Born 1980-1994
Cable TV, computers, cell phones, Internet, text messaging
"Do we have a future?"
Columbine High School shootings
September 11, 2001
Close ties to parents
Team players
Accepting of diversity
Well educated
Seek change & innovation

Generation Y [Born 1980-1994]

Generation Y, also referred to as the Echo Boomers, Millennial Generation and Generation Next, are now entering the workforce in droves and will shape and transform your organization.

As the generational and cultural landscape is changing, so is the procession from adolescence to adulthood. The right to vote, the right to purchase and consume alcohol and the transition from education to full-time employment once constituted the demarcation between adolescence and adulthood. More recently social psychologists have identified a new developmental period—emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood is the period between adolescence and adulthood, typically between ages 18 and 25, in which individuals are no longer fully dependent but are not yet fully self-sufficient, with the full responsibilities and independence of adulthood. This developmental period is characterized by self-exploration, experimentation and promise.

Born between 1980 and 1994, Generation Y workers have grown up in an era of technology. They have always known cable television, cellular phones, pagers, answering machines, laptop computers and video games. Technological advancements in real-time media and communication drive their expectation for immediacy.

Whereas Baby Boomers saw the future as theirs and Generation Xers found the future disheartening, these young workers question whether they will have a future. The Columbine High School shootings and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, deeply affected this generation. Marketing slogans have become part of the young worker lexicon. “Live for today” and “Just Do It” defines this group of young workers’ attitudes, beliefs and behavior, both in lifestyle and at work.

Generation Y’s Baby Boomer parents have nurtured and protected them, providing for their every emotional, educational and physical need and want. They have praised and rewarded their children for minimal effort and have increased the expectations of school and community in educating, entertaining and protecting their children. As a result, these young workers have high expectations of recognition and reward from others with minimal effort on their part.

These young workers have close relationships with their parents, often continuing to live with them and to be supported by them to some extent as they enter the workforce. These young workers seek their parents’ advice and approval and look to managers and supervisors to provide the same nurturing protection, advice and approval as their parents have.

Generation Ys spent a good deal of time watching as their parents rose to the top of the corporate ladder, balancing work and family, and they have seen their parents lose jobs as a result of downsizing and reorganizations. For this generation, work is temporary and unreliable. They are less committed to an employer, sensing that employers are less committed to long-term employment. In some respect, this group is opportunistic and will job hop to meet their immediate wants, needs and goals.

Generation Y workers have grown up playing on teams, they have been educated in an era of “a village raising a child” and “no child left behind” and in a changing demographic society where one in three classmates have been of a different racial, cultural or ethnic background. These young workers prefer to work in teams rather than individually and are easily accepting of diversity.

Characteristics of Generation Y workers


  • Self-expression is more important than self-control
  • Marketing and branding self is important
  • Violence is an acceptable means of communication
  • Fear living poorly—this is related to lifestyle enjoyment, not wealth
  • Respect must be earned; it is not freely granted based on age, authority or title


  • Adapt rapidly
  • Crave change and challenge
  • Create constantly
  • Exceptionally resilient
  • Committed and loyal when dedicated to an idea, cause or product
  • Accept others of diverse backgrounds easily and openly
  • Global in perspective

Work style

  • Want to know how what they do fits into the big picture and need to understand how everything fits together—want to effect change and make an impact
  • View their work as an expression of themselves; not as a definition of themselves
  • Exceptional multi-taskers—need more than one activity happening at a time
  • Seek active versus passive involvement
  • Less likely to seek managerial or team leadership positions that would compromise life outside of work
  • Seek flexibility in work hours and dress code
  • Seek a relaxed work environment—bright colors, open seating, personal touches
  • Expect corporate social responsibility and will not work for, or purchase products from, organizations that are not socially responsible
  • Seek work in teams
  • Seek continuing learning and will take advantage of training made available to them
  • Want everything instantly—everything now
  • Effort can be separated from reward—there is no such thing as pay for performance
  • Feeling of entitlement
  • Seek to balance lifestyle and work, with more focus on lifestyle

Ethnic and cultural issues/implications

Generation Y is the most ethnically diverse generation ever. Hispanic and Asian ethnic groups are growing at a rate higher than any other ethnic group; it is anticipated that by 2050 greater than 50 percent of the total population of the United States will be Hispanic or Asian. This trend presently is reflected in school attendance, where approximately 20 percent of students have one foreign-born parent.

Perceptions of what is considered “ethnic” also have changed. For example, Generation Y ranks Chinese, Mexican and Italian foods as mainstream, whereas Turkish, Pakistani, Ethiopian and Thai foods are considered “ethnic.” Generation Y is openly accepting of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, which creates a community of tolerance and inclusion.

Generational perspectives of the EAP

With a predisposition to seeking treatment only in crisis, young workers seek the services of the EAP less often than the general employee population. Of the young workers seeking assistance from the EAP, more tend to be female. Male employees are more likely to receive services related to substance abuse.

Common EAP issues

Financial issues

  • Debt management
  • Savings
  • Loans and credit

The ability to be financially self-sufficient is of critical importance to this group of young employees. Generation Y workers view financial independence as a requisite for adulthood and before considering serious romantic relationships or marriage. Both men and women seek to become financially independent and struggle with gaps between earned income and living expenses. In fact, many young employees will seek work near their parents’ homes so they can remain living there or seek cohabitating arrangements because their incomes do not cover rent, much less utilities, food, clothing, medical, transportation and entertainment expenses.

For others, managing funds is more of a concern. Algebra, geometry and calculus are fine, but how do you balance a checkbook, invest in stocks or plan for your financial future? Credit card and student loan debts can be crippling to this group of young workers, and debt reduction, establishing a budget and managing savings are important skills to develop.

Legal issues

  • Traffic violations
  • Drunk driving
  • Criminal issues (such as assault)
  • Child custody and support

The legal issues faced by this group of employees typically involve traffic or motor vehicle violations; drunken driving offenses; criminal issues and family law, particularly child custody and support matters. Resources and materials on resolving traffic infractions, the long-term consequences of a DWI conviction or criminal offense and navigating through the family law system are important for these employees.

Marital/family issues

  • Communication
  • Financial dependence
  • Effective communication
  • Healthy relationships
  • Cohabitation

The period of emerging adulthood extends the dependence/independence struggles between the young employee and the employee’s family. Tensions between parents and their 18- to 25-year-old can be related to the young employee’s expression of independence in clothing, attitudes, behavior and leisure time activities, which may be in conflict with parental rules and expectations. Communication between parents and their adult children can be difficult as they are still adjusting to a shift in the relationship. At the same time, many young adults rely on their parents for economic assistance and to make up for the financial difference between earned income and expenses. And some young employees report greater freedom in continuing to live with parents who love and support them, thus allowing the young adults to continue to experiment, transform and to define themselves as adults.

Nowhere are the differences between young men and women more apparent than in marital and relationship issues. And why not? Adults of all generations and ages continue to struggle to understand one another and define their meaningful relationships.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe in their National Marriage Project publication, “Sex Without Strings, Relationships Without Rings,” identify that:

  • Young adults expect marriage to last a lifetime and to meet their emotional and spiritual needs. Marriage is viewed as an economic partnership and intimate partner relationship and not necessarily as the environment in which to bear and raise children.
  • Young women are distrustful of their chances of finding a suitable partner, and this distrust increases with age. As a result young women are more accepting of motherhood outside of marriage.
  • Both young men and women view cohabitating relationships as socially acceptable and economically advantageous. Men seek benefit in cohabitation through “sex without the hassles of dating” and caretaking, while women seek benefit in cohabitation through companionship and as a test of their partner’s character.
  • Although cohabitating relationships are seen as economically advantageous, marriage is perceived as an economic liability potentially exposing the individual to economic hardship in the event of divorce. While men tend to feel more threatened by the post-divorce possibilities of alimony and child support, women feel pressure to maintain financial independence and the ability to support themselves and children.

Young employees are aware of the high national divorce rates and are eager to participate in seminars and encounter groups on improving communication. This is more recently seen in the increasing popularity of high school and college courses on successful real-life relationships.

Medical issues

  • Pregnancy
  • Routine, preventative medical care
  • Accidents

This young worker population has few medical issues. These employees are generally not ill and do not see a doctor often. Physician visits are below average (1.5 visits per year). Women in this age group tend to see their OB/GYN annually. Emergency room visits are higher for this group than for the general population due to automobile and sporting accidents and because many access the ER for routine medical care of illness such as sinusitis. The higher than average rate of emergency room visits suggests that young employees are more likely to wait until a health issue becomes severe than to see their primary care physician when symptoms first appear.

Emergency room visits for routine medical care also may suggest that young employees are unfamiliar with how to use their medical benefit plans; have not identified or developed a relationship with a primary care physician and/or lack health insurance coverage.

Common medical issues of young workers include pregnancy, asthma, sinusitis, sore throat and headache and acne.

Hospital admissions for this age group, in rank order, are related to childbirth, psychosis, tobacco-use disorders, depressive disorders and alcohol- or drug-related conditions.

The most often prescribed drug categories for this group of young workers, ranked in order of frequency, are: anti-inflammatory medicines, antibiotics, asthma and respiratory medicines, pain medicines, steroids, psychiatric medicines and antihistamines and allergy medicines.

Mental health issues

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Appearance of long-term, chronic disorders such as bipolar disorder and thought disorders (i.e. schizophrenia)

Emerging adulthood is a time of significant transition both socially and psychologically. Anxiety disorders are most often reported by young workers and are the most common reason for seeking mental health services. The early 20s also is a time of psychological developmental, in which more chronic mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, major depression and thought disorders first appear. The onset of any of these disorders can be terrifying to the young adult, and some may not seek treatment until the pain has become too unbearable or family, friends or an employer encourage treatment. These young employees are particularly at risk for suicide. Eating disorders, sexual dysfunction and adjustment disorders are less frequently occurring, but do occur within this population.

Substance abuse issues

  • Binge drinking
  • Experimentation with illicit drugs

The period of emerging adulthood is characterized by experimentation. In 2002, approximately 40 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 were binge drinkers, and almost 15 percent reported heavy alcohol use. Likewise, 20 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 reported illicit drug use in the past month. While most young adults “mature out” of alcohol and drug use, many do not. Also, there is strong evidence to suggest that individuals who fail to transition out of problematic drinking behavior in early adulthood are more likely to have chronic alcohol use problems.

Substance abuse among young workers contributes to mood disorders and increases risk of accidental injury or death. Young workers with serious alcohol problems are significantly more likely to drink and drive, be arrested, have more emergency room visits, be hospitalized for a mental health problem and attempt suicide.

Because their peers condone binge drinking and misuse of alcohol, young workers may not perceive their alcohol use as a source for concern and, therefore, are not likely to seek help.