Predictions about the Future of Gen Y at Work

As another cohort of young professionals enters the workforce this graduation season, I’ve been pleased to see some more positive articles about Generation Y appearing in the media. Sure, the members of this generation are still young and have a lot to learn, but, these articles assert, maybe they’re not as “entitled” and “coddled” as older generations feared.

Finally some good press for today’s twentysomethings!

I’ve been an evangelist of Gen Y for years and am pleased to see this more positive portrayal of a generation I’ve found to be smart, creative and ready to make a positive contribution to their workplaces. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that the oldest Gen Ys are now entering their 30s and taking on more and more leadership positions. Inevitably, this will bring some big changes to the work world. Here are three predictions:

1. We will expand and lengthen the definition of “entry-level.” Because Gen Ys are extending the onset of adulthood into their mid-twenties or even age 30 (a phenomenon that I believe was confirmed when the new U.S. health care legislation determined that young people can stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26), I think companies will follow suit in treating the twenties are more of a career training period.

I believe we will see expanded internship programs (perhaps lasting several years beyond college), more alumni career resources being offered by universities (so there is less pressure to choose a career by age 21) and longer corporate rotational programs — perhaps moving from two years to three or four. The days of graduating college and joining a company for life are long over, but we are only beginning to see companies develop creative new approaches to career pathing. For interesting examples, check out Best Buy, Google and Zappos.

2. Titles and career paths will become more customizable. According to MTV’s 2010 Millennial Edge survey, 81 percent of Millennials agree with the statement, “I am always expressing myself in different ways.” We’ve already seen this attitude in the workplace with Gen Ys seeking work/life balance, holding out for careers they’re passionate about and not hesitating to leave jobs that don’t feel fulfilling.

Over the next decade, I predict that companies will respond with more customizable titles, rotational programs, work schedules and other opportunities for employees to express themselves and their unique preferences in their careers. This Gen Y characteristics will lead to more entrepreneurial desire as well, so companies that offer opportunities for intrapreneurship or support “moonlighting” will also have an advantage in attracting and keeping young talent.

3. “Standard” business communication will evolve. We’ve already seen business become much more casual. When was the last time you called a colleague or client “Mr.” or “Ms.” or wrote a formal business letter? While I firmly believe that good grammar and face-to-face interaction should never go away, it’s clear we are headed for more text message speak (“LOL” was just added to the Oxford English Dictionary, after all) and more virtual communication as the “digital natives” of Gen Y begin to run the show.

Because human interaction is still incredibly important, my belief is that the technology will improve so that even virtual communications feel personal, such as better video chatting software and more realistic meeting technology such as Cisco telepresence. Even if you can’t be in the same room as a client or colleague, you’ll feel as if you are.

What predictions do you have for the way Gen Y will affect the workplace in the coming years? Please share!


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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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