I’ve been around for a while. Technically, I’m a baby boomer; albeit a YOUNG baby boomer, someone who was born towards the end of the baby boomer era (1946-1964). I began my career in accounting in 1986, and as someone who has been in my profession for over 20 years; I like to think of myself as someone with boatloads of experience and knowledge to share.
But this is a Generation Y story, and for this story I need to go back about nine years to 2001, the year I put my career on hold and moved to France with my husband and 3-year-old son. You see, my husband’s company was acquired by a French company that year, and so I left my career in accounting and moved across the ocean. By the time we returned to the United States two years later, we had added twins to our family. So, with three young children to care for, I decided to be a stay-at-home mom for few years. Though I enjoyed my time with my young family, I genuinely love my profession and missed working. So in 2006 I decided it was time to return to my career. But something interesting had occurred during my half decade hiatus. A new generation had grown up, graduated from college, and would now be working elbow to elbow alongside me. Yes, me, the baby boomer, would now be working alongside Generation Y. For the first time in my career, I would be working with colleagues whose parents were my age or (gasp!) even younger than me.
During the year prior to returning to work, I did lots of reading, mostly on the issue of off-ramping and on-ramping, the theory surrounding what occurs when professional women leave their careers for several years and what they might expect upon their return. I distinctly recall that many of the articles I came across dealt with how the accounting profession was dealing with this new generation, this Generation Y, as it was called. This generation of young professionals who felt entitled and, as the literature reported, weren’t willing to “pay their dues” or work long, hard hours in order to earn their promotions. This was a generation that was technologically savvy, who listed to their iPods while they worked, who spent time on Facebook and Twitter, and who preferred to communicate via e-mail and text messages instead of in person. This was generation for whom work had to be “fun,” who wore flip-flops to work, who demanded flexibility in their jobs, who questioned authority and who weren’t willing to blindly follow the demands of their superiors. For these reasons, Generation Y was sometimes referred to as GenWhy or GenMe. And recognizing the characteristics or this new group of graduates, accounting firms were hiring recruiting managers to specifically woo these GenYers. These same firms were posting videos on YouTube to demonstrate that their work environment was hip and cool.
By 2007, I had returned to work as a senior manager for a national accounting firm. One of my first observations was about how “young” everyone seemed. Yes, GenerationY was all around me. This fresh faced, young group of educated professionals, who did indeed listen to their iPods as they worked, and did indeed wear flip-flops to work, and did indeed seem to have a more relaxed approach to their careers, was very much all around me. How was I, the baby boomer, who began her career in the 80’s, ever going to relate to these young people? When I began my career, a new accounting graduate was expected to work, long, hard hours, and do as they were told. There was no such thing as business casual; men wore business suits and ties, and women wore suits with skirts, pantyhose and pumps to work…every day! Back when I began my career (Oh no, here I go sounding like an old person!), you were grateful for the employment opportunity you had been given and you knew that “paying your dues” was expected.