People try to put us down

I’ve rarely been happier with my generation than after reading this article from The Wall Street Journal. The paper interviewed a cross-section of corporate America’s human resource experts, asking them for their impressions of the rising workforce. The interviewees expressed uniform concern that Generation Y feels an undeserved sense of entitlement.

“These outspoken young people tend to be highly opinionated and fearlessly challenge recruiters and bosses,” says Journal reporter Ron Alsop. “Status and hierarchy don’t impress them much. They want to be treated like colleagues rather than subordinates and expect ready access to senior executives, even the CEO.”

The article goes on to mock the highfalutin expectations that branch from this feeling of entitlement, among them: higher pay, flexible schedules and the opportunity for career advancement.

This approach to the workplace represents belligerence against the militaristic structure of the modern corporation. Without a proper sense of deference, a worker might demand a fair wage, instead of being grateful for the crumbs left in the mess after the general feasts. He might insist on a job that accommodates and satisfies him, alongside colleagues who appreciate his efforts, instead of swearing an oath of loyalty.

These two approaches cannot collaborate. Either disobedience will be tamed, or hierarchy will be toppled. Unfortunately, the task of democratization is eternally challenging. Workers on the bottom of the pyramid have the most combined power, but they are forever occupied by carrying the weight of those on top.

Still, youth engagement in the 2008 presidential campaign suggests that Generation Y might just have the awareness and the dedication needed to advance workers’ power.

But what engendered these subversive thoughts? The Journal blames our parents for keeping our chins inclined. The flaw, they say, was our exposure to an excess of positive reinforcement. Our parents loved us even when we didn’t win.

This sort of unconditional compassion is toxic to institutions that thrive on division and exploitation. The reporter, I believe, mistook a sense of humanity for a sense of entitlement.

I’m not saying my generation can save the world, or reverse the fortunes of a declining nation. Our sense of humanity develops within the confines of self-interest. But I do think we at least feel we can reshape American society into something significantly more humane. Maybe we will. As the Journal points out, we have been “bred for achievement.”

Though, we have been known to expect too much.


  1. Ian

    How dare we? HOW DARE WE!?!?!

  2. Jordan

    I see nothing wrong with not being pushovers. There’s no reason not to go against the status quo when we’ve seen the effects it has had on our parents and others before us. No real wage growth since the 70s? Less vacation days and health care than comparable countries? Well, screw the corporations and the government that helps them. We’ll wheel and deal with them and if they can’t help us then we’ll do it on our own. It’s a broad, possibly inaccurate, statement, but I think there’s a large portion of our generation that is entrepreneurial in spirit that is more willing to try new things and adapt to new situations.

  3. Andrew

    I guess the print version had already met its quota for evidence-free puff pieces for the week?

  4. foo

    “Still, youth engagement in the 2008 presidential campaign suggests that Generation Y might just have the awareness and the dedication needed to advance workers’ power.”

    Your cynicism needs some work.

    Otherwise, a good article, thanks.