WHAT 25-YEAR-OLDS WANT Here come the baby-busters, and they are nothing at all like the workaholic yuppies who preceded them. The new crew have been known to turn down big promotions or to quickly acquire clout and then give it all up for leisure. Meet the Employees Who Can Say No.
By Alan Deutschman REPORTER ASSOCIATE Deborah S. Cooper

(FORTUNE Magazine) – ANGELA AZZARETTI, 25, the daughter of Italian immigrants, was graduated from the University of Illinois and took a job at Caterpillar's headquarters in Peoria during the summer of 1987. Angela's was the first generation of her Chicago family to go to college, and she was first to work for a FORTUNE 500 company. Caterpillar trained her for a year, with jobs in marketing and manufacturing, and then assigned her to the heavy-duty engine plant in Mossville, Illinois, as the ''plant communicator.'' She wrote speeches for the division's top executives, published the plant newsletter, and produced videotapes viewed by 5,200 workers and managers at monthly meetings. Her work played well in Mossville, near Peoria, and soon she was offered a promotion to Caterpillar's headquarters staff. Angela turned it down. Then she was offered another promotion, entailing a move to a different plant. Once again she said no. ''Job satisfaction is the most important thing to me,'' says Angela. ''In those other jobs, I would have had less responsibility, less of a challenge. The only benefit was more money. I know it sounds crazy, but I evaluated the situation. I asked the advice of managers who had been around awhile. They said that ten or 20 years ago it would have been a black mark to turn down those jobs. When the company asks you to go, you go. But in this environment, I feel that I can afford to be selective. There are a lot of opportunities here, especially since we're trying to get more women and minorities into management positions. It's a good time to be my age at a corporation this size.'' What, you ask, has gotten into the brains of these kids? Nothing less than a new attitude toward life and work -- a quirky individualism that is characteristic of the baby-busters. The leading edge of this smaller, overshadowed generation was born in 1965 (see chart). These babies beat the odds from the very beginning -- the pill was just coming into widespread use. Now, as the oldest of them reach 25, they are arriving in corporate America and struggling to recast the rules according to their own demands. These are the Employees Who Can Say No, a novel breed that won't be easily manipulated into workaholism by the traditional lures -- money, title, security, and ladder climbing. Let's call them yiffies, for young, individualistic, freedom- minded, and few. The busters insist on getting satisfaction from their jobs but refuse to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the corporation. Their attitude: Other interests -- leisure, family, lifestyle, the pursuit of experience -- are as important as work. It's hard to figure out what they think is most important. They don't seem to have much sense of themselves as a distinct generation, and they certainly aren't impassioned about political or social issues. Nobody would describe them as a bunch of activists. Sure, you might want to laugh derisively the first time one of your youngest subordinates tells you he intends to work a mere 40-hour week so he can go scuba diving and learn a non-Indo-European tongue. But don't complain, then, when you can't seem to find another competent molecular biologist or quality- control specialist. Welcome to the new generation gap. Margaret Regan, a consultant at Towers Perrin, holds focus groups at FORTUNE 500 companies, bringing together employees of all ages. ''It's amazing to see how puzzled the different generations are by each other,'' she says. ''There's a real clash of values in the workplace right now. The older managers think that if the shoe doesn't fit, you should wear it and walk funny. The baby-busters say to throw it out and get a new shoe. Their attitude says that they are going to make the choices.'' Now is probably a good time to walk swiftly toward your human resources department -- if you even know where it is -- and listen to the experts there. Says Roy Howard, BellSouth's vice president for human resources: ''The younger workers coming in now aren't as prone to mold their lives to fit our environment.'' Glenn Blake, director of employment and management development at General Mills, enlarges on the theme: ''There's a stronger sense of balance in their lives. Quality of life is more important to them than it was ten years ago. Morals and even religious values are more evident in these people than in the past.'' TO FIND OUT what this generation says about itself, we talked at length with more than 30 college-educated baby-busters who work for FORTUNE 500 companies or professional firms in law, finance, or consulting. All the people interviewed are or will be 25 this year. It's an exercise FORTUNE has undertaken before. We first sampled the opinions of 25-year-old business beginners in 1955, finding those junior Organization Men oddly incurious (''their cultural interests and attainments are strikingly sparse'') but quietly confident of a secure and prosperous future within their companies. We repeated the exercise in 1980. At that time, the 25s vaunted their ambitions. Arrogant and impatient, they believed that business offered ''the fastest means of gratifying their frankly materialistic requirements.'' FORTUNE published this portrait of incipient yuppies three years before the term gained currency. Corporate America's latest legion of recruits sounds very different. ''Just about everyone in my family is tied to the auto industry in one way or another,'' says Linda Persico. She grew up in the Detroit suburbs and studied mechanical engineering at Michigan State. In 1987 she signed on at Ford Motor Co., where her father has worked as an engineer for 30 years. ''I feel guilty for saying this, but I don't feel the kind of loyalty his generation felt. They stayed through thick and thin. I wouldn't feel bad about going outside Ford if that's what was needed to develop my career -- but I look around and don't think I could find a better place. ''Maybe a career isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's still important to me, but it's not the No. 1 thing in my life. I have outside interests. Now that I'm engaged ((she plans to wed a fellow Ford engineer next year)), I'm more concerned about the time I spend with my fiance and what it's going to be like after we're married. If it came down to career or relationship, I would have to think that the relationship comes first. ''When I look around and see what people have sacrificed, I'm not sure that a career is the be-all and end-all. I would always like to move up within the company, but not at that price. I would like to be happily married. I see people here who have great careers but are divorced. In the end I don't want to make a great statement as a woman engineer. I want to be happy and contribute in my work. You have to compromise something, and that's an individual choice.'' Where do the baby-busters get their odd notions? Their self-absorption and curious brand of purposefulness clearly go back a long way, to college at least. By all accounts, these kids were no campus rebels. If anything, collegiate busters are infected with the virus that social critic Barbara Ehrenreich has called ''premature pragmatism,'' perhaps transmitted from the last cohort of the baby boom. Says Mary Tenopyr, an AT&T recruiting director: ''They're serious, dedicated, diligent. Students are thinking about their futures probably more so than at any time since the early Sixties.''

BUT DURING their first two or three years in the corporate milieu, a transformation takes place. The busters arrive ready to work hard for a while, & well aware of the need to establish a reputation and to move down the learning curve. But then the hellish hours threaten to become chronic -- and something happens that rocks the busters' confident outlook. Call it the boomer backlash. The busters look around the office and observe the 40-ish crowd, bleary-eyed managers who neglect their families and avocations for . . . what? By the time the boomers have made it, they've had it. This scares the younger folk no end. ''They see the stresses on the generations ahead of them,'' says consultant Regan. ''I see them measuring a lot more. They're assessing things differently. They're much more interested in having a personal life, but they're having trouble figuring out how because they see the people ahead of them working 60 to 80 hours a week.'' A questioning phase ensues, and yiffies gradually realize that having it all isn't necessarily worth it. This precept, while certainly unoriginal, can be particularly powerful when grasped at 25 rather than 45. Youths who while in college seemed prematurely middle-aged deserve, perhaps, to suffer their midlife crises a bit early. So the newly enlightened busters begin to make choices. Breaking with a long tradition, these business people seem uncommonly capable of finding ego fulfillment outside the office. Tina Lorance, a quality tester for medical products at 3M in St. Paul, voices a sentiment common to her age cohort: ''I want to live a healthy life. I don't want one area monopolizing my time and energy. It's a wellness attitude.'' She can afford to think that way. She is the youngest microbiologist in a division populated mainly by the 35-to-50 set, so time and circumstance will work in her favor. As they will for many yiffies. Tim Connell grew up in northern Louisiana and headed toward a totally different world -- southern Louisiana -- for his college years. He played linebacker at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, in Cajun country, and earned a degree in manufacturing. ''I wanted to get my hands dirty,'' he says. Georgia-Pacific put him through its management training program -- in one assignment, he gave a presentation to CEO Marshall Hahn -- and then the company sent him to work on special projects in Arkansas. He settled there and bought a three-bedroom house for about $45,000. Soon he was promoted to assistant superintendent at a plywood plant with 300 workers in Louisville, Mississippi. How did he get this new managerial job? ''Someone retired,'' he says. He replaced a 60-year-old who had moved up from the ranks of hourly production workers. ''Georgia-Pacific is trying to move college-educated people into management positions. They really just started pushing it in the past few years. We have a lot of people retiring, and they have to look for more educated people who have a technical background. Whoever can keep up with the technological advancement is going to come out ahead.'' Tim Connell's story isn't unique. The first wave of busters making their way into old-line corporations sometimes find themselves moving into a vacuum. In the Eighties new hiring fell off precipitously at industrial companies beaten back by foreign competition and forced to downsize. The closed-door policy was especially hard on production workers -- virtually no new hourly employees were hired by the Big Three automakers in the past decade -- but it kept out many white-collar types too. Theirs are the jobs that FORTUNE's sample of yiffies are moving into. THESE GAPING discontinuities in the corporate lifeline will create opportunities for baby-busters in the coming years. Observes Peter Morrison, a demographer at Rand Corp.: ''Some of the more mature industries have a large clump of workers in their 40s and 50s and haven't been adding people in the lower ranks. During the concentrated period of time when the older workers retire or leave, there will be a strong demand for anybody with some skills to replace them.'' Once the new recruits make their way into the corporation, won't they be blocked by entrenched hordes of older boomers? No, argues Morrison, ''I don't think the congestion on the career ladder will hurt the baby-busters. It's easy to conjure up this image of the large generation ahead of them with all the spots filled. But it's a more dynamic situation. Skills get outmoded rapidly. Someone learned Fortran in the 1970s, but for half the salary you can hire a 25-year-old who knows a more up-to-date computer language.'' Eric Jefferson has seen firsthand how far a company will go to develop skilled employees. When he applied for a spot in an AT&T training program in 1983, his resume showed that he hadn't finished Miami-Dade Community College. He did have some work experience -- as a swing-shift manager at McDonald's -- and a knack for computers. AT&T paid for his BA in business, which he earned part time at a local college, and the company is now underwriting his MBA. Eric has already risen through six positions. He earns more than $40,000 as a data-processing manager at AT&T in Orlando. He supervises three people, with another six scheduled to come under him by year's end. ''With the work force getting older, I think I'm in a prime position,'' he says. ''When I look at my social group at the company, it's definitely in the 35- to 40-year-old range. My wife is 23. She feels I'm growing up much faster than she is.'' Rena Wong was born in Malaysia, and raised in Hong Kong and later in Seattle. Her story could fit right in as a vignette in the novel The Joy Luck Club. Rena grew up facing, in her words, ''the extraordinarily high expectations of Chinese parents.'' Her father is a building contractor, her mother a salad chef in a department store's basement restaurant. They expected her to become a doctor or at least a Ph.D. in engineering. Rena stumbled on physics and chemistry courses, but liked math enough to head toward accounting. As a senior at the University of Washington, she was recruited by the Gap, a clothing retailer. She started working as an accountant at the company's San Francisco office in 1987 at $22,000. ''The Gap's motto was work until you drop,'' she recalls. The only training at the fast-growing company was intense on-the-job pressure. Soon she was promoted to supervisor and held responsible for six number crunchers. Two years into her career, earning over $30,000 and gaining enviable experience, Rena quit. ''I left because of stress. It's reasonable to work 60 hours a week when you leave school, but not a few years down the road. There was also a question of loyalty. I was working with a woman manager to build our department. But the company was going through a new regime, and when the final cards were down, she didn't stay.'' Neither did Rena, who took a job as a cost accountant at Levi Strauss, where she works 40-hour weeks and has the time to tutor a Cantonese-speaking student at a middle school. ''You should strive to do your best here,'' she says, ''but this company encourages you to do things that are more fulfilling in life.'' Rena isn't anyone's supervisor these days, yet she seems content. ''I'm quite comfortable now, and I'm not overly ambitious about where I'll be in five or ten or 15 years.'' Few collegians seem to comprehend the labor market forces conspiring in their favor. Employers are already preparing for the late 1990s, when they'll be forced to draw from the trough of birth-dearthers. Over the past 20 years, General Mills hired only MBAs for its brand-manager track. This year the company picked college graduates to fill one quarter of the openings. Why? ''Demographics, first of all,'' says Glenn Blake, the management development director, who predicts that competition will heat up for talented recruits. ''Looking toward 2000 and beyond, we're going to have to do different things to find our people.'' Laurel Cutler, vice president for consumer affairs at Chrysler and vice chairman of the FCB/Leber Katz New York advertising agency, recently talked about careers with a group of seniors at her alma mater, Wellesley. ''I was stunned,'' she says. ''These women didn't realize how much in demand they were. They had no idea that it was a buyers' market. Young, well-trained recruits are the shortest supply there is now. For this generation it's easier than it has ever been. The world is their oyster.'' Cutler says it was ''annoying'' and ''just awful'' to watch the Wellesley seniors sheepishly trudge off to batch-style interviews (the ''Next candidate, please'' variety) with whichever recruiters came to campus -- meaning, for the most part, financial institutions. ''Make your own opportunities,'' she advises. ''Do your own thing. Ask what do I want to do, rather than what does somebody else want me to do.'' ''I would like to have enough time to do a lot of white-water rafting,'' says Aaron Evans. This Grateful Dead fan went to college in his hometown at the University of Dayton, where he studied electrical engineering. Intel recruited him to become one of the company's 500 ''technical sales engineers'' -- lingo for salesmen who understand microelectronics. The company sent him to a marketing center in Folsom, California, for the 18 months of training needed to learn its entire line of 2,500 products. Now Aaron is preparing to handle his own sales accounts in the Oakland area. He traded his usual work attire, T-shirts and sandals, for sports jackets and ties to wear on client calls. He's enjoying his company car and the comforts brought by a good salary. And he is already thinking about retiring in a few years to become a teacher. ''I'd like to benefit from my training, earn some good money, bank it away, not buy a house (which is expensive), and then move to Oregon and teach college-prep physics or math.'' He figures that leading a class of high school seniors would be as rewarding as his current work, and says he's attracted by visions of a rustic setting, a free-spirited lifestyle, and the three months off each year. ''My idea of the good life is time to do things myself.'' Meanwhile, how does he feel about his career in the corporation? ''I may sound greedy, but if I'm going to spend long hours at work here, I want to make a lot of money. I'm not very materialistic -- I would be happy eating peanut butter -- but I want to enjoy my life, and there will be a day when I'm fed up.'' THE MERE MENTION of ''materialism'' is anathema to the baby-busters. Says Jennifer Schmidt, a Berkeley economics graduate who's going through Prudential's management training program: ''I think that this generation has a different vision from the one that preceded it -- more green and nature rather than sleeker cars and better toys. It's more about experience than acquisition.'' College-educated 25-year-olds who have ensconced themselves in the professional-managerial cadre can live fairly well these days -- especially if they don't pick a congested metropolitan center. The classic gauge of bourgeois attainment, home ownership, is well within their grasp. Jon Koucky, a computer-programming analyst at Rubbermaid, recently paid $62,500 for a four-bedroom, 19-year-old house located five minutes by car from the company's headquarters in Wooster, Ohio. Eric Jefferson of AT&T and his wife, a claims processor at CNA Insurance, paid $120,000 last year for a four-bedroom home in the Orlando suburbs. With a fireplace. But a homestead seems unimportant -- perhaps even a negative -- to many footloose busters. Karen Katz, an engineer at AT&T Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, rents an apartment in Philadelphia with her husband, a Wharton MBA student. ''Owning a home is secondary for us,'' she says. ''Right now we want to experience many different situations, have some freedom and flexibility in our lifestyles. We'll channel our money toward opportunities for travel and growth, getting more involved in the arts, buying sports equipment, and getting out in our environment. Hey, we need good tennis shoes, stuff to go camping -- but not a BMW or an oceanfront condo.'' The American Dream doesn't exist for the busters as a single, well-defined set of shared aspirations. Visions of the good life are personalized and idiosyncratic. Financial security, harder to come by in this age of the undependable corporation, isn't an overriding concern: The busters invest & heavily in their own human capital, confident that their skills and educational credentials will carry them through life. This knowledge-is-power mentality makes them feel untied, free to pursue unpredictable paths. Many of the obligations of adulthood seem to set in much later these days. Yiffies of the managerial cadre appear a bit awed by the sacrifices their parents made for them -- time, attention, money. Marriage is becoming something of an alternative lifestyle, or at least a highly postponable one: For men 25 to 29, 46% have never married, compared with 19% in 1970. For women the change has been even greater: 30% vs. 11%. Marriage, buster style, looks suspiciously friendly, a formalized sequel to ''going out together'' rather than a formidable institution. Married busters speak enthusiastically about the arrangement, as if they were the first to discover its benefits. Says Karen Katz of AT&T Bell Laboratories: ''Marriage is a good prescription for feeling comfortable in such a pressure-ridden society.'' Similarly, religion is seen as a useful kind of antistress mechanism. The busters who have faith -- a surprisingly large contingent of the people FORTUNE spoke with -- tend to talk about religion as a way to add emotional balance and ethical perspective to their lives, rather than as a spiritual discipline or a demanding churchgoing path to salvation. ASK RICK WATKINS about his aspirations, and one of the first he'll mention is ''to play more golf.'' Rick was a scratch player as a teenager, but chose a career in business over a chance at becoming a professional. After studying economics at the University of Iowa and working at the Federal Reserve of New York, he took an investment banking job at Merrill Lynch in 1988. There wasn't much time for golf after that. ''It was a nonsensical, 100- hour-week, cram-it-down-your-throat, no-social-life world,'' he says. ''There were 30-year-old guys who hadn't had a date since college, and they thought the problem was that they still weren't making enough money. They forgot how to have a date. That scared the hell out of me.'' Rick quit after a year, despite assurances from higher-ups that he had the right stuff to follow in their footsteps, with all the lucre and trappings that implied. Now he works for Susquehanna Investment Group, a small firm that serves as a specialist on the New York Stock Exchange. He puts in 40-hour weeks on the floor, where he makes markets in options on Big Board stocks. ''I want to be happy and fulfilled -- socially and culturally -- and to progress in the work world to the point where I'm happy with myself. I'm not shooting for a title. Titles are bunk. Our generation is much less political in the workplace than the ones that preceded us. I want to earn my place with grace and style, not to lick someone's heels for it.'' Perhaps busters lack strong generational self-awareness in part because they haven't been analyzed and targeted as a separate consumer market by Madison Avenue -- or explained to themselves by Hollywood. Nobody has made a Big Chill or thirtysomething about their generation. The busters have some firsthand recollections of wrenching events like the Watergate hearings, gasoline rationing, and the Iranian hostage crisis. But their strongest collective memory is one they were too young to remember -- Vietnam, experienced vicariously through movies, videocassettes, and TV. Raised in an era of exposes and inside stories, the 25s we interviewed had a hard time naming a contemporary public figure they admire. Their political and economic perspectives, often ill-defined, tend toward the vaguely libertarian or conservative. To this bunch, Uncle Milty was Milton Friedman. Typically, they voice a wariness about government's efficacy and seem largely uninterested in current affairs. The more engage of the bunch appear troubled -- personally burdened -- by the formidable national problems passed on by the ''irresponsible'' generations that preceded them. The national debt, for example. America's competitiveness. Above all, the environment. That's the one issue that inspires even the most apathetic among the busters, the issue they view as their own. There's some talk about political activism, but the environmental movement is so broadly appealing because it is accessible to those who aren't inclined to chant slogans or carry placards. The busters feel they can make an impact as discriminating consumers and concerned employees. They plan to ''sensitize'' their employers to environmental concerns. So expect them to ask you about waste disposal and toxic emissions. Otherwise, the most progressive ideas you'll hear from the baby-busters will probably be about how they want to progress on home in good time each day.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: BIRTHS IN THE U.S. The busters' advantage: The annual baby count dropped below four million in 1965 and didn't climb back up again until last year, when more women in their 30s began to have children.