TL;DR – The issue is not that one generation is worse than the other.
DPM Tharman recently said that the youths in the workforce are often more impatient to move on while fewer believe in learning the ropes and taking time to develop deep mastery on the job and working their way up.
What DPM Tharman said reminded us of an incident that a friend of ours told us. Our friend works in events management. Let’s call this friend, J. Once, her company had an intern. Let’s call this intern Stupid Young Intern, or SYI for short.
When SYI joined the company, they were in the midst of preparing for an event. It was all hands on deck. Everyone was busy like hell. And you know… when you are damn busy yourself, it’s hard to make time to teach a noob. You wish that the noob can actually add some value rather than make you busier. But J tried. She didn’t want to throw SYI in the deep end and let her sink. So J asked SYI to do something manageable. She asked SYI to call a supplier to get prices for a certain door gift that the client had wanted.
A day later, SYI went to J and told J that the supplier didn’t have stock of the particular door gift.
J asked: “Then what other door gifts does that supplier have? Or are there any other suppliers that may have something similar to what the client wants?”
SYI replied: “Er… I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
J patiently (or as patiently as she could have brought herself to be) asked: “Can you call the supplier to ask? Or call other suppliers?”
SYI replied: “Er… ask for what ah? Which other suppliers?”
J said: “You know there’s such a thing called the internet?”
SYI said: “Ok. I go search.”
One day later, SYI came back to J and said: “I can’t find anything that’s similar to what the client wanted.”
J asked: “Did you find any suitable alternatives?”
SYI replied: “No I didn’t. You didn’t ask me to. I also don’t know what would be suitable alternatives.”
J, now realising that she’s dealing with someone with no initiative and suspiciously of minimal intelligence, decided to give very specific instructions: “Ok. You call XX Supplier and ask for prices of door gift model A, door gift model B, and door gift model C. Then you call YY Supplier and ask for prices of door gift model A, door gift model B, and door gift model C. Then you call ZZ Supplier and ask for prices of door gift model A, door gift model B, and door gift model C. Then you put it in a table so that we can compare.”
One day later SYI came back with the table. J eventually made the decision and called the supplier to place the order.
The next day, J’s boss, let’s call him Wise Boss (or WB for short), came to speak to J.
WB: “SYI came to talk to me yesterday. She complained that you have had her doing low level things the last few days. She says that she hopes to do more high level, “strategic” things. I just want to understand the situation better. What have you had her do? And how was her performance?”
J’s jaw dropped when she heard that. Luckily, J knew that WB is wise. So J calmly explained to WB and described the whole exchange. Thereafter, WB called SYI into the office and let rip:
“SYI. You may think that calling suppliers for quotes for door gifts is low level work and beneath you. But let me tell you, we all started with that. If you needed J to spell out every single step for you to take to get it right then it shows that YOU are low level. Not the job.
If you aren’t able to take the initiative to think through, given what the client said he wants, what other alternatives you can suggest, then YOU are low level. Not the job.
If you need someone to explicitly spell out every step of the way for you before you can do a “low level” job, what makes you think you can handle a “high level” job? If you can’t even do a “low level” job well, how can I trust you to do anything else?”
SYI didn’t take too kindly to what WB said. She felt that she was scolded. She didn’t continue with the internship.
Now that may be an unfair caricature of the youths. Not all youths are like that. For that matter, not all workers of generations past are patient, take time to develop deep mastery and work their way up. Some are equally bad. We have seen more than enough of our share of 30-somethings and beyond who alternate between behaving like spoilt brats and first-jobbers who don’t know better.
The issue is not that one generation is worse than the other. But that there are people who just have terrible work ethics and a complete misunderstanding of their own ability.
Regardless of what age or which generation we are in, I think there are some timeless values and work ethics that we should all have – humility, learn from everyone and in every situation, taking the initiative, ask, believe that there’s no tasks too big nor small, do our best in everything, help one another, persevere in the face of adversity, criticism, and failure. There are many others. But we think those, and what DPM Tharman said, are good enough as a start.