This past Friday, I participated in a panel at the Columbia Business School's Women in Business Conference. We talked about "Generational Issues in the Workplace" and I played the role of Gen Y Gadfly (whether I actually am in Gen Y or not is anyone's guess -- some say that 1978 is the beginning of that generation). Our wonderful moderator, Gabrielle, asked me to participate because of the message in Grindhopping which, the more I think about it, was pretty much a Gen Y career manifesto.
Here's the gist of my message: These days, there is no chance that the place that hires you at 25 is the place you will retire from at 65. We all know that, but Gen Y really knows that. And when you know that going in, you behave differently. You know that you will be in charge of your career. So every job becomes a project -- hopefully one that will give you new skills, a new network, and move you closer to where you want to be. So of course you want lots of feedback! And of course you want to be challenged and make an impact immediately. How else are you going to land the next project? Gripes are legion among older folks who work with Gen Y about people wanting to present their ideas to the CEO on day 1, but on some level, given that you're never going to be anywhere for long, you can understand why people would swing for the fences.
The other big Gen Y reality is that we've grown up with technology. We have fully absorbed that most knowledge work can be done anytime, anywhere. In fact, it can be done more efficiently not in a regular office from 8-5 (or 6, or 7...) So what we call "flexibility" is, for Gen Y, not a privilege to be gained from years of loyal service to a company. It's an opening bid.
Personally, I think these are positive characteristics, not whiny entitlement. Every job ad I've ever read says that managers want people who are entrepreneurial and results-oriented. The problem is when managers don't realize what this really means.