To really empathize with Generation Y, you have to understand the impact their upbringing has had on shaping their value system or their understanding of normal. Their generation (or the era in which they were born) is of course only one aspect that would shape their value system, but it is through this lens that this article shall explore how you can manage this generation most effectively in the workplace.

children-playingThe big message that I hope you take from this article is that when managing Generation Y, or when building a productive, working relationship with them, be sure not to make assumptions about this generation. This article explores what is commonly seen in Generation Y’s behaviour, but over an above that they are individuals. It is imperative that you get to know them, as individuals, which is why in the new world of work we talk about the need for managers and decision-makers to shift towards mentor-management styles.

The widespread social meme about this generation is that they will leave your business, so why invest in them? It is simply not true that you should not invest in them. Nor is it true that they are difficult; and unless you take a heavy stance with them, you will lose all sense of authority. Nor is it beneficial to suggest that the opposite is true; and that you have to throw out all your norms, codes of behaviours, beliefs, structures and policies and create anew to accommodate the most recent additions to your workforce.

What this article seeks to point out is what Generation Y are like, why they are like that and how best you can respond to them based on what you now know of them. However, in doing that, it is my hope that as a decision-maker, you will learn to look objectively at what the situations and contexts of what you workplace needs to embrace in order to adopt new policies; and where Generation Y need to be enveloped into whatever culture currently exists inside your institution. But please bear in mind, that if you expect Generation Y to just mold into a current culture that they perceive to be redundant, you will not retain them productively and it cost you dearly in more ways than just money. Whatever stance you take; and whichever way you wish to go, one thing you simply cannot do is ignore them. They are the fastest growing demographic in the global workplace, there are a lot of them; and they make a lot of noise, especially when they are not happy.

What Is Critical To Know About Their Childhoods And How Has This Shaped Their Value System?

Called the Millennial Generation, Generation Y, the Echo Boomer Generation, the Born Free Generation, the Net Generation, the Me/ We Generation, this generation are ‘alone together’. Choice and change, largely influenced by technology is what defines this generation. Not only have advances in technology been primarily responsible for the exponential rate at which the world and social norms have changed, but more than any other generation, Generation Y have been influenced by technology.

There are many things to talk about when considering the advancement of technology. This article could mention the advances in modern medicine and therefore lifestyles and life expectancy, genetics, robotics, or even space travel; and these are all significant. However, what is most useful to note in the context of managing Generation Y is the impact that communication technology has had in creating a different value system; and therefore interpretation of normal. There are four key things:

  1. augmented reality
  2. social media
  3. consumer generated data
  4. cloud computing

Not only have these advancements meant that we now live in an interconnected globalised world, shifting Generation Y’s attentions away from their immediate surroundings and into a much larger and faster reality, where most things in their childhoods were instant, but Generation Y understand the need for transparencycollaboration and immediacy better than any other generation. The other really significant thing about this generation is that they have a fundamentally different relationship to information than previous generations. These are the key factors that affect the way they think, feel and behave; and ultimately are the factors that will influence the decisions you make in managing them effectively. They also understand (probably better than other generations, although they might not know how to articulate it clearly) that the rules for success have changed in most industries. They are therefore also known as the ‘hacker’ generation, because they will want to do things differently, and they will not play by the ‘old rules’ if they do not understand why they should. That’s why they are also called ‘Generation Why’.

Generation Y: Full Of Contradictions

  • They are brand conscious and yet charitable and environmentally aware.
  • They are ambitious and yet demand work/ life balance.
  • They want money and also self-fulfilment.
  • They are fashion conscious and want to express themselves and stay connected; and yet will adapt to the culture of the institution if they understand why they should.
  • They appear to be awkward and unconfident in face-to-face engagements, preferring instant messaging and other on-line tools for communication. Yet they are master networkers and are extremely inept and collaborating with others to ‘get ahead’.
  • They have grown up questioning authority and yet they don’t like face-to-face conflict.

What Is Important To Know About Generation Y?

  • They are excellent multi-taskers. They have never lived in a world where they cannot study and go jogging at the same time.  But this does mean that they can battle to stay focused on one thing at a time.
  • They are the most child-centric generation since Baden Powel’s era of boy scouting.  ‘Helicopter parents’ have brought them up, whose aim it was to bring them up differently to how they were brought up. For the most part Generation Y had higher standards of living and higher expectations of life than their grandparents, but ironically they have entered an economically volatile workplace, where there is much disillusionment around the job market and growth paths for their careers.
  • They have high expectations of themselves. This is not always immediately apparent because their behaviour is so different to that of other generations. Try not to be confused between difference and rebellion. Most of them were out-sourced to specialists at some point in their childhoods. Whether that was a full time au pair for hard working, job-juggling workaholic parents, or simply extra Maths lessons squeezed in-between club soccer games and violin practice no matter what their gender. This generation are used to achievement and praise.
  • This is why they are actually very goal-orientated. They may need some assistance setting goals (and distinguishing between dreams and goals). But they like and need specific frameworks within which to work.

How Does This Impact How To Effectively Manage Generation Y?

  • One of the biggest issues managers have with Generation Y is figuring out how to entice Generation Y into seeing that mundane, every day, repetitive tasks are necessary in making the bigger picture work. What seems obvious to managers about the long-term vision might need to be explained to Generation Y. Do not leave them out of the picture.  What used to be managements’ ‘inside information’ might needed to be conveyed to employees at large.
  • Wherever possible, give them autonomy. Allow them to work faster and better than their co-workers where possible. Let them make their own decisions and create their own rules whenever possible. They may need some guidance, which can be given through mentorship and feedback.
  • Generation Y need constant feedback. Not just once or twice a year in some of generalized annual review, but individual recognition of their achievements and progress. It does not have to be given through money or any kind of ceremony, but constant motivation is imperative. They want fair and direct managers who are extremely engaged in their personal development. They have always had feedback from their parents, school systems, societies and peers. This is about commenting on someone’s progress, recognizing what they do right and correcting (in a mentoring way) what they have not got right. If you don’t stay engaged in their efforts, they will not stay engaged in their position. Feedback can be formal, or just a check-in and doesn’t have to happen face-to-face, but not just generically generated either. Being genuine, authentic, consistent and present. Money and trophies don’t equal recognition. Provide constructive criticism, as they not used to hearing negative feedback. Ask yourself, what is the difference between reward and recognition?
  • Expect them to question your decisions, policies, working styles, internal structures and the instructions you provide. They are not being rebellious; it’s just normal for them. They will also want to have some kind of opinion on whether or not what you are proposing is in fact the best way to go.
  • Be sure to follow through on your promises. If you ask for their opinion and don’t take it into account, you will be seen as untrustworthy. Bear in mind that they have grown up in a world of broken promises. Surprise them by being impeccable with your word. They will not stay loyal to any system (because the systems of their childhood were not stable or sustainable) but they will be very loyal to individuals (genuine relationships) within the system.
  • Where possible, give them responsibility as soon as possible.
  • If you are too autocratic and dictatorial you will lose them. The biggest shift in management and leadership styles today has been a shift in leading out of who you are and not what you know. Adaptive leadership requires emotional intelligence on the part of the leader or manager.
  • Practice flexibility with this generation who were raised in a world of alternatives. Change and choice have been their primary constant growing up. The Internet has provided society with options like no other tool in social history and Generation Y has never really known a world without the Internet. This does not mean that old rules don’t apply or their would be anarchy, but the Generation Y employee will produce more if you give them some scope to design their own rules where possible. Dan Pink refers to this as ‘autonomy’ in his book called Drive, which is one of the key components of creating a motivated workforce.  What does this mean in a practical reality? When a Generation Y has a project to do, explain what you want the end result to be and let them figure out how to get there. But give them some pointers and check points along the way and when you recognize their progress, check-in to see if they are experiencing any difficulties with the project/ task. Share your experiences of what has worked well in the past and listen to their ideas with curiosity and an open mind. Allow them to make their mark, this will feel like a personal investment for them and if done successfully will feel like a personal achievement, which is really important to them.
  • Wellness, balance and being green are really important to this generation. They look at their parents and grandparents, or perhaps older Generation X siblings and they think, I do not want to end up like you. Somebody who worked your whole life (sometimes to the detriment of your own sanity, family, health and personal happiness) and what have you really got to show for it? That is why their sanity and wellness is so important to them. They are really into working smarter not harder. They are independent workers; and the 9-5 rigid structure seems like a waste of time, because real life is not that predictable. Generation Y also understand that everybody being at work at the same time means it’s impossible not to have to waste time on things like commuting in traffic and standing in long lines after work at the local supermarket. They are not suggesting they don’t want to come in to your office, but they want flexibility where possible so that they can maximize productive work time, after all, is that what WiFi was invented for? So think about when you actually need them physically present at work. Are you able to offer wellness benefits, like a group rate through your business to the local gym, or a subsidized and healthy eating style canteen? Taking conscious steps to keeping the company green, like recycling paper and plastic etc. Put your Generation Y employee in charge of green and community-based projects, they will enjoy it and feel proud to be contributing.

How Should Managers View Talent Retention?

Talent retention of Generation Y is a global problem across all industries. It is imperative that you afford your Generation Y employees opportunities keep growing and learning as well as improving their skills. This could be growth for their personal or professional lives. Otherwise they will feel like they are wasting their time in your workplace. Even if you cannot afford to keep employing external service providers, adopt a mentorship program inside your organization. Generation Y have high aspirations and they want to get to their dreams and goals quickly. Help them create their own career path by having a conversation about them on what they what they want for their careers. Remember also that for a lot of them, their mentor or manager might be the only person in their life who they can ask.

Your response to Generation Y and retaining them as productive employees is all about your mindset. There are some things that have to stay the same. However, where things can change, good managers today ask all their employees for their opinion, actually listen to their answers and then collaboratively make decisions that are appropriate. Adapting yourself and your management practices to accommodate Generation Y is not about bending over backwards to appease spoilt children. It is about objectively looking at how the world is changing and deciding how best to change with it. Generation Y can often make valuable contributions here by offering insights that are based in idealism and a genuine willingness to want to make the world a better place to live and work.

Statically you are simply not going to retain your Generation Y talent indefinitely no matter how well you manage them or offer them opportunities for personal growth. Not only will this generation change jobs, but it is likely they will change career paths and countries of residence up to six times in the working lives. The likelihood of them retiring (in the formal way that we know about retirement) is slim and so for them, there is little distinction between their job and their life, the two are integrally linked; and for the first time in social history, they have the tools to link them. Your Generation Y employee will always be on the look out for a change in lifestyle, country, job, relationship, life-path etc. So when considering talent retention today, open up to the possibility that it is no longer about how long an employee stayed inside your building for a consecutive period of time, but rather these two things:

  1. Has your employee, who is no longer officially on the payroll, stayed in touch with somebody after they left?
  2. Would that employee be a likely candidate to recruit back into your organization in the future?

If the answer was yes to one or both of the above questions, you are retaining your talent; and that is worth investing in.

If you would like one of our team to talk with you about how you are managing, retaining and working with Gen Y, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We do also have a presentation titled Y, Why, Whatever which directly addresses this topic and a great option for a upcoming conference or exco meeting.



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