Republished from USA TODAY By Denise Kersten 1/24/2002
Things just aren’t what they used to be.
We’re used to hearing that from grandparents who trudged miles through the snow to get to school — uphill both ways.
But today it’s a chorus sung by young workers. Twentysomethings who entered the workplace during one of the largest labor shortages in history now face their first recession in the working world.
Recent grads once held all the power in employee/employer relationships. If they didn’t like how things were going, they could walk- and command a higher salary elsewhere.
Not so, these days, as twentysomethings find themselves clinging to their jobs amidst layoffs and hiring freezes.
The recession has hit younger workers harder than their more senior counterparts, with unemployment rates for workers under 25 far exceeding the national average.
“We were used to being wanted and being needed and being courted,” says Sara Kidder, a 25 year-old account supervisor with an advertising agency in Denver, Colo.
Now Kidder’s younger brother is nearing college graduation. “I don’t know how he’s going to find a job,” she says.
Not only are jobs scarce, many companies have scaled back on raises and perks they used to lure employees to the firm, like happy hours and lavish holiday parties. Some are even warning employees to pinch pennies on their supplies and expenses.
So how are young people coping now that the tables are turned?
Pretty well, according to some experts. “They got a little spoiled because things were so darn good,” says Bob Losyk, author of Managing a Changing Workplace. “But they’re so adaptable, it’s amazing.”
Here’s how they’re adjusting:
- Flexibility is one of Generation X and Y’s strengths, and for some young workers it’s been their saving grace.
Lawrence Stone had trouble finding a job after he was laid-off from a marketing agency on Long Island, N.Y.
Stone realized many companies were outsourcing work instead of hiring new in-house employees, so he used his contacts to land a big freelance project, and launched his own marketing and interactive consulting firm Superior Impact, Inc.
“If I can’t find work, I’m going to make work,” Stone says.
- Twentysomthings’ healthy work/life balance is another factor in their favor, according to Claire Raines, co-author ofGenerations at Work.
Raines says watching boomers spend their lives at the office has fostered a backlash against workaholism among the next generation.
Putting extra emphasis on friends, family and outside interests has helped twentysomething cope with stress as they’ve watched the economy go sour.
- Whereas two years ago the trend was to jump ship as soon as you could earn more money elsewhere, seeing friends struggle through layoffs makes many workers thankful they still have jobs.
When Ben Jullien, an IT consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, first moved to Silicon Valley nearly a year ago, he looked around at his group of 10 friends and realized many of them were commanding higher salaries.
Now he considers himself lucky just to be employed. Most of those 10 friends have been laid off — some several times — since he arrived.
“You have people scurrying to do the best they can,” Jullien says. “Everyone is crossing their fingers and hoping their management keeps them on.”
Young workers are putting a much higher premium on job security than they were several months ago, according to Dr. Barbara Moses author of The Good News About Careers: How You’ll Be Working in the Next Decade.
The downturn has also forced twentysomethings to learn a few tough lessons.
- Some experts say those who entered the workforce in the late 90’s coasted through the job-search process without having to develop their networking and interview skills, let alone a career plan.
“Twentysomethings have been very disadvantaged by the fact that they entered the workplace during a very good economy,” Moses says.
As the job market has become more competitive, they’ve started to don suits for interviews and join professional organizations to build networks.
Moses emphasizes the importance of a long-term goal based on your interests, talents and priorities. Many twentysomethings threw career planning out the window during the boom years, as they bounced from job to job for higher salaries.
But they’re not necessarily paying more attention to the big picture now, either, as panic is prompting many to take whatever jobs they can get.
Now that many young people are having to take a step back in their careers, focusing on a long-term goal at least allows you to progress by gaining experience in a designated field.
- Fancy cars and luxury travel may have been standard fare for the dot-com crowd a few years ago, but the growing sense of insecurity is putting a squeeze on excessive spending.
“I’m trying not to go shopping as much, and I probably won’t take any big vacations this year,” says Kate Kerkstra, a 23 year-old public relations account executive in San Francisco.
Staying unburdened by financial commitments not only helps workers prepare for the possibility of unemployment, it also allows for a wider range of options — like going back to school or switching to a more interesting but lower paying field.
“A lot of these squirrels are going to learn how to store some nuts,” Chester says.
- A few years ago, ambitious youngsters could demand high salaries and heavy-hitting titles, and design their own job descriptions.
Now, many may find themselves pouring coffee and making copies. Patience isn’t a virtue that comes easily to this generation. But in this tight job market many need to pay their dues before landing a dream job.
“Don’t look to hit your first pitch out of the park,” says Eric Chester, president of Generation Why, a speaking, training and consulting firm. “Instead, just try to get on base. Try to get a job in the field that you desire.”
- The recession may also give younger workers a much-needed tougher edge they wouldn’t have developed if companies were still courting them like they were a few years ago.
“The reality of free agency is that it’s not a choice,” says Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, a management-training firm in New Haven, Conn. “In this economy you just don’t know what’s going to come around the next corner.”