Wealth Shift: The Decline of Ethics in America
Back to Table of Contents

A Word About Gen Y (aka the Millennials)

According to a Careerbuilder.com survey, 87% of all hiring managers and HR professionals say that the majority of this country’s 76 million Gen Y workers feel more entitled in terms of compensation, benefits, and career advancement than older generations. Carerbuilder.com cites the following statistics:

1) 74 % of employers say Gen Y workers expect to be paid more.

2) 61% say Gen Y workers expect to have flexible work schedules.

3) 56% say Gen Y workers expect to be promoted within a year.

4) 50% say Gen Y workers expect to have more vacation or personal time.

5) 37% say Gen Y workers expect to have access to state-of-the-art technology.

6) 55% of managers over age 35 say Gen Y workers have a more difficult time taking direction or responding to authority than other workers.

Unquestionably, Gen Y is getting a lot of negative press these days. Labeled things like “Generation X on Steroids” and “Gen Why?”, it’s very easy to dismiss Gen Y workers as spoiled, self-indulgent, lazy, arrogant, unrealistic, sassy, pushy, opinionated, bored, attention-seeking, high-maintenance…anyway, you get my drift. Because Gen Y is so challenging to manage, we forget to focus on the fact that the best and brightest of Gen Y have been continuously nurtured for greatness – not from the day they were born, but from the moment of their conception. (Pass the headphones and the Beethoven, will you please?)

If we look at Gen Y as a square peg, and the current corporate structure as a round hole, no matter how hard we try to push, prod, lecture, berate and belittle Gen Y, we are never going to be successful in our efforts to mold them in our own image. We find ourselves growing increasingly frustrated with Gen Y because they exhaust us with their endless questions and need for feedback. We’d give anything if they’d just sit down, shut up, stay on task and pay their dues the way we did. Because the way we work, the way we’ve been working for longer than Gen Y has even been alive, our way is the best way.

Or is it? What if Gen Y, the generation that has been nurtured to be the best thing since sliced bread, the generation that started playing with computers before they could walk, the generation we as parents have worked our asses off to create – what if Gen Y has incredible reservoirs of potential we have no earthly idea how to tap?

There is plenty of proof that this is true, and companies like Apple and Microsoft are beginning to realize it. Chad Hurley (YouTube) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) are two high-profile examples of Gen Y mega-millionaires who were unwilling to simply put the old corporate bit in their mouths and trudge blindly around the grindstone. The real challenge for companies today is to not alienate that kind of talent. Because it does us no good if the talent takes their toys and starts their own companies in which to play and to profit. We need to engender loyalty and provide outlets for all that pent-up Gen Y creativity if we want to be a part of their future successes.

Google is a prime example of a company that understands this concept. Since implementing the concept in 2004, Google has given out millions in “Founders Awards” to people inside the company who have come up with innovative and profitable ideas. Apple and Microsoft are two other companies that are on the cutting edge of rethinking the corporate structure to better suit the work style of Gen Y and they are clearly reaping big rewards for doing so. They conduct think tanks, are supportive of flex-time, and keep a whole goody-bag filled with surprises specifically designed to attract and retain Gen Y.

One of the common denominators inherent in all entrepreneurial success is a lack of fear in the heart of the entrepreneur. To be truly successful in any career, we must be willing to take risks and put ourselves out there for better or worse. Nobody ever paid me the big bucks for stale thinking. The top dogs all want someone who can give them a big, long list of amazing deeds when asked the question, “What have you done for me today.” They all want someone who is clever enough to find the solution that nobody else has seen and fearless enough to lead the charge to make that solution happen.

Interestingly, Gen Y is the first generation in the entire history of our country to be born without fear and raised to be fearless. It is difficult to quantify the impact that fear has had on those of us who were born during WWII, or the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or the Cold War, or the Great Depression or the economic recessions of the late 50s, early 70s, and early 80’s. We Boomers have been “at war or poor” for so much of our existence, that we can’t help but worry about the future.

Conversely, Gen Y has benefited from both relative peace and unprecedented prosperity. The last mandatory military conscription occurred in 1973, and the period from 1983 to 2007 encompassed the longest period of expansion in U S history, interrupted by only 2 short (8 month) V-shaped recessions in 1990/91 and 2001. As a result, the average Gen Y’er is imbued with both the spirit of an entrepreneur and the confidence of a riverboat gambler.

Gen Y has also had unprecedented access to resources and education. Even the games they play teach them concentration, problem-solving, eye-hand coordination, and strategy, as well as history, geography, language arts, music and general knowledge. Stimulus junkies they may be, but they are also wildly adept at multi-tasking, computer and tech savvy, quick-thinking, and passionate when they feel involved.

They tend to irritate people who are higher up in the food chain than they are because they won’t lower themselves to brown-nosing or blindly following where others lead. They make waves by loudly vocalizing their desire for a “quality life” when they haven’t yet paid their dues. “You want quality of life, you little twit? Stop cutting - get in line. Yeah, that line, there. The one that forms behind me.” (Ok, so we Boomers don’t actually say this. But it is what we’re thinking.)

Yes, Gen Y may not understand why, but they really, really piss older people off. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they have the capacity for intense loyalty to a “team” in which they feel both mentored and listened to. They are idealistic to a fault, intolerant of rote procedures they perceive as inefficient or ineffective, and they are willing to work shoulder to shoulder with anyone (and I mean anyone) who is willing to roll up their sleeves and do the shit work, too. They think advancement should be based on performance, not just tenure. They want to feel a part of something BIG. REALLY BIG. For them, being part of something BIG is fun.

Like it or not, the future of our country is in the hands of Gen Y. Because they have been raised outside of the box, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to stuff them into one. Managed correctly, Gen Y has the capacity to become productive, creative, inspired and inspiring leaders. Managed incorrectly, they will become the most disillusioned, passive-aggressive, unethical, Wealth Shifters the world has ever seen.

How do I know this for sure? Because Gen Y is the generation where 50% of the high school students and 75% of the college students polled in a recent survey said they had cheated on a major exam within the past year. It is also the generation where 29% of the workers from 18 to 24 years of age admitted to outright thefts of cash from their places of employment (versus 9% of older workers). It is the generation that restaurant patrons should seriously avoid making angry, because Millennials, when provoked, have no qualms about spitting in people’s food.

How could we expect otherwise? Gen Y has grown up watching their parents and grandparents slogging away under the traditional employment contracts discussed in the first chapter of this book, only to be dumped on in the end through downsizing and loss of benefits. Like the Native Americans, who were first shoved off their land by settlers, then shoved out of the mountains by miners, then shoved off their barren land and onto reservations by oil barons, and who have now found a way to make a pile of cash in casinos (talk about resilience!), Gen Y is imbued with enough energy, conviction, and intelligence to find ways to work the system for their own benefit.

Gen Yers do have ethics and morals, but they can be pushed into unethical behavior if they feel that doing so will effectuate a more equitable result. They have all been mentored in a big way by video games, TV, and movies, and, as a result, they totally revere the “anti-hero” (the “bad” guy whose “end” justifies his “means”).

While I, personally, can’t remember the name of the first movie I ever saw where the bad guy got away, I do remember being shocked by it. Now it’s a rare occurrence in Gen Y-targeted movies for the thief to get caught. Mostly he ends up on a beach somewhere munching lobster and sipping tequila out of Selma Hayek’s navel. His end (getting rich) justified the means (stealing the rich guy’s jewels). What’s the matter? You don’t think that end is good enough? Gimme a break, will ya? It’s not like the thief stole from the poor, ok?

Grand Theft Auto IV grossed half a billion dollars in its first week of release. Not bad, not bad at all, for a game whose sole purpose is to drive around stealing cars, destroying property, picking up prostitutes, and bumping people off.

In all honesty, I like games like Hit Man as much as anybody. It’s fun to figure out the strategy of assassinating the target without losing money for being seen, etc. So I’m not one to jump to the conclusion that playing a bad guy in a video game is going to push a kid over the edge of sanity and make him a bad guy in real life. All I’m saying is that these “anti-heros” have been getting a huge amount of face time with our children, and it’s high-time we stepped up to the plate and showed them that being a good guy in real life is as capable of providing a big rush as taking out innocent bystanders in Grand Theft Auto does.

The more I see people aggressively Wealth Shifting all around me, the more I have come to believe that we are on a very slippery slope. The self-imposed ethics of the pre-Boomers have given way to the situational ethics of the Boomers, which have given way to the “as long as I don’t get caught” ethics of Gen X, which is giving way to the “you’re no better than me, so quit preaching” ethics of Gen Y.

But the biggest problem with Wealth Shift is that it is no longer confined to “the little things” that happen between the hours of 9:00AM to 5:00PM. It refuses to confine itself to the workplace. Wealth Shift has a pervasive impact on a person’s overall ethical demeanor. Because once people begin to subconsciously spend the majority of their time cheating the companies they work for, it is a short leap from there to starting to look for ways to cheat society in general. To cite the third ethical influence once more, workers will find plenty of justifications for their actions in the unpunished behavior of the people around them, not the least of which I like to call The Lessons from the Big Boys.

Previous | Next