by Buddy Hobart
Lazy. Spoiled. Entitled. Job-jumpers. These are myths often attached to the youngest generation of workers, individuals born between 1977 and 1995. Generation Y, also referred to as Millennials, is considerably different than those generations that have come before them. These differences are the source of many misunderstandings and misleading stereotypes that hinder performance and productivity among all generations of workers. In fact, once leaders are able to move past these negative stereotypes, they will find Gen Y employees are often highly motivated, creative and valued members of the team.
Gen Y brings a set of critical skills to the workplace. First, they are fluent in technology. Having spent their entire lives using and learning emerging technologies, members of Generation Y are digital natives. The access to and integration of technology in their lives have influenced this cohorts perspectives on work and life, and the manner in which they communicate. Also, Generation Y has a high level of self-esteem and ambition. Members of Gen Y are visionary and possess optimism that their ideas can be realized. This, paired with high motivation and action orientation, allows Gen Y to execute. Furthermore, Gen Y possesses a global perspective. Gen Y is diverse and values diversity, and has had many opportunities in their lives to interact and collaborate with people of different cultures or backgrounds. Many members of Gen Y have studied abroad during college, or worked internationally as interns or full-time employees. Gen Y possesses a deep understanding of how people and activities are connected across the globe. Finally, Gen Y has a consumer perspective, gained from life experience in the marketplace. Unlike generations before, Generation Y was included in family purchasing decisions as they grew up. These decisions ranged from where to go for dinner to where to plan a vacation. This has allowed Gen Y to develop high expectations and standards for customer service, whether outward-facing, on behalf of the company, or internally among various departments or teams.
Generation Y places high value on lifestyle. With a strong focus on family and relationships, Gen Y places importance on quality time with family and friends. This can be misleading, as many managers interpret this focus on lifestyle to mean that Gen Y is less committed to their work when, in fact, the opposite is true. Gen Y is willing to work more hours than members of other generations when a project demands it. However, Gen Y does approach time management, especially as it relates to the workplace, much differently than previous generations of workers. Gen Y will not work long hours for the sake of putting in time, and instead looks for the most efficient way to complete a task and maximize productivity.
So how does a leader leverage Generation Y talent while managing a cohesive team comprised of all generations in the workplace? There is good news; Gen Y simply demands what all generations of workers want. Implementing the following elements into your organization will satisfy and motivate all generations of workers:
- Real-time Feedback: Traditional performance management systems are ineffective for todays team. Gen Y requires real-time feedback, both positive and negative, in order to make necessary adjustments required for successful execution.
- Communication: Gen Y is comprised of extreme communicators and is accustomed to using a variety of media to communicate. Using internal social media tools can centralize communication among the members of the organization and reinforce key messaging from management to staff.
- Mentoring: Create a formal mentoring program in your organization. For Gen Y, this presents the opportunity to develop their career path within the organization and gain some of the knowledge that needs to be transferred as Traditionalists and Baby Boomers prepare to exit the workforce in the coming years. Furthermore, these relationships allow for reverse mentoring to take place, where Gen Y teaches members of older generations how to use technology (e.g. social media and mobile) to increase organizational productivity.
- Time/Place Flexibility: It is important to note not all work environments would lend themselves to this arrangement. However, shifting focus from hours-worked to results-achieved and allowing flexibility in location can allow employees to work at the time/place that best maximizes their productivity.
By 2025, Generation Y will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce. Therefore, attracting, retaining and engaging this generation of workers will be crucial to long-term success and sustainability. The workplace as we know it is experiencing one of the most drastic changes in history, but the need for timeless leadership remains true.
Buddy Hobart is the founder and president of Solutions 21, which provides leadership and management solutions to companies around the world. His latest book, Gen Y Now: How Generation Y Changes Your Workplace and Why It Requires a New Leadership Style, discusses how leaders can adapt to a rapidly changing workforce to obtain a strategic advantage by properly leveraging Gen Y talent.