Tough Lessons for Generation Y


This summer I turned 40. In Western Europe or the United States, I would probably be in good company. In Russia, however, most progressive companies are populated with younger people. Regardless, I'd rather feel old in Russia than be unemployed in London or New York.

Broadly speaking, the domestic labor market can be broken down into three very distinct areas. The Soviet era (Generation SU) are those who commenced their professional careers before the Soviet Union collapsed. The work principles, methodologies, formative training and work experience of this group means that they have found it most difficult to adapt to the new market economy. This group is now aging, and the youngest of Generation SU is around 45 years old. In the West, this generation is called the "Baby Boomers," as they were born in the post war, post austerity generation of the 1960s. There is little in common between the Baby boomers of the West and Generation SU.

People commencing their careers in the early nineties are universally termed Generation X irrespective what country they were born in. This term generally applies to those born between 1968 and 1980. So the youngest Generation X employee will be about 28 years old now. Generation Y takes in anybody you employ below 28 years of age.

The reaction of Generation Y employees to the current economic environment has been fascinating. Before all the talk of global recession, they didn't wear ties, pushed the boundaries of acceptable business attire towards night club chic, considered chatting in the kitchen as a legitimate work pursuit akin to team building and saw the contractual start and finish times on their labor contract as a guideline rather than a rule. When they leave work to have fun, they generally have an ability to leave business pressure behind and appear to manage the "work-life" balance more in the favor of life than previous generations. Now that the pressure on global economies is mounting, they appear to have exactly the same approach to life and work! For some, the effects of the global slowdown and subsequent recession will therefore be a big eye-opener and a shock.

Because most Generation Y employees have only known good times in Russia, they are usually blissfully unaware of the challenge that faced Generation X after the 1998 financial crisis. They seem to believe in safety in numbers. It won't be them. Unfortunately, the credit crunch is having an effect in Russia, some industries are more heavily hit than others, banking and construction have suffered, retail is also in the firing line and of course any company reliant on debt is also at serious risk. Many people have lost their jobs, and are now without income. Although there are still jobs out there, there are more available candidates to fill them now, so somebody who is not working will have less negotiating power to maintain at their previous salary, let alone increase it. Employees are still leaving one employer prior to securing their next position, a sure sign that people haven't yet realized what's going on in the real world.

The clever Generation Y staff will soon realize being as successful as before will depend more and more on working harder -- putting in longer hours, turning up on time and leaving later. Most companies are already drawing up plans for a cutback in trading and this means cutting costs. The least effective staff will be the ones made redundant first, but there is still time for many to make a difference. Most international companies are probably more advanced in this process as they will be more heavily exposed to markets far worse affected by the credit crisis and subsequent market volatility. American companies were the first to put in place recruitment freezes, embargoes on replacing leavers and in some cases, down scaling.

As in the period following the 1998 crisis, Russian companies will be the first to fill the gaps in the market -- if one company cuts staff, another see an opportunity, so it's not all bad news. In fact, despite the misery for many during the 1998-2000 period, many Russian companies and international firms with vision are now much stronger. The fittest will survive.

There are very few comparisons between what is happening in Russia now and ten years ago. The country has significant reserves, oil prices are still relatively high, demand for goods and services is still strong and, most importantly, confidence is still high, although it has been challenged in the past few months.

Generation Y, therefore, has lessons to learn, and some will be tough. Some won't survive, but the most successful will morph the most appealing aspects of Generation X with the best of their own generation. Darwinism is alive and kicking.