Gen Y and the Dreaded ‘Millennials’

This post originally appeared on one of my former websites in December 2010.

I  attended a diversity training session recently and the presenter spent a bit of time discussing the “four generations in the workplace” concept.

His brief chart lumped Gen Y in with the Millennials and he began telling the audience that “these people kinda know what a compact disc is, but it’s on the way out. They don’t even know what a VHS is!”

At that point, I had to stop him. I explained that, in fact, Gen Y might as well be called “the VHS generation” – we were the kids who were taped with the first hand-held camcorders; we were the kids who could easily entertain ourselves by just pushing in a tape instead of needing to have our parents navigate a DVD menu for us.

In a separate, unrelated presentation, another social psychologist tried to say that Gen Y were “Barney watchers.” I take umbrage to that, too. It’s the Millennials who were Barney’s biggest fans – and they are really only entering the workplace now.

In my estimation, Gen Y covers the years 1980-2000, but Millennials are those born between 1990 and 2000.

I think the reason many social psychologists, human resources managers and similar folks are so eager to assume that Gen Y and Millennials are one and the same is because so much has been written about Millennials. They’re easily stereotyped because they are so tapped in to the popular culture of the moment, which centers around putting personal information into public forums such as Facebook, Twitter and Formspring. Their parents also share a great deal of information about them. It’s not that Gen Yers in general aren’t just as tapped in – it’s just that we didn’t have it at quite so young an age as the Millennials did.

The other assumption these people are making – and let’s face it, these people are mostly late Boomers – is that their own grandchildren are part of “the Millennials.” If your eldest grandchild is under the age of 11 as of this writing, your grandchildren aren’t part of Gen Y, so stop using them as data points!

Social psychologists who present this material are missing two vital elements: accounting for which generations raised early Gen Yers and Millennials, and actually collecting data points from those groups to help in drawing their conclusions.

Early Yers were largely raised by “late Boomers” – those Baby Boomers born in the second wave, roughly 1950-1960. Many Millennials were raised by Gen Xers. There’s a big difference there: Gen Xers are the biggest group of helicopter parents, due to the fact that many of them were latchkey kids in their youth, in turn due to their early Boomer parents being determined to “have it all.”

I resent being constantly lumped in with “The Millennials.” I was born in the early 80s. I didn’t use a computer until third grade. I had a set of “Just Say No” pencils. I didn’t have playdates, and I certainly didn’t have helicopter parents.

I watched VHS tapes, listened to books on cassette and made mix tapes from the radio. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 18 and in college. I wasn’t allowed to watch “The Simpsons” when it came out because “Don’t have a cow, man” was too risqué at the time. I snuck in some MTV watching, even though I wasn’t supposed to.

My parents have never interfered in any work situation, nor do I expect them to fight my battles for me.

Princess Diana’s death was the first significant event where I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. (While I can remember hearing about other, earlier significant events, I don’t have the same sensory recall.)

The world events that were influential to me – and to much of my generation – were the first Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings, and the September 11 attacks. We witnessed the the golden age of Napster, and then watched the music industry react and put itself back together.

Whatever you call us – Gen Y, Generation Next, Boomerangs, etc. – just remember that we’re not all “Millennials.”

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