Gen Y: Delusional About Economic Reality?

New U.S. consumer confidence numbers are out today. Guess what? They’re abysmal. Americans, it seems, are looking around at the signs of economic hardship and coming to some pretty gloomy conclusions about their prospects and the prospects of the nation.

But perhaps one group is bucking the general slide towards pessimism – Gen Y. Or at least they were a year ago. When the Pew Research Center profiled the latest generation to enter the workforce in 2010 the economy wasn’t reeling but it was still pretty wobbly. But despite the uncertain outlook, this generation retained its sunny disposition. Pew found:

Despite struggling (and often failing) to find jobs in the teeth of a recession, about nine-in-ten either say that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals.

This was despite the pretty horrific jobs picture facing the group:

At the moment, fully 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are unemployed or out of the workforce, the highest share among this age group in more than three decades.

Totally Delusional?

There are two ways to view this combination of unemployment and optimism. One is to admire the spirit of young folks who refuse to be beaten down. Another is to view Gen Y as in need of a strong dose of reality. Recently on the HBR blogs, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management and of author of Enterprise 2.0, went with the latter.

At a time of high unemployment and persistent joblessness, Millennials [aka Gen Y] are asking for more concessions and perks from their employers. I just came across a CNN story about how new hires at marketing agency Euro RSCG told their CEO that they want to come in at 10 or later, have free food and a Pilates room, and get reimbursed for their personal trainers.

This might be an extreme example, but it’s not the only one. It seems like there’s a new meme in the air that rewards in the workplace go to those who ask the most, rather than those who give the most…. it needs to be stamped out.

And of course, McAfee’s post isn’t the only evidence that Gen Y are delusional to the point of demanding perks despite the economic doldrums. This generation has been slapped with the “entitled” label for years, and the internet is littered with posts by business owners bemoaning the crazy demands of their entitled entry-level hires.

Still, Gen Y isn’t without its defenders. The CEO of Euro RSCG, cited by McAfee as ground zero of unrealistic expectations, actually celebrated Gen Y’s insistence on work-life balance and vacation time. Obviously she wasn’t as disgusted with her young workers as McAfee was.

Entitled to Less Media Hype?

But even if you’re unconvinced that now is the time to wage a war against vacation starvation, there may be other reasons to disagree with the “gen Y is delusional and needs to get over it” idea. Plenty of counter evidence shows young people are actually pretty beaten down by the economic difficulties they graduated into and their delay in getting started with adult life may be down less to Peter Pan syndrome and more to economic hardship and a lack of resources.

Like every generation that came before them, the current crop of young people certainly has its fair share of the entitled individuals McAfee instructs to “take the first decent job that’s offered.” But some aren’t being offered any decent jobs at all. The question is whether the media is overhyping the first group and ignoring the second.

What do you think – Is Gen Y generally delusional about working life or is the media focusing too much on the brats?

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

Sign up for a free 30-day trial of Mindflash.

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Taster}, CC 2.0.)