Is Your Workplace Gen Y-Compatible?

If you’ve ever watched Shakira
perform (and you’re over 50), you’re probably thinking her dancing
belongs in the bedroom, not on stage or on video. To many Baby Boomers
and older, Skakira represents no more than a hip-shaking, scaddily-clad
Gen Y who represents everything that’s wrong with the youngest
working-age generation. 

They couldn’t be more wrong. What
people see is often not what they get in real life.  The same goes for
every employer trying to figure out what’s wrong with Gen Y. Who are
these video-playing, constantly connected kids? When will they grow up?

The real truth is that many Gen Y
act more grown-up than their predecessors. What drives many Gen Y is a
concern for the health of the planet and wellness of other human
beings, not believing that life is about
who-ever-owns-the-most-and-biggest-toys-wins.

Regardless about what you might
think about Shakira’s music and dance, she also represents what’s right
about Gen Y. When you get beyond first impressions, you find that
Shakira is the face of a generation of young people that has good
intentions and solid values, more wholesome than many Baby Boomers and
Gen X that I know.

When Shakira is not gyrating across
a stage, she has a mission: “[This] is how I want the youth of 2060 to
see us: That our mission for global peace consisted of sending 30,000
educators to Afghanistan, not 30,000 soldiers,” she told an audience at Oxford University last week.
Yes, the very same Oxford University in Cambridge where Mother Teresa,
the Dalai Lama, and several U.S. presidents were invited before her.

Shakira wasn’t asked to perform her
hit song “Hips Don’t Lie,” but to give a speech to 400 of the world’s
smartest students about her work with children and education. She was
invited and honored as a guest of this prestigious organization to
share her vision for universal access to education. What Oxford
University knows that most other people don’t is that 14 years ago, at
the age of 18, Shakira founded and funded the Pies Descalzos Foundation, a charity with special schools for poor children all around Colombia. To celebrate her 32nd birthday, she helped fund and open a new $6 million school in her hometown in Colombia. During the past decade, she has traveled around the world promoting education for children. While
traveling, she frequently studies the history and learns the languages
of the countries she visits. You would never guess that the sensuous
girl on stage is the same person speaking at Oxford.

What’s my point? We read the
headlines about the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Jon
Gosselin, and Lindsay Lohan and assume every Gen Y is a self-indulgent,
pompous, Facebook-addicted trophy kid just like them. That’s simply not
true. In fact, Spears et al. may just be the exception, not the rule.

Gen Y is the biggest generation
ever. In the United States alone, there are nearly 80 million Gen Y,
even larger than the Baby Boomers. Not every Gen Y is alike. Some are
good, some are bad. But on the whole, the values driving Gen Y are more
humanitarian, more global, and more balanced than that of any
generation preceding them. Community and family are important to them.
So is technology. 

This has important implications for
employers. Like it or not, Gen Y is the up-and-coming replacement
workforce. While Skakira might be an extreme example, she’s a good one.
You might not like her act, but you’ve got to love her actions. The
same goes for millions of other Gen Y. Behind the tattoos and piercings
and the texting and clothing are a bunch of kids with heart and good
values. Many employers will have to radically reform their culture,
their benefits, and their compensation to attract and retain them. More
than at any time in history, “don’t judge a book by its cover” is good
advice for every employer.

Is your workplace Gen Y-ready?

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