Dumped into the recession after graduation, Generation Y has had their workplace optimism and change-the-world enthusiasm dashed before they could even be assigned a cubicle. While many young people viewed their down luck as an opportunity to start a company, the vast majority of Gen Y chose to hunker down; instead of opting out of corporate life, young people opted out of risk.
New data from Millennial Branding and Monster.com agrees. The report, based on a survey that was sent to 200,000 randomly selected Monster users (2,800 of which replied) showed that only 28 percent of Gen Y respondents identified with being high risk, compared to a whopping 40 percent of Gen X and 43 percent of Boomers who felt the same way.
Not only that, the report found 41 percent of Gen X employees and 45 percent of Boomers consider themselves to be more entrepreneurial compared to only 32 percent of Gen Y workers.
"Gen Y is so risk-averse because they are struggling in this economy ... The unemployment rate for Gen Y is about 11.5 percent right now or greater and the national unemployment rate is about 7.8 percent," says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of the upcoming book Promote Yourself (danschawbel.com).
Spurned by a difficult job market and loaded down with student debt, a young person isn't often choosing to be an entrepreneur, but forced into the profession with little other choice. While Gen Y is known as the most entrepreneurial generation in the media, their reality is quite different. On the Small Business Labs website, Steve King of New Communications Research writes that "the grim job market is a key reason more young Americans are pursuing work as independents (temps, freelancers, etc.)."
Employed Gen Yers, on the other hand, simply feel lucky to have a job. Those Gen Yers who are ambitious—and who in a different economy may have been the next Mark Zuckerburg—are now turning to intrapreneurship (behaving like an entrepreneur in a large organization) to find meaning and challenge in their jobs. Intrapreneurship acts as Gen Y's safety net. "The benefit of being an intrapreneur is that you can leverage corporate resources, including people, capital and brand, in order to accomplish your goals. You are also getting paid while you're doing it and there's less risk involved," says Schawbel.
And conservative Gen Yers often prefer the path of least resistance. Coddled by their Boomer parents growing up, today's 20-somethings were told they could be anything. But no one was prepared, Gen Y or Boomers, for the challenges the generation would face.
So while an abiding optimism still resides in most of today's young workers, it's hard for Gen Y not to view every opportunity as temporary. Only 26 percent of Gen Y respondents agreed they had intentions of staying at their present company for a long time. And while the survey didn't question why, the lack of economic recovery has certainly influenced the decisions of Gen Y.
"Regardless of the path you choose," says Schawbel, "you have to make things happen, act more entrepreneurial (or intrapreneurial) and not rely on anyone. That's the economy we live in today and it's not going to change in the foreseeable future."
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.