Generation Y: living for the moment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am

They might be arrogant, but they are work smart. They like to challenge but also welcome change. Instead of living to work, they work to live. Meet Generation Y - a rising tide of young people who were born in the 1980s and early 1990s who will soon become the major economic force in the world.

Hallie Yeung Hiu-shan, 24, works in an international bank, and it's her third job in the two years since she graduated. 'I first worked for an airline, but the work was so boring I quit after two months. Then I got an offer in an American bank. The pay was good, but the working hours were long. I always worked late and went home at midnight. I stayed at the job for more than a year.'

She says she grew up in a working-class family, and she's grateful her parents spent their lives working hard to make ends meet, but it's not the kind of life she wants to lead. It's a sentiment shared by many others in her generation.

Generation Y account for one fifth of Hong Kong's population. Unlike their parents who worked hard and saved money for the future, Generation Y embrace a 'work hard, play hard' attitude. The business sector long ago realised, as a generation, these young people are hungry consumers always looking for instant gratification, willing to splash money on luxury products, fine restaurants or overseas travel as they flit from job to job.

But they are a challenge for employers - young, energetic and full of potential, they don't stick at anything. A local survey found that on average Hong Kong workers under 30 change their jobs once a year. Recently, the United States bureau of Labour Statistics estimated that young professionals will have held as many as eight jobs by the time they are 32.

Salary used to be the carrot all workers chased, but Generation Y care less about money than job satisfaction, work environment and learning opportunities. They dislike tedious and old-fashioned practices, and will confront authority when necessary. If they are not happy with their work, they won't hesitate to type a resignation letter and look for a new job.

Their confidence comes from security, which they have enjoyed since they were born. Experiencing neither war, long-term poverty nor massive unemployment, Generation Y usually have solid family support and have received a good education. Meanwhile, technology has brought them unlimited information. Compared with their parents, whose lives revolve around the neighbourhood, they are well connected with their peers and with the outside world. They are aware they have more choices and resources, and are not shy to speak out about what they want.

The labour market reinforces their work ethic. Gone are the days when a company hired employers for decades, paying pensions after retirement. Many jobs now are advertised as contract-based rather than permanent.

The question is whether the worsening economic climate will change them.

Perhaps Tsui Hoi-ling, a 25-year-old credit controller, provides the answer. Despite the credit crunch, she will stick to her plan and resign.

'It's not that I don't like my job. I just don't want to let work take up my whole life. I want to work, earn money and have fun. I'm planning a three-month holiday in Australia. What company would approve such long leave?'