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My Oh Y

My Oh Y

In 1967 Paul Newman (sigh), during his "H" phase, starred in the great Western Hombre. There's this super scene where Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone) has scrambled up a hill to confront John Russell (Newman) and it ends with Newman delivering perhaps one of the best one-liners in a Western ever. "I got one question," Russell says. "How you gonna get down that hill?" (Russell then proceeds to shoot the bejesus out of Grimes as he tumbles head over heels down the hill.)

It makes me think of Gen Y. Yep, that increasingly vocal band born between 1981 and 1995. (My pick of what appears a quite debatable starting and end point. Results from a Google search yielded a wide range of dates: as early as 1975 and as late as 2003. Given that spread, it's possible for Gen Y parents to give birth to a Gen Y child, which would make for an interesting family: one where everyone was reluctant to hang around for more than three years.)

According to both "observers" and Gen Y-ers themselves, this group is distinguished by having a thirst for knowledge, being more socially responsible, and the desire to working through networks rather than hierarchies. They are also comfortable with, and switched on to, new technologies.

OK, I'm a boomer and that pretty much is how my generation felt at the same age. We were at university, against the war, for the environment, against racism, for women's rights, and at that particular point in time didn't trust anyone over 30. As to technology - well, I did bring a typewriter and transistor radio with me to uni.

But there are other differentiators, such as Gen Y's lack of loyalty. In their minds, it's this whole job-for-life attitude of us boomers versus their credo - "If I'm spinning my wheels, I am outta here." Hmmm . . . I never, ever thought I had (or wanted) a job for life, and I really don't know a soul who's been in the same job for 30 or so years.

In any case, the pointy end of the Gen Y group is now starting to make its way into the workforce in force and supposedly wreaking havoc not only on us baby boomers but the work culture in general. More than likely you have a sprinkling in your organization and the challenge now is how to keep these Gen Y-ers engaged or watch them wave good-bye. And while I really do have the utmost respect for this tuned in generation (whereas at that age we boomers were mostly turned on and tuned out), I think this is where we (the boomers) and Gen Y part ways. Frankly my dears, my job is to employ you, not engage you (that's why it's called work). I assume you're doing work that you find rewarding for some reason or another, and if you don't, then feel quite free to leave.

And that's exactly what Gen Y-ers say they will do - leave. But herein lies the rub. What happens when all those "go-to" spots happen to be held by people who do find their work rewarding? Or perhaps those jobs are held by people who now have some reason or another (a couple of kids, a mortgage, the usual commitments) and aren't going anywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a game of musical chairs where with a quick glance you know the exact number of immediate opportunities. Nor does nature strike a balance in the great job universe.

And like John Russell I have one question: "How you gonna get down that hill?"

Linda Kennedy | linda_kennedy@idg.com.au

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