Many articles about management are dedicated to the so-called Generation Y. Authors analyse their motivations, lament their supposed high expectations and so on. This arbitrary dividing of people into generational cohorts is, however, counterproductive.
Generation Y does not exist!
Through the so-called benefits of science—the impossible exploits of movie heroes, blood-curdling action stories in video games – the child is thrilled to such an extent that a magician’s bag of tricks becomes a poor substitute. All this has brought about another more malicious change. Fifteen or twenty years ago the average child was well-mannered, quiet and attentive. The magician had very little difficulty keeping them under control. Today it appears that those few exceptions have become the rule. Children are more ill-mannered. They have less respect for their elders and the conduct in public places is often far from commendable.
This quote illustrates an often heard complaint about the younger generations. But there is more to this quote that meets the eye. Just like in a magic show, I have deceived you a little:
Eddie Clever wrote this paragraph in 1939! Kaye only changed “radio shows” to “video games” and all of a sudden it looks as if it was written yesterday. We can go even further back to find similar concerns about the younger generations. There are records of Dutch priests in the 18th century lamenting the lewd and drunken behaviour of the young people in his parish. Have young people changed? I think not, it is us our perception of them that changes as we grow older.
This finding has a direct bearing on a concept that that is frequently used in our cultural landscape and contemporary management: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and other broad sweeping categorisations. In much of the management literature on this topic, it is made to believe that the young professionals of today are different to they way the authors themselves once were and should thus be treated differently.
There are distinct differences between age cohorts. As we go through the stages of life, we mature and our priorities change. There are, however, no psychological differences between age groups in the past, present or future. Our psychological make-up does not evolve fast enough for us to notice any differences.
Sure, there are people born between certain years, but to think that they are in any way psychologically different to the way Generation X or Baby Boomers were when they were at the same age as Generation Y is not supported by any evidence. The perceived generational problem is only caused by a lack of the older generations to be able to understand the others.
David Kaye, The First Century of Children’s Magic. ↩