Spoilt brats! Also known as Gen Ys

I was recently at the Globalaw Annual Members Meeting in Perth. One of the panel discussions I attended was on the subject of how to attract and retain “Gen Ys” in your organisation. Little did I realise this topic would spark so much debate upon my return to Hong Kong.

Gen Y is the term used to describe the generation following Gen X. Commentators generally say that Gen Ys are people who were born between 1980 to 2000. Typically Gen Ys are said to be spoilt, unmotivated, unwilling to work hard and most frequently have a sense of entitlement without having paid their dues. Gen Ys are said to be reluctant to begin a career, quick to move back to the parents’ home rather than make their own, and put off marriage for as long as possible.

But is “Gen Y” in fact a myth?

When I started my law conversion course in 2007 in London, a mere 15% of students had secured a Training Contract (the two year training period that Solicitors in England and Wales, and Hong Kong, are required to complete before they may qualify as a Solicitor) before the start of their course.

The idea therefore that Gen Ys are ungrateful for their positions is ludicrous to me. We Gen Ys are very aware that the global economy is unstable and has been for quite some time. From my experience most Gen Ys I know are grateful to have any job at all these days. Gen Ys are distinctly aware furthermore of the fact that there are so many new graduates entering the market each year that they need to perform and impress so they are not replaced by a rookie.

A huge amount of research on board diversity has been carried out in Hong Kong by groups such as the Women’s Foundation of Hong Kong. Research from around the world has shown that with board diversity comes more effective decision making. Having diversity on boards and in the workplace also brings to the table different perspectives which can lead to more appropriate solutions.

In the same way that it is now recognised that women on boards and diversity in the workplace is of great benefit to businesses, I would advocate that Gen Ys benefit workplaces too. Increased diversity is proven to encourage creativity and innovation, and it drives up competitiveness. Having any kind of diversity in the workplace, therefore, can only be a good thing.

It is important for companies to recognise that in terms of succession it is important to nurture Gen Y and not treat them as if they are the spoilt millennial generation that is so very different from Gen X. Because, when you scratch beneath the surface, we are not actually so very different after all.


By Scherzade Burden (née Westwood), Registered Foreign Lawyer, Oldham Li & Nie Lawyers