Walking with Generation Y – From Bricklayers to Cathedral Builders

You can read lots of books and surveys about Generation Y, and/or you can find the people in this generation where you work and listen.

I’ve been fascinated by the people in this Generation (born approximately 1978-1980 through 2000-2002) for a really long time. I first got to work with several people in this generation in my last job, and I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve also posted quite a bit about them on this blog, both as a group of people, and in the workplace.

This is why I was intrigued while accessing the Kaiser Permanente internal social network one day, and found a group called “GenKP – shaping our future”. I knew this had to be them. And of course it was.

I found that they had also set up a mentorship program, which I have seen happen at many companies. When it’s a baby boomer and a Gen Y, it’s called “reverse mentorship,” because Gen Y’s are defined most significantly by their understanding of technology, boomers more by their values, so they tend to get along. I signed up anyway, and was matched with Katie Rovere, who’s on the GenKP Board.

Even though I test out more Gen Y than Gen X (check yourself here), we’ve been in a mentorship relationship for almost 3 months now, and met for the first time in person this week.

My attempt at recording a short interview failed miserably, so I’ll capture things in this blog post.

I asked Katie what differentiated her generation in the workplace and in health care, and she talked about the story that I allude to in the title of the post. You may have heard this one before – about one mason who believes he’s laying bricks, another who believes he’s building a wall, a third who’s building a cathedral Katie made this connection to her generation (which has been made by others). They’re building cathedrals she says – by doing work that’s meaningful and adds value.

I suppose I could say that my generation and the one before me understood that to serve the purpose that we wanted to serve, we would sometimes need to lay bricks or build walls first. It’s just the way the world worked.

The second thing she mentioned is transparency, which refers to having information about how an organization makes decisions as they are making them. This makes sense to me too, because she/they are used to having access to more information than previous generations did. They can filter. I can see how my generation is more used to “here’s the decision, there’s a lot behind it, we don’t need to go into it now.” I’m more GenY in my aspirations, and I try and model it through things like this blog. Why not involve people in our daily challenges so they can decide how to act based on their values?

I asked when she first started using the internet – she said around age 10-11.

It’s estimated that in our organization 7 %  (correction, 17% as of 2011 – Sept 7, 2012) of the workforce is currently Generation Y. Katie reminded me that there’s 80 million people in the Generation Y group, 77 million in the  baby boomer group (but who’s counting, I asked :)) – they are coming and they want to be heard.

This is fine with me. I really like the way people from this generation ask questions, to find the meaning behind the things we’re doing, to make every minute count. Katie told me that her cohort loves Kaiser Permanente and would like to spend their entire careers here, if the environment can be supportive of their goals and purposes. I think that’s fair, and ultimately doable, given our commitment to our members, their families, their communities, and society.

I’ve seen it quoted that baby boomers want to win, Gen Xers want to collaborate, maybe because we (GenX) saw the world become a lot tougher while we were growing up….One thing I’ve noticed about this Generation compared to mine is their affinity to the C-suite (and maybe the reverse is true as well). I’m not going to lie – with the help of my boss, I brought Katie up to the Boardroom (only the second time I’ve been there myself), where we talked about what Generation Y will need to do to be there one day. My one counsel is that when that day comes, they should always see the ability to be there as special and not take it for granted. It’s an honor and a gift to serve, not a right or a reward. When I step in the elevator to go up to that floor in the building, it’s what I’m thinking, every time.

With a twist of irony, a colleague approached us and said, “Ted what’s the name of this symbol again?” I looked at Katie and said, “you tell him,” and she said, “I don’t know, I’m not that techie.” I told him that he was holding up a QR code. Two ways to look at this: GenY doesn’t know as much about tech as some of us do. Or, GenY knows as much about tech that matters in their daily lives. I’ll leave that question hanging :).

Katie and I are proceeding through a 6 month mentorship contract, which we both hope results in more visibility for Generation Y in health care and in the workplace in general. The organizations that understand their value and nurture it will be the most successful in the years ahead. Best to start now.



Ted Eytan, MD