Gen Y

How Boomer Babies are Changing the Workplace

May, 2007

Drinks are on the house at Accuity LLP, a major accounting firm in downtown Honolulu. The company’s 80 employees help themselves to free, unlimited soda, juice, water and coffee in the break room. Anytime. Massages are not free, but $10 buys a one-hour session with a masseuse located in a partitioned corner of the firm’s 19th-floor office.

The age demographic at Accuity is shaped like Hershey’s Kisses. At the tip are baby boomers Ð people born between 1946 and 1964 Ð representing 10 percent of employees. In the middle are workers in their 30s, which comprise 30 percent. At the bottom are the 20-somethings, accounting for more than 60 percent of the workforce.

“If you’re over 40 here, you’re a dinosaur,” jokes tax partner Wendell K. Lee. The company’s partners acquired the local office of PricewaterhouseCoopers and renamed it Accuity in October 2006. He says the company will shut down for one week in July and send its employees to the U.S. mainland for professional training. All expenses paid, of course.

Massages and free Mountain Dew are signs that cutting-edge companies, such as Accuity, are adjusting to employees born after 1977. Experts call this age group Generation Y, or Millennials.

“We were forced into embracing this generation of people because of the volume we had, probably more than most organizations,” says Karen Silverstein, a principal with Accuity for 22 years. The company has an Aloha Committee, comprised of rank-and-file employees who bring work-related concerns to executives. “Our national firm recognized what was going on and said we didn’t have a chance of keeping these people if we didn’t change,” she says.

This isn’t about wrinkled employees dissing slacker kids. That was the old story of Generation Xers, now in their 30s and early 40s (remember them?). In the past 10 years, Generation Xers have become managers, entrepreneurs and parents and are doing just fine, thank you.

Gen Y is different. For starters, there are a lot of them. Gen Y and their baby boomer parents are high-profile groups, because boomers comprise 76 million and Gen Y between 72 million and 100 million. In two decades, Gen Y will flood the workplace, while baby boomers collect Society Security.

Sherri Okinaga, intergenerational expert, says to focus on values. “When you see the divide happening in the workplace and you see different behaviors, the older people look at it as, ‘It drives us crazy.’ They don’t look at it as, ‘These were the values these kids were raised on.’”Managers genuinely are puzzled about Gen Y. “What makes them want to be part of your culture and organization?” Lee asks. “It’s hard as a management group to know what makes them tick.”

Okinaga is a Gen-Xer, and her business partner, Cynthia Kitagawa, is a baby boomer. Since launching their company Insight Consulting & Training in 2004, the duo has coached more than 6,000 workers in leadership development, team building and organization planning.

To better understand the workplace, here are the demographics:

  • Generation Y or Millennials, younger than 31. They blog about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Columbine High School shootings on the Internet and text message their friends via cell phone. Experts also call this group the ‘echo boom’ generation, because it is comprised of children of baby boomers. There are between 72 million and 100 million Gen Y people in the U.S.
  • Generation X, ages 31 to 42. They solved the Rubik’s Cube, ate microwave dinners when Mom and Dad worked late and watched the Challenger space shuttle explode on colored TV. Gen X is a small group of 46 million.
  • Baby boomers, ages 43 to 61. They watched the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk on black-and-white TV. There are 76.5 million boomers.
  • Traditionalists, older than 62. Some survived the Great Depression and World War II. Younger traditionalists, born between 1936 and 1945, are called the ‘forgotten generation’ or the ‘silent generation.’ In total, there are 55 million people older than 62.

As four generations co-exist at work, local managers say companies need to enter the mindset of Gen Y. “Considering the population influx in the job force, we have to adapt to keep Gen Y around,” says Craig Carapelho, president and chief executive officer of Team Vision and vice president of marketing and creative services for Genergraphics. “There’s no way we can bypass this group. Gen Y has to be dealt with.”

Here are some experts’ suggestions on how to understand Gen Y:

NEW MENTALITY: Stay with the company to gain experience. Then leave, like, tomorrow.
OLD MENTALITY: Stay with the company for 30-plus years. Collect pension and other lifetime benefits.

Carapelho remembers the excitement of landing two nonpaid, full-time internships at local advertising agencies 13 years ago after graduating from the University of Hawaii. He worked for free during the day and worked at a Waikiki T-shirt store at night to pay bills. Hawaii’s college graduates today rarely seek nonpaid jobs, due to the lucrative employment rate and high cost of living. “When I look for people, I look for a two- to three-year life span, if I’m lucky,” he says.

In their lifetimes, Gen Y workers will change careers 10 times. A 2004 study by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute found that Gen Y workers were 70 times more likely to leave their jobs than workers their ages in 1977. Gen Y kids are cynical about job security because they saw their parents receive pink slips.

“Not many of us expect to be ‘lifetime employees’ at a company or organization,” says Aaron Yoshino, 26, an I.T. coordinator at the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program. “We don’t see loyalty to one company as part of what we’d call our ‘careers.’”

NEW: Need to contact me after hours? Send a text message.
OLD: Please don’t call my landline at home after 8 p.m.

Don’t be surprised when a 22-year-old employee walks out the door at 4:59 p.m. Says Okinaga: “They’re not ashamed. They go, ‘I signed up for 40 hours. I’ll put in 40 hours.’” The line between work and nonwork life is blurred for Gen Y. This is the age group that text messages friends en route to staff meetings and logs onto MySpace during lunch breaks. What’s cool is they’re always attached to technology and can be reached anytime.

“If you call a baby boomer on the weekend, it’s an intrusion,” Okinaga says. Not so with Gen Y.

Most Gen Y workers don’t flee their cubicles at 5 p.m. to watch TV anchor Joe Moore at home. They’re active: they hit the gym after work, hang out with family or volunteer. Professional growth and mission-based programs rank high on their list. Desiree Yamamoto, 24, a client service/planning executive at Red Rover Creative, was last year’s Cherry Blossom queen. When she wasn’t making public appearances in Japan and on the Mainland, she gave up weekends to volunteer. “I was able to apply [the experience] to my professional career in terms of public speaking, giving presentations and organization skills,” Yamamoto says.

NEW: Hey (insert boss’ first name), how am I doing?
OLD: Mr. or Mrs. (insert boss’ last name), please don’t tell me what to do.

Silence is threatening to Gen Y employees and can be mistaken for disapproval. While Generation X was the “leave me alone” worker, Gen Y likes feedback, collaboration and coaching. They’re not afraid to approach higher-ups, and experts say that’s because Gen Y kids have closer, coddled relationships with their baby boomer parents.

Adults are not scary. Adults are friends. “Gen Y has no problem looking at their executives on a casual, first-name basis, none of the necessary protocol boomers are used to,” Okinaga says. And the EVP-CFO-COO-CTO chain of command at your bank? Generation Y is unimpressed. That’s a boomer thing.

Lee and Silverstein at Accuity noticed this attitudinal shift about three years ago when hiring recent college grads. They constantly were at Silverstein’s door seeking face time. That’s also when company executives realized Gen Y likes to be coached and mentored. “Young employees are not here to picket. They want to learn more and become better professionals,” Lee says. His advice to employers is to set the bar high, give deadlines, provide coaching and “give Gen Y a sense of ownership” with projects. Don’t underestimate this age group, he says.

Chalk that up to Gen Y and their hyper-involved baby boomer parents who scheduled ballet, Kumon, hula, soccer and other coach-led activities for their tots. Structure (without micromanaging) is crucial to a Gen Y employee. “Things like, ‘Don’t stand around,’ we have to reiterate that sometimes,” says Dean Nakamura, general manager of the OHANA Waikiki Beachcomber. “We have to recognize and provide them challenges when they have down time, versus expecting them to know what to do.”

Nakamura, a baby boomer, recalls when his college-age son and daughter were little. “Between sports and music and hula and all the traffic and after-school activities, you got home by 6:30,” he says. “It was pretty much a 12-hour day.” Nakamura joined Outrigger properties 10 years ago after working for the Halekulani group, Hawaii Prince Hotel and Sheraton properties. While growing up, his children sometimes gave him unsolicited feedback about his company. “They spoke their minds, even about things that I did or things that I brought home that pertained to the hotel business. I never did that with my parents,” he recalls.

NEW: Before joining this firm, I interned in Shanghai and backpacked through Europe.
OLD: I joined this company 19 years ago out of college and spend summers playing slots at the California Hotel.

Experts say Gen Y is the sharpest, most globally aware group ever to enter the workplace, thanks to technology and shifting racial demographics. This group speaks the most foreign languages and appreciates diversity. “They’re smart and know what they want,” Lee says. This group also is more well-traveled than its predecessors.

When Claire Tokunaga, 24, was at the University of Southern California, she studied architecture for a semester at le Centre d’Etude d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme in Southern France and interned for one summer at a Hong Kong firm. She now is a designer at Honolulu-based WATG and recently went to Malaysia to see a project she helped to design.

Alyssa Murphy, 28, a former creative director at Cowabunga! Computers in Honolulu, graduated from The American School in Japan before majoring in elementary education at American University in Washington, D.C. She’s back in Honolulu as a Web producer for TrouvŽ Media Ð but not before teaching first grade on Saipan and working for TrouvŽ in San Francisco for the past few years.

NEW: The Golden Rule
OLD: The Golden Rule

As baby boomers and Gen Xers learn to decipher Gen Y, the Golden Rule still applies, and that is to treat everyone the way you wish to be treated Ð with respect.

Clifton Yasutomi, 25, a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, assumed the generational gap between him and older clients would work against him but soon learned that “people are much more interested in character, industry knowledge and the ability to execute,” he says.

Another 25-year-old who works with older clients is Todd Fujie, a sales associate with Towne Island Homes Ltd. “Disagreements are hardly ever a matter of simply being right or wrong,” says the University of Washington graduate. He represents the boutique community, Ho’olu Landing at Makakilo. “It’s important to be flexible and to use different approaches to improve the way things are done.”

In a diverse place like Hawaii, where people are shaped by culture, family values and economics, sometimes age is just a number. “My mother jokes and calls me an ‘old soul,’” says Kristi Inkinen, a principal in Remedy Intelligent Staffing.

She’s only 28.


When targeting teens, target their parents. And vice versa

Heather Olsen, 24, never uses the word “keiki” when speaking about her young clients. The Halekulani concierge Ð who joined the luxury resort four years ago to serve the 18-and-under set Ð prefers “Young Master” and “Young Miss.”

High on her recommended list for teens: Surfing lessons in the morning with pro Ty Gurney. Glow-in-the-dark golf in Waikiki. And perhaps an afternoon at the SpaHalekulani, which last year introduced a teen menu touting temporary tattoos, nail care, makeup lessons and a three-step facial dubbed, “Here’s Looking at You, Kid.”

The menu targets teenagers ages 13 to 17. But it’s not unusual to see a girl and her mother sporting matching pedicures.

This generation of teens is closer to its parents than any other in U.S. history. Approximately 25 percent of trips in the U.S. in 2003 included children under 18, according to the Travel Industry Association. Last year, approximately 10 percent of business trips were with children under 18, says the National Business Travel Association. Teens are heavy consumers, too. They spent $179 billion of their own and their parents’ money last year, according to the Mainland-based GTR Consulting, whose clients include Yahoo!, Microsoft Xbox and Nike.“Their relationship with their parents is important,” Olsen says. “Once the parents feel comfortable, they tell their teens, ‘Go down to the concierge.’”

Marketers have to be aware that kids impact their baby boomer parents’ spending habits. “A child of a boomer has the potential to stop a major purchase because boomer parents value their kids that much,” says Craig Carapelho, president and chief executive officer of Team Vision and senior vice president of marketing and creative services for Genergraphics, a generational marketing firm founded by Phil Goodman from San Diego. “To reach the boomer market, you have to also consider marketing to their children. Treat them as equally as their parents when you’re selling a house or even a car. These two generations have a strong influence on each other.”

Treat teens with respect. Offer a wide array of choices that they can tailor to their liking. Teens, not the parents, will determine what’s hot or not. Genergraphics, whose clients include Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Casino, uses a patented process to separate the generations and advise clients on how to market to specific generations for increase conversions: Seniors (1915-1935), the forgotten generation/silent generation (1936-1945) baby boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1976) and Generation Y/Echo Boomers/Millennials (born after 1976).

It’s the latter group that has marketers salivating. “Echo boomers are the next generation that everyone is trying to capture because it’s huge,” Carapelho says.

After all, there are 72 million of them. — CC

Related Stories

On Newsstands Now

October 2017

HB October 2017


Cathy S. Cruz