Generation Y (born between 1978 and 1994) have a unique set of characteristics that challenge many managers. As a baby boomer, Managing Director and a Gen Y Executive Assistant working together every day, we are very aware of the differences of our behaviours and world views. Gen Y employees are becoming a significant proportion of the workforce and they bring a distinct culture into a workplace that can be used for positive advantage or cause considerable difficulty.
Gen Y employees tend to be enthusiastic, engaged and ambitious and can make practical, innovative contributions to their employers. While their confidence sometimes outweighs their skills they are often fast learners, pragmatic and enterprising. Peter Sheahan, in his book, “Generation Y: Thriving and Surviving with Generation Y at Work”, describes gen Ys as “stimulus junkies” who need fast-paced, varied, exciting work, have multi-tasking abilities and a tendency to get bored easily.
Gen Yers also have a reputation for being demanding, impatient, materialistic and at times, manipulative. They tend to disregard seniority, experience and authority and have little inhibition when it comes to questioning existing tradition and protocol. They want their leaders to earn respect rather than expect it. Throw in a dash of self-centeredness, the need for constant feedback and instantaneous communication and take away good old fashioned organisational commitment and you can have a very difficult to manage employee on your hands.
Gen yers want a flexible work week, an opportunity to do work that makes a difference, excellent market –competitive pay, room for growth, learning and career progression, travel and intrinsic value and are not afraid to ask for it. As Sheahan says when gen Yers don’t get what they want “they talk with their feet” and hence retention of a Gen Y employee is a major challenge for a manager.
Despite their materialistic nature and focus on competitive remuneration, generation Y are less likely than their predecessors to see work as a means to an end and often search for deeper meaning and opportunity to be creative at work. Success in attracting and retaining Gen Yers occurs if you design varied roles, set high motivating goals, facilitate their engagement and allow gen y employees to influence the decisions that affect them. Gen Yers, like most people, want to meet their basic human needs – they just demand it a bit more loudly!
Talented generation Y employees can add value to your organisation since they bring a refreshing perspective and confidence that anything can be accomplished. Many have more formal education than their bosses and as a result of job-hopping, have a wide range of experience in the short number of years they have worked.
A lot of Gen Y individuals grew up in divorced households, had both parents working; their childhood years were defined by rapid change, globalisation and technological innovation including high exposure to social media. Growing up in a complex, and demanding world, they have skill in sorting through vast amounts of information.
Because they have grown up with change they are often more adaptable to social, technical and competitive changes that their older colleagues and managers. Sheahan argues that when it comes to change; baby boomers resist it, generation X accept it and generation Y seek it. This ability to embrace change can help business weather bad storms.
Often referred to as “Generation Why?”, younger employees want to know the reasons behind what they are being asked to do. If this attitude is properly managed, it can help align strategic plans with everyday activities, one of those feats that many managers fail to achieve.
With the retirement of baby boomers, and the increased number of generation Y employees moving into middle and upper management positions, the skills and mind set they bring with them will be significant. The difference between companies that will survive or thrive lies in the way today’s leaders engage and manage this undeniably tricky and ingenious group of humans in the future.
Ron Cacioppe & Ange Titlestad