Gen Y Anatomy Lesson: They’re Not
Alien, Just Different
Mary Jeanne Welsh, CPA, PhD, and Paul R. Brazina, CPA
Thriving organizations change in response to, or in anticipation of, new conditions. Breakthrough
technologies and shifts in the competitive environment are commonly cited reasons for organizational
change. Another potential force for change is often overlooked. What happens when new employees are
hired, especially younger employees, who represent a new generation entering the profession? Does the
accounting profession know what to expect as Generation Y (Gen Y) enters the workforce?
Their goals, expectations, and values may be different from their predecessors, and managers and partners
need to understand any potential culture shift. This article explores generational differences in work values
and offers some suggestions for managing Gen Y.
A generation is an “identifiable group that shares birth years, age location, and significant life events at
critical development stages.”1 The accounting profession, like the workforce in general, is dominated by the
Baby Boomers, born roughly between 1946 and 1961, the oldest of whom are approaching retirement, and
Generation X, born between 1962 and 1979. Gen Y (also called Millennial Generation) is usually defined as
born in the years 1980 to 2000. The oldest members of Gen Y turn 30 this year, and your firm has probably
already hired, and will continue to hire, Gen Y.
Events that Shaped Gen Y
Like all labeled generations, Gen Y’s common experiences helped to shape their shared behaviors. Three of
the most prominent influences include the following:
Mega-traumas, including historic acts of terrorism, school violence, and natural disasters.
Increased access to technology and new forms of communication.
A pro-child culture in which mothers frequently work outside the home.2
These impactful influences can’t help but shape Gen Y’s attitudes toward work. Many members of the Class
of 2010, entering the profession this year, watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on TV at the age of 12 or
13. They were college freshmen when multiple students were killed during a mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
Media coverage of violent attacks and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, create a sense that the
world is a dangerous place and that life can end suddenly. The Gen Y response is to want to live life fully
now. To sacrifice their personal life now for possible future rewards (promotion, salary) does not make sense
to many of the members of Gen Y. For the young worker, personal relationships are extremely important.3