Gen Y – perceptions and reality

The sessions at last week’s EBSLG conference that perhaps provoked the most discussion concerned the research that had been undertaken by two Ashridge researchers, Sue Honore and Carina Schofield, into how the young people of today will want to learn, work and ultimately manage and the impact this will have on our organisations.

The session started with an unwelcome reminder that I invariably just keep missing the cut on questionnaires at the moment. Lots of people have different takes on where each Gen starts, but in this research I came out as Early Generation X.  (Baby Boomers: 1946-63/Early Gen X: 1963-73/Late Gen X: 1973-82/Gen Y: 1982-2002). Only one member of the audience was discovered to be Gen Y (and she was quite rightly harangued for the remainder of the conference for being too damn young!)  After establishing which Gen we all were we were asked to choose from a list of options as to what words we each individually felt most and least summed up Gen Y. My ”most’ votes went for: Short Attention Span, Risk-Taking and Technical Wizards, whereas my ‘least’ votes went for: Hard Working, Deep Thinkers and Friendly with all ages. There was broad agreement amongst the audience as to the ‘mosts and ‘leasts’.

We were subsequently presented with results compiled after a series of focus groups, interviews and online surveys.  Key findings were that other Gens perceived Gen Y as ‘Self-confident’ but they themselves did not. ‘Ambition’ was a different story with Gen Y being more ambitious than they were perceived to be. ‘Attitude to Technology’ results showed that Gen Y were only marginally more embracing of technology than other Gens (and Baby Boomers were just as embracing as late Gen X). As for ‘Young in Attitude’, Gen Y saw themselves as the least and Baby Boomers the most, with a growing trend inbetween. It seems we all see ourselves asyounger in attitude the older we get!

Overall the research identified a number of ‘remedial areas’ in the Gen Y  make-up, as follows:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Written English
  • Maths
  • Creativity
  • Face-to-face people skills
  • Information validation
  • Teamwork
  • Deep-thinking
  • Financial management

Any surprises there for you? Not many for me I have to say. There followed some debate as to whether Gen Y were really that different to Gen X and Baby Boomers when they were younger. Honore and Schofield insisted that Gen Y were different and that their research (of which we only really had a glimpse) proved this conclusively.

A specific finding that perhaps is the most significant for us librarians is that Gen Y are perceived to be technical wizards (e.g. searching/use of data/web activity) but in fact are no better than any other Gen, however, they DON”T know that.  And when you bring the  aforemnetioned lack of interest in information validation into the frame we have a problem on our hands…

Finally, we were presented with some info on how Gen Y prefer to learn. Again few surprises but good to get this reaffirmed (in order):

  • Hands-on
  • Interactive/Collaborative
  • Simulations/case-studies/experiential
  • Technology-based

This presentation only scratched the surface of their full research findings which are due to be published in a downloadable PDF in a few weeks time at this URL:

This report will of course be worth comparing with the BL and JISC study: Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future which concentrated on Gen Z (defined as born between 2000-present day), which in short concluded that Gen Z:

  • over rely on search engines
  • lack critical and analytical skills
  • scan rather than read material
  • have overestimated ICT skills

N.B. The BL and JISC are currently working on a  follow-up Gen Y report as well.

Does anyone have any good news for us librarians? No? OK then.



6 thoughts on “Gen Y – perceptions and reality

  1. libreaction says:

    Indeed not! And of course the solitary Gen Y’er in our midst at EBSLG (who I was being rude about) also has her finger completely on the pulse just as you do and is setting a brilliant example to us Gen X’s and Baby Boomers. It’s so easy to be drawn into labelling with this Generation research and to respond way too generically.


  2. Dan says:

    Aren’t most of the Generation Y characteristics described in these reports just properties of Young People? Young People who will get older?

    Or was there a time when old folk were financially profligate and future-focused, hanging around in crowds being emotionally incompetent, whilst the young thought deeply and validated their opinions carefully, writing beautiful English in the process?


  3. Justin says:

    I agree that you can be happy in any job, as long as the situation is right. I find that I am unhappy at work when I feel disenfranchised. I changed my work situation last year, and was immediately happier. And it had to do with taking control back.

    My experiences inspired me to write a post entitled “The 4 Promises that Every iGen needs to make in 2011” on my blog (

    These 4 promises are:
    1. I promise to embrace the power of being iGen
    2. I promise to do more, faster and better than before
    3. I promise to be part of the conversation
    4. I promise to keep asking for feedback and advice

    If you feel disempowered at work – then take some inspiration from the 4 promises – and take back the power in 2011!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s