Every generation is impacted by the times in which they are born. There has been much written about Gen Y. As someone who faces challenges every day managing generation Y employees, I am constantly trying to understand their goals, aspirations, and motivations of this new generation of professionals.
Gen Y, some 70 million strong (often) misunderstood group of young men and women, differ from their predecessors. In an heartfelt effort to raise happy, confident, smart, productive children with high self-esteems, more harm than good might have been done. Their casualness is a direct result of their upbringing; parents who want to be “best buddies” and bosses who “friend” them on Facebook. What in the heck do you think is going to happen? Of course they are going to be more comfortable with saying “hey dude” instead of “excuse me, sir/ma’am” and expect direct access to the upper leadership. We did this to them and now we complain that they are different. We cannot and should not teach them what to believe, but we surely can certainly teach them how to behave.
Let me step away from the usual assumptions about this young generation, preferring instead to address unique aspects as possible strengths. Realistic optimism and a unswerving focus on the positive is also a core trait of Gen Yers (and insecure Gen Yers who want affirmation that they don’t have to conform to previous generations – they do bring stuff to the table, too.)
There is a polular belief among the older generations that Gen Y arrives expecting the top job from day one. This represents not overconfidence, but simply the passionate propensity of Gen Y to take on the unclaimed, uncharted, or undiscovered as the quickest way to gain respect and to be taken seriously. This overconfidence, however, can get Gen Y into trouble. They want to optimize their unique needs and wants, which often includes their need to continuously learn from and glean as much as they can from each new encounter. They are very much interested in building bridges to the future but they are valuable contributors to today’s work force. The same things that were on my mind when I was there age must be going through Gen Y’s mind now – “Where am I? Why am I here? What is going on here? What role does each person play? How are they accustomed to doing things around here? What is at stake for me? The answers today are the much the same, however they are just packaged in different terms.
The qualities which teachers have been discussing in faculty rooms across the country – only there, it’s often a debate between “Are these kids dumb, or just lazy?” They are neither dumb nor lazy, but definitely a high maintenance generation. They bring work/life balance to the workplace. They live diversity and equity. They want to learn and do a good job. GenY’s just have the spine to ask Why, What ticks them , and What they need to function. They want to innovate and bring creative ideas to the table. In other words, they want to be an asset to their employer if they are treated well. Perhaps GenY demands a more hands-on management technique, but I see it as a positive. Instead of established notion of “praise them”, we should respectfully teach them about the real world which I think will be more effective.
If they are going to have any chance of successfully taking the reins from us, we’ve got to step up and lead them appropriately. A cultural shift has taken place and it’s time we should realize it.