There's much talk about how dramatically different the latest generation (Generation Y) is.
I hear that Yers don't respond to mass advertising. They balance work and leisure at the earliest stages of their career paths. They don't think there's a future in working their way up from the bottom. They demand mentoring and training before committing to a job. One survey suggests Yers think anyone retiring from the same company that first hired them is a loser.
With that as a back drop, it won't surprise anyone that Gen Yers also complain more about product and career disappointments than their elders (even more than their elder siblings!).
So let's see, they are unmoved by hype, demand better products, want more time off, expect caring support networks, prize personal mobility and like to voice their disappointment strongly and often. Sounds like they are in touch with their inner child, but I'm not sensing anything evolutionary here.
My theory is these kids are just acting out what we've been talking about for years and what's been pumping out of their televisions since their first steps. What seems so different about these kids is that, instead of whining, they're acting as if their views reflect the way things are.
Take the fact that they are reportedly bulletproof to mass marketing. Isn't this simply the logical conclusion of hearing us grouse about meaningless endorsements?
Remember hearing that Tiger Woods, after receiving a multi-million dollar endorsement from Nike Golf, was actually playing with a Titlist driver? What did that teach our kids about the integrity of celebrity backing?
Does anyone really believe that Ed McMahon is circling their neighborhood with the $1 million Clearinghouse Publishers check that they may have already won? Resistance to hype is simply the result of being taught to know better.
What about their demands for mentoring and training? Given the pace of change these days, Yers know that their education has a short shelf life. To stay competitive they need to continuously update their skills.
To stay on the employed side of corporate downsizing they look to align themselves with someone who can tell them which skills are more valued than others? Gen Yers have grown up hearing about 20-year managers getting pink slips in the mail (shamefully sometimes through e-mail).
Today's kids know instinctively that on any given day, a job might be eliminated as part of a merger or restructuring. You don't need to strain to believe that those who made the cut were attached to a “mentor” who guided them as to what job skills are most important to cultivate.
The Y generation demand for downtime is their way of dealing with the reality that health, safety and lifespan are all uncertain. Medical miracles have prolonged our lives but, terrorism, disease and accident have cut them short.
Yers are a generation that grew up knowing Christopher Reeves in a wheelchair because of a split-second accident before knowing him as Superman. They've seen Lance Armstrong beat cancer, but they've also seen newborns beaten by aides. We have a generation that has witnessed the horrors of war and the tragedy of Columbine. Yers aren't too keen on waiting for retirement before taking their leisure time seriously.
I suppose they've learned to politely speak their minds rather than suffer silently because help in this digital age is just a few keystrokes away. This would account for their more prolific complaints from ever more subtle product failures.
Flawed is the notion that it might take a whole new generation to ignore hype, to balance our lives or to demand what's due us. Their ideas are not revolutionary. We retailers need to embrace these kids because they are the voice of our generational teachings, spoken and acted out without the struggle of our experience.
If we raise the benchmark of our employee interaction and of our consumer caring, we will not only satisfy Generation Y, but touch the hearts of the rest of our customers and staff as well.
The future belongs to those dealers who look through new-age vocabulary and pop psychology to see the value equation in straight talk, a real deal and a little more time off for the pursuit of happiness.
Peter Brandow is a dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.