Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: The Trophy Kids Grow Up: how the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Ron Alsop. Jossey-Bass, 2008.

The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the WorkplaceOne of my favorite nonfiction genres is something I'd call social or cultural criticism. These are books that explore and critique some aspect of American society. I don't know why I find these books so fascinating -- maybe it's the one thing that's stuck with me from my BA in Sociology. In any case, I find books that focus on a particular generation of Americans particularly fascinating. And since there's not all that much being written about MY generation anymore (Generation X), I've been reading books like The Trophy Kids, about Generation Y, also called the Millennial Generation, the NetGeneration, or the iGeneration. My children are part of this generation, so I want to see what I'm up against!

The Trophy Kids focuses on Millennials who've now gotten old enough to enter the workplace. For some reason I was expecting more about the characteristics of these kids, and not quite so much about their forays into the workplace, but I should have known better, from the subtitle. This book runs through Millennial character traits pretty quickly, then focuses on how these kids view the workplace, and what companies are doing to attract and keep them. Apparently these young 20-somethings, have been brought up by "helicopter parents" to be, according to Alsop and other books that I've read, selfish, arrogant, and overly-dependent upon technology. Their parents have been spoiling them, getting them out of scrapes, over-scheduling them with activities, and pressuring them to get into a good college since before they were out of diapers. And now these kids have entered the job market with high expectations. They believe that companies should give them what they want, which is, pretty much -- fun!! And pay them lots of money to have said fun. This means that Millennials tend not to stay in one job for very long because they get bored, or they want more money faster, or they have ADD from watching too much television and playing video games. They don't appear to have a lot of, um ... patience. They don't want to "pay their dues" with a company. They don't want to do a lot of grunt work in order to some day get that big promotion. They want it now.

On a more positive note, Millennials are searching for more work/life balance. They've watched their parents put in a lot of hours at work at the expense of, well ... them! And they don't want that for their kids. They also want time for fun. For travel and hobbies and friends, etc. And let's not forget TV, video games, and of course, Facebook and blogging! Surprisingly enough, according to Ron Alsop, many companies are actually changing their policies to give Millennials the kind of work environment that they want. They are trying to put more fun into the workplace, track kids for quicker promotions, and allow for more flexible hours and work-at-home time.

Now, I said "surprisingly" because I can't believe any company would need to add more "fun" to the workweek, just to keep employees. It's difficult to find a job right now, and people who have one already certainly aren't leaving just because they can't play Wii in their cubicles. The fact is, while this book may have had a lot of good points two years ago, it's hopelessly outdated now, in the aftermath of economic collapse. At the end of this book, I'm left wondering what's happening with Millennials in the workplace now that they've had a strong dose of reality. Are they still quitting their jobs in droves, thinking there's a more fun job out there, and then ending up living at home working at TGIFridays because the big corporations aren't hiring? Or are they biting their tongues and turning into the corporate drones they never wanted to be? A quick Google search for the author hasn't given me any answers. Perhaps I'll just have to wait for Ron Alsop's next book.


  1. That sounds like a fascinating book! And reading your description, I can immediately see a couple of 20-year-olds I know who fit the bill exactly...

  2. What's weird is they said some of the same things about our generation, Marci. Job hopping, lack of company loyalty, prioritizing time off over working overtime, etc. The dot com overachievers were looking for a way to create outside of the typical corporate structure. There are some very key ways that Gen Xers and Millenials differ in group interactions and learning preferences, but I think many of the workplace approaches are here to stay. I don't know any American worker who believes that their company will take care of them as long as they're loyal and hard-working anymore, so everyone is always going to be looking for the next better opportunity.

  3. That's so true that companies aren't loyal to anyone anymore, so to some degree everyone is forced to job hop, whether they want to or not. Also, I wonder if part of Millennial attitudes are due more to youth than generation. Many people I know who had similar attitudes about work when we were in our twenties, are no working long hours at the expense of their personal lives, entrenched with a particular company.