Gen Y Providing the new generational worker

December 28, 2009
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If you are like many employers recently, it has become harder and harder to make a connection with your employees. You share your vision and mission for your organization, empower your employees, and still are second guessing their actions or inactions. You might even ask yourself, “Who are these people and why did I hire them in the first place?” 

The following analogy helps describe this point. An auto mechanic posed with a faulty electrical connection checks under the hood of the vehicle to see if the wiring is at fault. As a business owner or manager, you might be thinking the same thing about your employees, wondering if their wiring might be faulty. The only issue with that approach is the assumption that you are wired correctly and they are not.

It could be a generational issue. Older generations obtain knowledge through thought, experience and the senses. Their cognitive skills allow them to be taught something or gain new information; think about it (cognition); talk about it in their own words (internalize); and then notice that this new information fits into other things they already know (reasoning). If younger generations do not follow this process, the older generation believes that the younger worker does not possess these cognitive skills. On the contrary, they have similar cognitive skills but instead are wired differently.

For the past eight years, a new breed of employees has been invading the workplace. Not only do they not think like older generations, their whole persona is different. They arrive with high-tech gadgets tethered to their bodies, a high sense of “self,” a desire for instant gratification and a gift for multitasking. These are the “new generational workers” sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, who were born approximately between 1980 and 1995. Some experts have coined them the “Me Generation” since they place themselves at the top of the list of priorities.

Although this generation comes out of college ready to conquer the world, the question remains, “How do managers learn to adjust to these new entrants?” This is an important issue to address since Generation Y workers bring value to companies: They are the smartest, most tech savvy and most idealistic generation of our time.  

Generation Y, although ambitious, team oriented, hard working and independent, is different from previous generations when it comes to processing information. Managers have confirmed that members of this generation have low-levels of ability when it comes to verbal and written communications. They have their “own language” within their social networks. They prefer to be provided direction, the reasoning or the “why” behind the direction, and the freedom to “take it and run.”

So what does this mean for managers? Managers must quickly understand that the Generation Y workers have different personalities and characters compared to earlier generations. This includes a different way of reasoning, perceiving and acting within the workplace. Successful leaders have determined that the need is not for the new workers to conform to management’s previous ideals of the perfect worker, but instead for managers to raise the bar of their own capabilities to adjust their standards to fit this generation. Management success centers on creating a workplace environment that encourages work/life balance and independence, as well as meaningful employment that allows for personal expression and motivation. 

Not all Generation Y workers are alike nor will they respond the same to every management style. But the following managerial approaches might be helpful in achieving a successful result:

1. Provide work that has meaning and a purpose. Busy work is not welcomed by this group. Generation Y members are results oriented and want to make sure there is purpose behind what they are doing.

2. Have open communication that flows both ways. Generation Y members welcome an opportunity to communicate. They are not afraid to speak up. Encouraging them to express themselves freely can provide new and diverse viewpoints.

3. Provide opportunities where they can work in teams. Generation Y workers thrive in team settings. Socialization is very important to this group since they have been members of teams since childhood. This is evident by their ever-increasing involvement in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

4. Provide mentors who can model the behaviors you would like them to adopt. Generation Y is interested in building and honing new skills. To help them navigate through the organization, businesses should provide a mentor to guide them. 

5. Provide opportunities to incorporate technology into their work. Members of this generation have been working with technology since kindergarten. Use their expertise to the advantage of the organization either by teaching older employees new ways to use technology or by tapping into new markets using social networks as a marketing approach.

6. Have a clear vision. It is important to this generation to know where they are going, what is needed to get there and what role they play. Help them see and understand the big picture.

7. Offer competitive salaries and other methods of motivation. Motivation is very important to Generation Y members. Ever since they were old enough to be part of a team activity, it has been ingrained in them that “everybody wins.” Instant gratification is what drives this group; do not place the carrot too far out front. Smaller, more frequent rewards may drive the results your company expects.

8. Provide flexibility within the workplace. Their concept of an 8-hour day may not fall between 9-5. In addition, mandating they work 40-plus hours per week may do more harm than good. Letting Generation Y workers have more control over their schedule may net a far better result in less time. New, more efficient processes may result when you focus on the quality of the deliverable and not the time clock. Their main goal is to achieve what many generations before them have only wished for: work/life balance. 

9. Adjust management style. Like  previous generations, Gen Y members still need to be coached, motivated, trained and led. Understand the differences and use them to your benefit. Do not try to change the worker. Instead, consider changing your management style. You will most likely learn new insights during the process.

10. Continue to learn as much as you can about this generation. They are here to stay! Not only are Generation Y workers your employees, but they are a main part of the future market for your goods and services. It will be in your best interest to learn as much as possible about the nuances of this worker. 

Business success in the future will not be based on conformity to rigid managerial styles. Instead, the successful manager will be open to new ideas and ways of doing business that will include input and insights gained from the new generational worker. This will enable managers to relate to and make connections with their Generation Y employees. Remember the next time you ask “who are these people and why did I hire them in the first place,” that these are valuable assets that need to be engaged, mentored and valued in your company.

Monica Allen is an affiliate instructor and Tim Syfert is a visiting instructor in the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business.

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