I vaguely recall the day my parents bought our first TV. It was delivered and set up, ready to go. The odd thing was we never thought to ask, “Where’s the remote control?” Why? Because there was only one channel! Years later a second channel was added but even then it never occurred to us to desire a remote. We’d simply stand up, walk over to the television and turn the knob. Nowadays when I want to change channels I can search for ages to find my remote, even though I still only need to “turn the knob”! And when I find it I can channel surf, “clicking” every time I want to watch a different channel or when the advertisements begin.
This is consumerism: I don’t like this anymore—I’ll try something else… “click”. We see it not only in our TV watching habits, but every time we visit the store: aisles and aisles of products that are the same yet different. We see it in the mp3 players that replace a radio station’s choice of music for us and allow us to create our own playlists which we skip through at will.
But consumerism is about more than the choices alone. It’s about the status conferred on us by others when we have the latest and best, and customising what we have in order to make it unique and still desirable. At it’s heart consumerism is about the belief that more choices lead to more happiness.
Generation Y have grown up in a world of choices, and with it has been the ability to make those choices quickly and painlessly. All it takes is a “click” and their world is just as they want it to be again. By the time they reach the workforce they are trained to expect choices and to know what they like and don’t like. The ability to choose hours of work, location of work and other benefits are high on their list of expectations, and even if such choices appear impractical in the minds of their employers, they will nonetheless push for them or look for them elsewhere in another job, an action which is, in and of itself, consumerism.
To understand this mindset we must realise that they take on a job asking themselves, not how they might contribute to make our business a successful business, but how the business might make them a successful employee. We can fight this or see it as an opportunity to get what we want — an employee who is motivated to work hard albeit for a different end than ours.
Finally consumerism has led Generation Y to be highly suspicious of anything that looks like a “sell”. What they value highly in any company is transparency, genuineness and vulnerability, and will look for it not only in their boss but in the company ethos and practice as a whole.