’t disagree with you more. This read like a lament from those who are disappointed that the world of work has changed. It has, forever. Get over it. This recession is just a timely reminder that these changes began in the early 1980s. We’re only about 30 years into this revolution. You’re going to see more and more of this. So, the questions we need to ask organizations and the people in them is “How are you going to think and behave differently so that you can thrive in this new environment?” You’ll get much better answers than if you long for the “good ole days.”

    Dr Bruce Hoag, CPscyhol

    Comment by Dr Bruce Hoag — October 28, 2009 @ 6:06 am

    • Hi Bruce, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Each generation of workers and even each individual will have ups and downs with professional challenges and their own environmental challenges or benefits.

      This was not meant to be a lament, but more of a thought piece on what can be done to turn around a potential challenge to the benefit of all. I could see these recent changes indicating that problems may arise from a knowledge and experience gap, which would be the unfortunate trend referenced in the title. Knowing that there may be such a problem or even if it already is, should, at least, make for more informed decisions. I too feel that your question would be a good one for companies to keep in mind as their workforce and market environment changes over time. Ideally, companies will be able to proactively take measures to ensure long term organizational sustainability.

      Comment by Whit — October 28, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  14. Hi Whit,

    Thanks for your comments. I should say that I don’t think there will ever be “long term organizational stability” for the simple reason that the world, the economy, the workplace and society in general is inherently unstable. We have to think now about what we’re going to do differently in an environment that is no longer stable. So, you can see that all of our assumptions must be based on this important change.

    Cheers, Bruce

    Comment by Dr Bruce Hoag — October 28, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  15. Very good articles, and great follow-up discussions. Wonder if I try to match that with Gen Y in Asia … that the findings may be different ?

    Comment by Eddie Ng — November 14, 2009 @ 6:08 am

    • Hi Eddie, thanks for reading and commenting.

      I expect that the generational trends would vary greatly in the different geographies and cultures. The macro-level influences, on the other hand, will still give similarities for Gen Y in the US and Gen Y in China, Japan, India and so forth though. For instance, Gen Y in eastern Asian countries would likely be less perceived as disrespectful of industry veterans than in the US because I know that there is a much stronger cultural respect for elders. The macro-level effects, like the internet growth and usage, tech-bubble bursting, the world-wide economic downturn that we’re in right now and others, all would likely have similar impact to decision making and risk taking for the different Gen Y groups around the world.

      Comment by Whit — November 21, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  16. Whit,

    Re: Your comment: “For instance, Gen Y in eastern Asian countries would likely be less perceived as disrespectful of industry veterans than in the US because I know that there is a much stronger cultural respect for elders.

    This is correct and somewhat a limiting view of where we have to guide our future. You define this view on the culture of the past.

    Right now I am asking what is different in India and China and Asia and why that is morphing into forms of practice of sustainability.

    My new research center will be reporting and guiding these practices. Our initial membership campaign is about to begin in December for individual membership with a well defined and purposeful method of conferencing and virtual activity that is strategically driven. Some of our publications will be free sharing and anything involving reports on emerging cultures of sustainable practice will only be accessible to members where there is a defined contract for purposeful participation and respect for the budget that will be defined by our new board of directors and advisory sub-groups.


    Comment by Lavinia Weissman — November 22, 2009 @ 9:30 am

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