MANAGING GENERATION Y
Despite the fact that Generation Y has been in the workforce for the past decade or so I still get asked how to communicate with, manage and understand todays ‘youth’. What is clear is that, for many of us, there can sometimes be challenges relating to those a generation or two different from our own. I get asked, just as often, by todays under 30’s how to understand the perspective of a boss who is fifteen years or more their senior. The truth is that there are greater differences in the workplace than generational ones, but that nevertheless generational differences are very real, and have a real impact on whether we understand, respect, and get on with those we work with.
In brief terms todays Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) are those born between 1981 and around the mid-late 1990’s. There are varied opinions on when the cut off points are exactly and, like star signs (but with more scientific basis), some of us on the cusp have characteristics across two generational boundaries. The Gen Y birth cohort, as a result of social and technological change, parental influences and the like, have developed some very distinct characteristics. Here are the TOP FIVE TIPS for creating a more engaged Gen Y employee.
1) Get over yourself: A Gen Y wants a boss who is their peer. They look for collaboration, joint decision-making, and a chance to have their say. Their boss shouldn’t be remote and sit behind a closed door all day. They want access, a chance to learn, and opportunities for the boss to share their knowledge and wisdom – providing they have Gen Y’s respect. Let go of traditional views of autocratic leadership (if you have that habit) if you have a Gen Y team. The buck may stop with you and Gen Y’s understand that, but along the way they expect to have a voice.
2) Become a mentor or find one: Coming from an education system that has encouraged self-directed learning and a clear pathway to success (ie. receiving a grade or score that denotes success or absence of failure) most Gen Y’s respond to a senior individual who they believe can guide them, support them, and give some time to assist their careers. Mentors are sounding boards, provide an opportunity to reflect on decisions made and decisions pending, and are valuable for Gen Y’s in being able to guide them through challenges at work, in their careers, and in their lives. So what if it means we start to customise our attention to the needs of an employee? It just means we get the best out of them, they stay longer and are more understanding of the business and what it’s all about.
3) Include them: Almost everyone likes to have a say, and Gen Y’s are no exception. They seek to be asked, involved, and sought out for their opinion. They have ideas and want to share them. They have knowledge that can be valuable. There is a strong desire among many Gen Y’s to have their views listened to. This isn’t the same as an expectation they will be agreed with. Far from a burden on an organisation this is an excellent opportunity to identify new ideas not hamstrung by old thinking, and discuss with younger employees the why’s and why not’s of decisions made. What better way to educate, show value for input, and encourage a continual desire to be curious and think?
4) Give feedback: A myth about Gen Y’s is that they want to be praised and thanked all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, younger employees appreciate acknowledgement and recognition for contribution and effort made, as we all do. But, what they are seeking is confirmation that they are on the right track. This is not a sign of general lack of confidence. Rather, it is a sign they value their time and a) do not want to waste it, and b) gain satisfaction by adding value and doing what is meaningful for the business.
5) Embrace the ‘Why?’: Why is it that as we age we become less curious? Gen Y’s ask “Why?” more than any other generation, and will probably continue to as they age as well. After all, they’ve been educated to be curious, ask questions and challenge assumptions throughout the information age, and rewarded for doing so. Unfortunately many older employees and managers interpret someone asking “Why?” as a challenge to authority or an established method, process or way of thinking about something. The thing is, there’s another way of looking at the question “Why?” And that is that Gen Y’s just want to know. They are curious to know why something is done a certain way – and that’s it! It’s not a challenge, it’s just a question. And an invitation to educate and maybe learn something ourselves along the way as we try and explain or scrutinize an approach we are simply used to:)