“Young people these days!” moans a 40-something boss who is looking for new staff. “Half of the applicants don’t even show up for their interviews. Those that do show up are spoiled brats: They don’t want to start at the bottom—they just want to do the ‘fun stuff.’ When you offer one a job, the kid decides he doesn’t want it anymore. Or asks if he can work part-time. Or accepts the job but doesn’t show up the first day of work.
“No discipline. They come in late, then take two-hour lunches. No manners. Answering, and even making, mobile phone calls during meetings. They can’t hear you because they’re all listening to iPods—not that they would listen to you anyway... They work six months and expect a promotion. And even if they get one, chances are they’ll get bored and leave within a year to be a ‘freelancer.’ Every kid is a damn freelancer these days! Who do they think they are, anyway?!”
Old fart, meet Generation Y.
Originally coined by Americans to describe those born during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Generation Y has also been called the “entitlement generation.” They grew up during prosperous times, without the threat of war tainting their rosy outlooks, and were pampered by their Baby Boomer (see “In My Day…”) parents, who wanted their kids to have it easier than they did. Gen Ys have had greater opportunities for education and employment than previous generations; they’re smarter, healthier, better-educated and more worldly—and they know it.
Thailand’s Generation Ys were born when life was easy and peaceful. They weren’t there to witness October 14, and too young to comprehend Black May. They have maids to cook and clean for them and they drive their own cars (paid for by their parents). They are masters of the internet, cable TV, mobile phones and PDAs. They can obtain any sort of information quickly and easily—and they expect the same level of instant gratification in every aspect of their lives.
From Moderndog’s alternative rock in 1994 and filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanarueng’s Fun Bar Karaoke and 6ixtynin9 in 1997 and 1999 to Fat Radio and A Day Magazine in 2000, Generation Y has grown up “indie” in music, film, art and literature. This movement celebrates the individual, telling young people that everyone is special in their own way. Big and mass-market are out, small and chic are in. They have moved from being jiggo to dek alter to dek indie to today’s dek naew. They can finally break away from conformity, if they so choose. More and more, to be cool means to live and think “out of the box.”
Young adults now entering the workplace haven’t had to struggle and don’t understand the logic behind so many of the methods and rules their parents were bound to. Though their goals may be similar to those of previous generations, they reach them in their own way. They know what they want, and they believe—some would say naively—that they can easily get it, so there’s plenty of time for play.
Y in the Workplace
But are Gen Ys really the spoiled brats with short attention spans the 40-something boss believes them to be? It’s easy to see how they are perceived this way, given the response time they’ve become accustomed to. They call to order pizza, and it arrives at their door within 30 minutes. Relationships are as easy as pressing the “Add as Friend” button on their MySpace accounts. Finding out what everyone is doing for the night requires no more effort than sending a couple of SMS messages from their mobile phones—no matter where in the world their friends live. Any form of music or entertainment they desire is just a few clicks away on iTunes or BitTorrent. The notion of sending a letter and (big sigh) waiting for a response is ridiculous to Gen Ys. And with the same speed they are used to getting things, they get bored—so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that they change not just their mobiles and cars like underwear, but also their jobs.
Boy, 29, is a freelance graphic designer who complains, “I’m bored of office work. It always chains me up.” Adds freelance photographer Chane, 32: “I’d rather spend my time in a bookshop than sitting at a desk.” Chatchawan, 26, another graphic designer says, “I like the freedom. I don’t like having a boss watching over me all the time. You just do the job and make sure it’s done properly.” These types of attitudes have caused more than a little tension in offices.
“I’ve talked to many business operators, and they all agree that the social trend has changed. Kids nowadays change jobs more often,” says Deputy Dean Chaisansook from Ramkhamhaeng University. Gen Ys can simply surf the net to find employment opportunities. “People in my generation didn’t have such access to information, so we had to stay in jobs we didn’t necessarily like,” he explains.
Duke, an art director, receives CV after CV from people who average one year per job. When questioned about the high rate of job turnover, the applicants usually explain that they had mastered the work and were ready to move on. She doesn’t buy it.
“It’s possible that one year on the job can make them realize whether they like it or not, but it’s hardly possible to learn everything and to be really skillful at it in one year,” she argues. Duke has worked for the same employer for five years and has moved from junior staff to a managerial position. She believes in loyalty—and patience.
Gen Ys may be better-educated, book-smart and know about more things on a broader scale, but compared to people who have worked and grown with a company for several years and gained a large amount of work experience, they might lack some profound skills and understanding of an industry or trade. Employers are now facing a crisis: a largely unskilled and unmotivated labor force that is unwilling to commit to the responsibility of a 9-5 job. When the typical Gen Y impatience takes over, they leave their positions to go freelance—often before they have the skills they need. The result is a growing bank of freelancers with high price tags and little actual know-how.
Deputy Dean Chaisansook voices the worry that in the future there won’t be enough people who are really good at what they do. “The problem is, the learning system is too superficial. Kids learn about too many subjects: computers, language, math, etc. They also learn from TV, radio, the Internet. There are many distractions for them. If the system continues like this, in 10 years we might lack specialists, those who really know about a subject in depth.”
It’s not just the speed of communications and the way Gen Ys were raised that’s encouraging this trend: Blame the MBA. Bangkok seems to be awash in over-educated people who don’t want to wait in line or grow in a company.
The Master of Business Administration is a scientific approach to business management. Skills our parents spent a lifetime acquiring can be obtained from a course you can finish in one to two years. “The MBA is fine for those who work and study at the same time. MBA students know various sides of a business but they also need experience and real-life skills,” Deputy Dean Chaisansook explains. Many Gen Ys boasting an MBA are over-confident in their knowledge and believe they shouldn’t have to work their way up from the bottom. They tend to walk in and expect to be well paid and start on a higher rung on the career ladder than someone who has been on staff for 10 years.
Similarly, independent-minded Gen Ys don’t want to be told what to do. They don’t believe in company uniforms, set office hours or rules. Even when they’re working for someone else, they still want freedom and independence. They talk back. They say “no.” They won’t go along with the majority if they don’t agree. While all of these things are desirable qualities in certain circumstances, it can be a bit hard for their older bosses and co-workers to take.
Freedom in Freelancing
For previous generations, a “freelancer” was a bum. In the age of Generation Y, freelancing is a growing trend, and freelancers are respected and admired (at least by their peers) as people who are living their lives on their own terms: no uniforms, no 9-5, no boss. It’s an option for those who want to work but don’t want work to be the focus of their lives. And it’s not just creative types—you can now find freelancers and “consultants” in almost every field.
But this rose is not without its thorns. The biggest disadvantage of freelancing is a lack of a steady paycheck. One month there might be lots of work, the next month nothing. Freelancers have to “hustle” to get jobs, and are often the last to be paid. And if there’s a mistake, while full-time staff usually gets a second chance, freelancers often don’t. They are expected to be pros, hired guns who are so good at what they do they can’t be tied down to a single company. Judgement is quick and harsh, and the line of other eager freelancers waiting to take their place—their Gen Y peers—is growing longer every day.
Being a freelancer requires a lot of courage since you know full well that you aren’t going to have social security, retirement compensation or sick leave, let alone a regular salary. Freelancers also find it hard to get credit cards and bank loans. Without this kind of security, providing for a family and making large purchases, such as a home or car, can be exceedingly difficult.
Why Gen Y
So what’s a boss to do? Simply avoid hiring Gen Ys at all? Not so fast, Old Fart: There are plenty of reasons you want Gen Ys on your team. Today’s young Thais bring energy, confidence, guts, creativity and adaptability. They are ambitious and aim to work faster and better than others, and as long as they are engaged, can be very valuable. Their ways of thinking and working are in some ways better suited to the world today than traditional methods.
Hiring freelancers, too, has its perks, and the tendency toward outsourcing work is growing. Deputy Dean Chaisansook reasons, “If a company wants to hold an annual event, they don’t need to bother hiring permanent staff for it, when outsourcing is easier and costs less. Companies in private and governmental sectors are now condensing their sizes and hiring outsourcers.”
What will become of Generation Y? Will these 20-somethings see their priorities change as they get older and opt for more security? It seems more likely that the workplace will change to accommodate Gen Ys than the other way around.
Despite his complaints, the 40-something boss still wants independent-minded Gen Ys working at his company. “I sometimes wish that they were more mature, and more realistic, but as far as the work goes, these kids are really amazing. I guess we just have to accept that as employees they may not stick around for a very long time. In the end, it’s worth it.”
Everyone loves to talk about the generation gap, but does anyone really know where it is? Ask five 25-year-olds what generation they belong to and you’ll get five different answers. It’s a particularly baffling question outside North America, since most of the definitions are based on US history and culture. But while the idea of the “GI Generation” may not work in Thailand, more recent generations are defined by not being tied to a particular place, and you’ll almost certainly recognize iPod-toting Gen-Yers on the streets of Bangkok. Take a look at the guide below to see where you stand.
GI Generation: Born between 1900 and 1924. Coming of age during World War II, many members of this generation are veterans. They are characterized by realism and duty, and in the US they created the post-WWII baby boom.
Silent Generation: Born between 1925 and 1945. Sandwiched between their GI elders and baby boomer juniors, this generation is mainly characterized by endurance of hardship: They were children of the Depression.
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964; primarily an American phenomenon. Also known as “the Me Generation,” baby boomers rebel against tradition. They witnessed the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam war, the first TVs and the beginnings of rock and roll. Baby boomers believe that things can change for the better. They are idealistic, ambitious, optimistic and question authority.
Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen-Xers were raised on cable TV, video games and PCs. They distrust institutions and tradition and want to be able to find their own paths. They are flexible and adapt easily to new technologies.
MTV Generation: Straddles Generations X and Y (born between 1975 and 1985). Also known as “Generation XY” or “the No Generation.” These kids are the children of baby boomers, and as the name suggests they’re heavily influenced by the trends (dress, language, music, etc.) popularized via MTV.
Generation Y: Born between 1981 and 2002. Now anywhere from four to 25 years old, Generation Y-ers have grown up surrounded by new technologies as well as by global disaster, both natural and man-made. They are realistic, globally aware, value diversity and are cyber-literate.