Back off, Generation X

This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 23 February 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission (

I resent the stereotype of Generation Y - to the extent that I don't particularly want to use the term in my attempt to dispel the various misconceptions here, for fear of giving them further credence. I do not believe the stereotyping of generations is accurate or, perhaps most importantly, helpful.

The most pervasive of the Generation Y generalisations is that we have, at best, a self-centred work ethic, and, at worst, no work ethic at all.

In 2012, when I started my own coveted training contract, the UK had just emerged from a double-dip recession. There were approximately 45 applications for every training contract vacancy, and that was an improvement from 75 applications per vacancy the previous year. So, am I entitled to be annoyed at criticism levelled by Generation X, who seemingly walked out of university and into the jobs of their choice?

To berate an entire generation for a perceived lack of ambition, with no acknowledgment of the situation that so many ambitious, hard-working graduates found (and still find) themselves in is, at the very least, incredibly unfair.

I have written before about the tumultuous economic landscape leading to a desperation among young professionals to impress and acquiesce to employers. Rather than being spoilt and with an attitude of 'over-entitlement', young professionals of Generation Y are grateful, eager to please and hungry for their potential to be utilised. Those people who see a career as crucial to identity - a way of contributing and belonging to society - are still prevalent across all generations.

By acknowledging the context, we can quickly dispel the next stereotypes about Generation Y, that, unlike the generations before us, we have no loyalty to our employers and our careers are only a means to an end. First, when competition is so fierce, it is a brave graduate who will nail their colours to the mast at the application/interview stage. If you get a training position, there is still no guarantee of a permanent role unless the business need is there, no matter how hard you work for it. And finally, even when you are in the door, nothing is certain. The economy, while improving, is by no means healthy - causing continued anxieties regarding job security. Further, in a rapidly adapting, consumerist-driven marketplace, mergers, lateral hires and shifting work practices are trends that do not help to assuage such anxieties. My generation has had to learn from the outset that nothing is guaranteed, and if you are not prepared to relocate, be flexible and adapt, then you will not survive for long.

Second, there is an increasing acceptance of the desire to achieve a more cohesive 'life package' in balancing work and personal pursuits. Unfortunately, some people have misinterpreted this general shift in society as being a trait specific to Generation Y (ie a lack of ambition), apparently forgetting those increasing numbers of Generation X professionals who choose to 'dial it down' as the demands of their families swell. For me, as I believe it was for my parents, working hard now isa trade-off for dividends and security to support the things that are important to me, besides my career, in the future. This is not a mindset specific to my generation, or to employees, as increasingly businesses are recognising the correlation between employees' emotional wellbeing and a loyal and productive workforce.

The stereotyping of generations, like stereotyping of any sort, is a bad approach. It does not recognise that people's characteristics, while not unchanged by societal shifts, pervade throughout all ages, genders, races and so on. Generalisations only further exacerbate the differences which do exist between groups and reinforce negative attitudes. There are lazy, disloyal and self-centred people in every generation, not just mine. Equally, there are hardworking, professional and diligent people spanning generations X to Y.

Although generational differences are by no means a myth, it is wrong that such differences should create a divide instead of being recognised and reconciled. Recognising, understanding and adapting to different people's characteristics is key to a strong and cohesive workforce.