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Generation Y - 29 March 2012

Back in the 1970s, psychologists in the United States interviewed 36 imprisoned serial killers, and then used that information to develop profiles of future murderers. And with that analysis, criminal profiling was born. Today, there are thousands of criminal profilers all around the world assisting investigations by painting a picture of a murderer’s possible identity.

The truth, though, is that criminal profiling is a waste of time. In one study conducted by psychologists at Birmingham City University, the researchers found that profiling is vague, meaningless, misleading, has little impact on murder investigations, and has never led to the direct capture of a killer. Criminal profiling, they concluded, was “worse than useless”. Further studies by other institutions demonstrated that professional profilers were no better at predicting a criminal’s identity than other people who had no training at all.

Perceptions about Generation Y work much the same way. Many managers have developed a profile of what they think Gen Y is really like. And those profiles – those perceptions – usually come true because perceptions often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. If we expect someone to be lazy, we’ll be predisposed to looking out for signs of laziness to support our expectation. If we expect someone to be disinterested or demanding or loud or any other judgement, likewise, we’ll subconsciously seek evidence to justify that perception.

Unfortunately for Generation Y, many of those perceptions are wrong. This was proven conclusively in research conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership in San Diego. They surveyed 13,000 people over a period of 12 years and discovered that five of the most prominent perceptions about Gen Y are, quite simply, myths.

1st Myth: Gen Ys don’t like being told what to do. The research shows that out of the three main generations in the workplace, Gen Y is the one most likely to seek guidance from a manager. They were also the generation most inclined to respond positively to the statement that “employees should do what their manager tells them”.

2nd Myth: Gen Ys aren’t loyal to organisations. Yet the research demonstrates that this lack of loyalty isn’t different to that experienced by Gen X’ers or Baby Boomers. The job-hopping that characterises Gen Y isn’t specific to Gen Y. Rather, it’s prevalent in the youth of every generation as they try to find a profession that suits them during their 20s.

3rd Myth: Gen Ys aren’t interested in their job. Yet the research indicates there is no difference between the intrinsic motivation of the various generations. What tends to happen is that Gen Ys, being younger than the others, are often doing more of the boring work in an organisation, in which case it makes sense for them to appear less engaged.

4th Myth: Gen Ys are motivated only by money. Again, much like the previous myths, the research proves that all generations are the same here as well. The reality is that people in general tend to be motivated more by money if they’re not currently earning enough of it, and that is prevalent among Gen Ys since many of them work in entry-level roles.

5th Myth: Gen Ys demand a work/life balance. Out of the five myths, this is the only one that’s a little closer to the truth. But even though Gen Ys are careful not to let their work intrude too much into their personal life, this is a notion that’s seriously spreading to all generations. In the near future, Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers will value it just as equally.

Much like criminal profilers concocting false identities, there are many unfounded accusations levelled against Gen Y. And in the majority of cases, the research finds them … not guilty.


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