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Facing Young Workers' High Job Expectations

Some employers are frustrated by what they say is twentysomethings' sense of entitlement.

June 27, 2005|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Evan Wayne thought he was prepared for anything during a recent interview for a job in radio sales.

Then the interviewer hit the 24-year-old Chicagoan with this: "So, we call you guys the 'Entitlement Generation,' " the baby boomer executive said, expressing an oft-heard view of today's young workforce. "You think you're entitled to everything."

Such labeling is, perhaps, a rite of passage for every crop of twentysomethings. In their day, baby boomers were rabble-rousing hippies, and Gen-Xers were apathetic slackers.

Now, deserving or not, this latest generation is being pegged too -- as one with shockingly high expectations for salary, job flexibility and duties but little willingness to take on grunt work or remain loyal to a company.

"We're seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work -- kids who had too much success early in life and who've become accustomed to instant gratification," said Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School and author of a book on the topic called "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes."

Although Levine also says that today's young adults are long on idealism and altruism, "many of the individuals we see are heavily committed to something we call 'fun.' "

He partly faults coddling parents and colleges for doing little to prepare students for the realities of adulthood and for setting the course for what many of the generation's disillusioned are increasingly calling their "quarter-life crisis."

Meanwhile, employers including corporate executives, restaurateurs and retailers are frustrated.

"It seems they want and expect everything that the 20- or 30-year veteran has the first week they're there," said Mike Amos, a Salt Lake City-based franchise consultant for Perkins Restaurants.

Just about anyone starting out will tell you he or she knows someone like this, and may even share some of those high expectations.

Wayne had this response for his interviewer at the radio station: "Maybe we were spoiled by your generation. But I think the word 'entitled' isn't necessarily the word," he said. "Do we think we're deserving if we're going to go out there and [toil away] for you? Yes."

He ended up getting the job -- and, as he starts this month, is vowing to work hard.

Some experts who study young people think having some expectations, and setting limits with bosses, isn't necessarily negative.

"It's true they're not eager to bury themselves in a cubicle and take orders from bosses for the next 40 years, and why should they?" said Jeffrey Arnett, a University of Maryland psychologist who has written a book on "emerging adulthood," the period from about age 18 to the mid-20s. "They have a healthy skepticism of the commitment their employers have to them and the commitment they owe to their employers."

Many young people also want to avoid becoming just another cog who works for a faceless giant.

Anthony DeBetta, a 23-year-old New Yorker, works with other twentysomethings at a small marketing firm and says the company's size makes him feel as if he can make a difference.

"We have a vested interest in the growth of this firm," he said.

Elsewhere, Liz Ryan speculates that a more relaxed work environment at the company she runs -- no set hours and "a lot of latitude in how our work gets done" -- helps inspire her younger employees.

"Maybe twentysomethings have figured out something that boomers like me took two decades to piece together: namely, that there's more to life than by-the-book traditional career success," said Ryan, the 45-year-old chief executive of WorldWIT, a Boulder, Colo.-based online and offline networking organization for professional women.

As much as some employers would like to resist the trend, a growing number are searching for ways to retain youthful employees -- and to figure out what makes them tick.

"The manager who says, 'I don't have time for that' is going to be stuck on the endless turnover treadmill," said Eric Chester, a Colorado-based consultant who works with corporations to understand what he calls "kidployees," those ages 16 to 24.

At Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, for instance, administrators have developed an internship with mentoring and more training for young nurses that has curbed turnover by more than 50% and increased job satisfaction.

Amos at Perkins Restaurants says small changes also have helped -- loosening standards on piercings or allowing cooks to play music in the kitchen.

And Muvico Theaters, a company with movie theaters in a few Southern states, gives sporting goods and music gift certificates to young staffers who go beyond minimum duties.

"If you just expect them to stand behind a register and smile, they're not going to do that unless you tell them why that's important and then recognize them for it," said John Spano, Muvico's human resources director.

Still others are focusing on getting twentysomethings more prepared.

Neil Heyse, an instructor at Pennsylvania's Villanova University, has started MyGuidewire, a company focused on providing career coaching for young people.

"It's a hot issue and I think it's getting hotter all the time," Heyse said of work readiness. "There's a great amount of anxiety beneath the surface."

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