Those f**king YOLOs!

As published on How Cool Brands Stay Hot on October 15, 2014. Today’s twenty-somethings. They have already had many labels: ‘Y’ as successor of generation X, but also Millennials, generation NEXT, the dot-com generation, the Einstein generation, the Echo Boomers etcetera. Last Saturday, during a cosy dinner among friends, a new label came my way: “those annoying stuck-up YOLOs”. YOLO stands for ‘You Only Live Once’, of course, and the current generation of youth is frequently said to be lazy, spoiled, hedonistic and know-it-all.
Granted, they got it from their parents, this sticking firmly to their own beliefs. In every family discussion throughout their entire childhood, their voice was at least as important as that of the grown-up family members, whether the subject was what they would eat, where they would travel to next or what the colour of the new car would be. It is hardly surprising that such a democratic upbringing has raised a generation of critical and extraverted youngsters who do not simply accept what the older generation or their managers provide them with. But the Millennials can also thank that upbringing for a connection with their parents which is closer than that of any previous generation; their self-consciousness and year-long coaching also makes them a whole lot more optimistic than we are, the ‘Gen X negativos’.
If history had consisted of YOLOs only, the wheel still would not have been invented,” says Kristien. Kristien, a GenXer, works for a Flemish media company; last Saturday she shared her frustrations about the collaboration at work with twenty-somethings. I responded that Newton came to his theory of gravity while lying under a tree and that Archimedes’ Eureka moment happened while he was having a bath. Needless to say that I do not believe that striving after a ‘work/life balance’ should necessarily lead to a decrease in productivity. Quite the opposite, actually. People in their twenties experienced at home what an exaggerated work focus leads to: demotivation, stress-related ailments, burn-out, depression, broken families, you name it. So can you really blame them for wanting to approach things better?
After all they learned at school, on the Internet and even in games to take the most efficient route to a solution. Which does not mean at all that they are a bunch of couch potatoes. Half of these youngsters do not only have the desire to have children and start a family, they also dream of starting their own business. Having it easy when you grow up does not mean you are no longer engaged. This week I was a guest speaker at the ‘Day of the Family business‘ in Ghent. This year’s theme question, ‘Are there any successors?’, could be answered with a simple YES. Entrepreneurship with youngsters has never been this wide-spread. But the job does need to offer a challenge, whether one is an employee or the successor in the family business.

Intergenerational frustrations at work often originate from a difference in values and a feeling of a curtailed self-development among all generations. Generation X does not manage to climb higher up the ladder because the baby boomers prefer keeping control as long as they can; they also feel threatened by those naive twenty-something colleagues who ignore all the rules, the entire hierarchy and the job evaluations and will simply step into the CEO’s office to get things to change. Generation NOW, who have been used all their lives to continuous evaluations and mentoring at school and at home, feels underappreciated by their Gen X managers. After all, the half-yearly functioning interview and the yearly objectives evaluation do not correspond at all with how a stimulation-addicted youngster sees progress and development. They want to leave their impact NOW on what happens in a company and refuse to feel like a meaningless cog in an old-fashioned entity. Therefore the business world should also adapt to today’s employers. Rather than individual performances, the priority list of every HR collaborator and CEO should contain daily coaching and mentoring of young talent, aiming for the control of their own agenda, shorter-term objectives, collaborative leadership, co-creation of strategic plans and an increased focus on group realisations.
Every new generation moans about ‘today’s youth’. Which is nothing new, of course. Even Socrates already mentioned a lack of respect, manners and discipline among the youth. So the question is whether those characteristics are linked with a given generation, are part of being young, or whether they simply tell us more about the increasing age of the critic who expresses them.
As published in De Morgen on Saturday October 11, 2015. Over the past week, De Morgen published a complete series on Millennials based on an InSites Consulting study questioning their fears and dreams. Check the full Generation NOW series on De Morgen (in Dutch) or check the key learnings on our CoolBrands blog.

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