They’re big, they’re young, and they’re coming to work. They’re the Echo Boomers and like their predecessors, the baby boomers, they will affect every part of society, including your workplace.
A Few Facts First:
- They were born between 1982 and 1995.
- There are nearly 80 million of them.
- They already make up nearly one-third (27.5 percent) of the U.S. population.
- In 2004 they spent $170 billion of their own and their parents’ money.
- They are sometimes referred to as “Generation Y” or “millenials.”
- The first wave has just graduated from college (Class of 2004).
Work as we know it is about to undergo change.
It won’t be noticeable at first, but it’s coming nevertheless. The Echo Boomers are our future. Soon they will be your subordinates, then your coworkers and, before you know it, they will be in positions of power in your organizations.
As with all young recruits, they bring the requisite package of energy, enthusiasm and immaturity. In addition to those traits shared by most young people, they are also very bright. They are the most computer-literate generation yet. They grew up with a mouse (the one on the desk-not Mickey). They are card-carrying multi-taskers with little use for down time and little ability to manage unstructured time.
From the time they were born, they have been watched like hawks–belted into cars, unable to roller blade or ride a bike without their helmets. “Play” is a word unfamiliar to many of them (as in: “Go outside and play.”). As children of the economically blessed baby boomers, their lives have become an endless regimen of one adult-sponsored activity after another. Their play involves an endless number of uniform and shoe changes.
Their parents have taught them that they are the center of the universe and have treated them as if they were fragile pieces of breakable china. College administrators call them “helicopter parents” because of the way they “hover.”
This unique form of attention has had a profound effect on the Echo Boomers in two significant areas. One is their level of confidence. These are a group of people pleasers. Their whole lives have been centered around pleasing adults: their parents, their teachers and their coaches. They have grown up being continually watched, graded, ranked, and evaluated. They are an externally defined generation and many of them have typical little idea of how to listen to their own voices.
The other area where they have been impacted is their maturity. Many of them dread the idea of adulthood. They want to continue living at home. The reasons given include the desire to save money and “figure out” what they want to do. The truth for many of them is that they want to prolong their adolescence. Many of them don’t like the idea of altering their standard of living. They are used to instant gratification, and the idea of a long climb up a corporate ladder and years of financial pressure are of little or no interest to them. They are used to being catered to and are not anxious for the catering to end any time soon.
With this as a background, what should you expect when they come to work? Not surprisingly, typical Echo Boomers will expect to have an impact right away. They want lots of positive feedback and think keeping lines of communication open is very important. In their world, participation is as important as achievement. (After all, from the time they were little, everybody got a trophy regardless of how well they played or how well the team did.)
They grew up on teams and because teamwork was emphasized over achievement, they want to know where they fit “on the team” in the workplace. Thankfully (for now) they want to be good followers. They believe that by being good team players, trying hard and being loyal to the group, they will rise in the organization quickly.
Their need for immediate gratification and their need to be recognized as special are going to make for rough sailing for many of them–at least at first.
The for-profit world of business is not the travel soccer team. In the world of business, trying does not make it–achieving does. Business is about solving problems and meeting needs–the needs of your customers, the needs of your employees, and the needs of your shareholders. These are lessons many Echo Boomers are about to learn.
So what do we do with these Echo Boomers?
First, remember that the data we have consists of many generalizations. Not all Echo Boomers fit the model. For those that do, however, it’s important not to get upset with them for developing as they have. If you’re a baby boomer and you’re reading this and you have children, you probably helped make them the way they are!
When they come to your workplace: Welcome them. Teach them. Listen to them.
Like all young people they’ll learn. As needed, they’ll adjust.
We did and so will they.