Generation Y's First Recession

Standing out While Blending in

Generation Y's First Recession - Standing Out While Blending In

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Be in the best position to flourish when the environment changes.

You've grown up in a buoyant economy and are accustomed to a flush jobs market. Unlike your 40 or 50-something colleagues, you've never known mass unemployment. You're used to asking for what you want at work – and getting it.

If this rings true with you, then you're a member of Generation Y (born after 1977), for whom economic recession has always been a matter of history rather than reality.

But times have changed. You're experiencing your first ever downturn. Layoffs are happening all around you, and your peers are anxious about their jobs. Members of Generation X (born 1965-76) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) have seen it all before. They're old hands at weathering a slump.

So what can you learn from your older colleagues about keeping your job? How can you best position yourself to ride out the economic storm, and flourish when things pick up again?

This article aims to answer those questions and to provide Generation Y-ers with a toolkit of ideas to help you stay afloat until the economy bounces back, without compromising your long-term career goals.

Why Y Is Different

Before we look at the typical characteristics of Generation Y-ers and those of preceding generations, let's first acknowledge that generalizations inevitably put somebody's nose out of joint! Not everyone born in a specific era will have lived through the same experiences, or share the same behavioral traits. But for the purposes of this article, we're going to take a broad-brush approach.

There are many synonyms for Generation Y. These include the Millennium Generation or Millennials, Echo Boomers or The Trophy Generation (having been typically awarded trophies just for taking part). They're generally well educated, techno-savvy, and brilliant at multi-tasking.

In the workplace, they're used to getting what they want, which includes flexible working hours and a good work-life balance. While Baby Boomers often stayed in the same job for decades, worked long hours and followed the rules, Generation Y-ers are used to job-hopping and making up their own rules. They expect companies to adapt to them, rather than the other way around. Take a look at our article on Leadership by the New Generation for more on how Generation Y-ers operate.

Unfortunately for all you Generation Y-ers out there, some of these character traits aren't suited to today's economic climate. Right now, employers are more concerned with slashing costs and staying in business than with keeping 20-somethings happy!

Assess Your Situation

First things first: Work out where you stand.

  • How "sick" is your industry?
    Some industries are struggling more than others. If you work in advertising, automobile manufacturing or in some areas of banking, for example, you may well have cause for concern.
  • How strong is your company?
    How solvent is your firm? How does it compare to its competitors? Does it have a lot of debt? What are others saying about it? Keep an eye on the press and check out analysts' reports to get a good picture of your company's stability.
  • How safe is your position?
    Many companies will adopt the "last in first out" principle if they're forced to make redundancies. Are you the newest hire? If so, you need to work harder to demonstrate your value. Also, take an honest look at your performance. Are you on course to meet your objectives? Has your work been evaluated recently? How's your relationship with your bosses and other team members? Do you get on with everyone, or are you seen as a troublemaker or outsider?

Answering the above questions will give you a good picture of your own job status, and your company's chances of sitting out the tough times.

Think Before You Jump

Generation Y-ers watched their Baby Boom parents work loyally for the same corporations for years, only to be rewarded with redundancy, downsizing and slashed pension funds.

Determined not to repeat that pattern, today's young professionals have become notorious for job-hopping and a lack of corporate loyalty. But now is probably not the best time to make your next career move, be that between departments in the same firm or to another organization.

And it's not just about showing a bit of loyalty. Don't forget that most people take about three months to settle into a new position. You won't be hugely effective while you're learning the ropes, and you might make some mistakes. Bosses may struggle to see your true worth during that transitional period. Do you want to risk being in this position, given that a round of redundancies could come along at any time?

Of course, this doesn't mean that you need to banish all thoughts of your next move. You definitely don't want the downturn to dampen your go-getting spirit, and you want to be ready to pounce when the time's right. So keep those brain cogs whirring and keep your professional networks alive. Just remember that it's probably worth keeping your feet firmly under your desk for now!

Changing Your Behavior

This may go against the grain for some Generation Y-ers, but an economic slump is the time to change some of those behaviors that you're both loved and hated for in the workplace.

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Watch and learn from your more experienced colleagues. Unless you work in a firm where everyone is under 30, it's likely your bosses will be either Generation X-ers or Baby Boomers, who tend to have a more traditional mindset. Try to understand where they're coming from, and adapt accordingly.

  • Play to your strengths
    Older colleagues may malign Generation Y-ers for some of their behaviors, but you can turn perceived weaknesses into strengths.
    • Flexibility – Make sure your bosses know that flexibility doesn't just mean working the hours that you choose. Find appropriate times and ways to make it clear that you adapt easily to changing circumstances. Show you could quickly pick up new skills if you had to be moved to another department or take on additional tasks.
    • Youth – Show that, in your case, youth means vitality and energy, rather than unreliability and disloyalty. This may mean working longer hours, taking on more duties with enthusiasm, or coming up with innovative ideas.
    • Cost – As a newer recruit, you'll likely be less expensive to employ than older colleagues, and this could work in your favor. Generation Y-ers have never been shy in asking for a pay rise, but now is not the time!
  • Show maturity
    While your youth has its advantages, you now need to demonstrate your maturity. This means adopting more of a team mentality, and showing you're prepared to make sacrifices for the greater good of the firm.
    • Keep more traditional hours – Generation Y-ers tend to adapt their work schedule to fit into their lives, rather than the other way around. You may need to switch your priorities. This doesn't mean that work-life balance has to go out the window, but consider keeping similar hours to your more experienced colleagues and managers. Being seen at your desk, and having face time with managers, is valuable in troubled times.
    • Keep costs low – In the current credit crunch, and perhaps more so than in previous recessions, companies want to conserve cash. If you're in a position where you manage a budget or have an expense account, make sure you're on board with the cost-cutting drive. Show you understand the company's predicament, and are willing to do your bit.
    • Hold off on special requests – You may have been planning to ask for some extended leave for a holiday or project. But this isn't the moment to be making demands on your firm's time and money. You'll have heard the phrase "buckle down" – now's the time to do just that!
    • Smarten up –Think about swapping your casual work wear for something more formal. It's time to blend in with the other suits and ties, even if the thought makes you groan. Do it gradually though. Drastic overnight changes will only get the office talking!
    • Stay off Facebook! – Generation Y-ers are known for their multi-tasking skills, but even if you can work and check social network sites at the same time, it's best to abstain during working hours.
  • Suggest alternatives to training
    One of the first things to get cut when times are tough is the training budget, something Generation Y-ers may find hard to swallow. Why not suggest cheaper alternatives, like peer mentoring schemes? Show you're willing to listen to the older generation – you might just learn a thing or two!
  • Invest in your own development
    Consider paying for courses outside work that may develop you professionally, making you more attractive to your current bosses, and setting you up well for future career moves.
  • Perform, perform, perform!
    Make sure you're ahead of your performance objectives and aiming high with your next set of goals in your current position. Don't forget this job could be a springboard to your next one once the good times return, so make sure you've got a sound track record.

Preparing for All Eventualities

You'll feel a lot more confident and happier in yourself if you're well prepared, whether it's to fight for your job, or for redundancy if the worst happens. Some prudent financial planning could be a good idea. Fretting about over-extended personal finances, or your future prospects, won't help you perform well in your current position.

Read our article on Surviving a Downturn for more general tips on holding on to your job when the going gets rough, and our article on Life After Job Loss, so that you're prepared if the worst does happen.

Key Points

Don't panic! Even if you believe you've real cause for concern, try to remain levelheaded. Resolve to use your flexibility, youth and drive to your advantage. Make it clear to those in charge that they can throw anything at you and you'll rise to the challenge and instantly adapt.

Blend in with your peers by dressing up and keeping more traditional hours, but don't dip so far below the radar that your bosses can't spot your professional uniqueness.