So – what is all the fuss about Generation “Y”? Are they different? Yes. Are they difficult? Different is only difficult when we don’t understand or can’t understand what the difference means. As a leader, manager, supervisor, coach or mentor, what can you do to increase your effectiveness when motivating and managing Generation “Y”?
There are ten key elements that influence Generation “Y” behaviours and attitudes. Then, there are ten key strategies to support effectiveness for leaders and managers. You can be more effective by increasing your understanding of differences and responding differently and better as a result of the understanding. There is an old saying – “Knowledge is the key that opens the door to opportunity.” How much do you know about the generation commonly called “Generation Y”? They are also called Millennials and sometimes Gamers. Different research places them in a demographic position ranging from age 23 – 31.
However, some people suggest that they may be as young as 18 and as old as 33. We know that this grouping had a different upbringing, different education, different social interaction and a different exposure and experience with technology. It doesn’t really matter what they are called or what their exact age is. What matters is that they are now fully engaged in adult life – at work, at home and in our communities. They have voices and they want their voices to be heard. They have opinions and they expect people to be interested. They believe in participation, interaction, discussion and collaborative decision making.
Hey wait! These sound like attributes – not difficulties. Maybe we need to increase our understanding and minimize our worries and concerns.
Let’s take a look at the elements that influence Gen Y. The ten key elements come with the Gen Y background and experience. Like all of us, Gen Y is always growing and learning. However, they also carry with them what they have already learned and know. This becomes their springboard for other learning, growth and development. Elements of influence are also their foundation for interaction and performance. What are these critical and influential elements?
Influential Element #1 Gen Y has always been praised and rewarded for “thinking outside of the box.” Indeed, they were not told that colouring outside of the lines was “bad” or “wrong.” They were complimented and praised for their creativity, innovation and resourcefulness. The trees didn’t have to be green and the sky didn’t have to be blue. They were encouraged to use their imaginations to create pictures from their own ideas and inspiration.
They bring that kind of thinking to the workplace where they say things like:
“Maybe it would be better to try ...”
“Let’s try a different way and see what happens.”
“I wonder if it would work better to ...”
“Let’s try it and see what happens.”
Sometimes these comments seem to lack caution and consideration. However, Gen Y is actually presenting their thinking for discussion – not for conclusion. They value the discussion and innovative ideas. They aren’t demanding agreement. They are asking for discussion and praise for new thinking and new ideas. They may, however, lose interest in this discussion when comments like this are offered:
“That’s not the way we do it here.”
“That’s not the way we’ve always done it.”
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
“That’s not the way I like it done.”
To Gen Y, these are barriers and obstacles to creativity and successful change. And speaking of change...
Influential Element #2 Gen Y is the generation of “changing times.” Change for Gen Y has been consistent and “fast.” There is less respect for something that lasts then there is for something that changes fast. Consider how often the cell phone, Iphone, Ipod and blackberry update and provide new applications. In fact, anything more than two years old is often described as outdated, even “old” and “worn out.”
Generation Y is often excited and enthused and even motivated by change. The old adage about change has changed for gen Y. They no longer say:
“I don’t like change just for the sake of change.”
“Change and chaos go hand in hand.”
“Every time I think I get it figured out it changes.”
“Sometimes change happens before the last change is actually in place.”
Indeed they tend to talk in terms of:
“When do we update again?”
“I can hardly wait for my new blackberry.”
“This new app is going to be great!”
“I’m tired of the old way of doing things.”
This kind of thinking often challenges older generations who put a lot of value on things that last. It is also reflected in the attitude towards longevity and seniority. Gen Y will change jobs as much as they can to gain more experience and more diverse experience. They believe that the new challenges are as important as “moving up.” They put more emphasis on a broad, general experience than on a specific, directed experience. A change is as good as a rest for Generation Y.
They feel stimulated and energized by changes in duties and responsibilities. They appreciate the opportunity to job share, job shadow and work in job exchanges. They enjoy learning from other people and changing what and how they do things.
The attitude towards change and change expectations is positive anticipation. Gen Y views transition as a time to learn and grow.
Change is not something to be dreaded or to bring out defensiveness. It is part of the exciting, interesting and informative transition period leading to different and better results. Gen Y welcomes change.
Influential Element #3 Gen Y is part of the multi stimulus generation. When Gen Y were tiny babies they had bedrooms that were decorated like circus tents. There were mobiles and music and murals on the ceiling. They had themed wallpaper, sheets, blankets and towels. Their lives were lived in colourful surroundings with audio, visual and interactive stimulation of all kinds. The TV was on while they ate and did their homework. They were playing exciting video games by the time they were seven or eight.
How has this influenced the work styles of Generation Y? Well, for one thing, Gen Y workers are excellent multi taskers. Yes, they can work on more than one thing at a time. They can also work in highly stimulated work environments where many things are going on at once. Indeed, they can listen to a discussion and text a co-worker for more information. They can take minutes on their laptop and participate in meeting discussion. They can research while you talk and answer the phone while they perform data entry.
They may have three or four types of technology on the go and be downloading music or videos while they work. They love the pace of social networking and may use two or three different formats at the same time. They can search and research using multiple resources and compare results for best outcomes.
Generation Y finds it more motivational to be involved in several projects at a time. They enjoy balancing and juggling priorities and timelines. They have been busy and active since they were small children. They were parented in the model of “involvement.” They played sports, they were in scouts and guides. They were in drama and they went to the library, the museum and the zoo. Their interests were varied and they were encouraged to try as many different activities as they wanted. They travelled, they competed, they represented their schools and their communities.
Sometimes the complaint is that they can’t focus and their attention spans are short. The truth is, they have multi focus abilities and they can attend in multi directions with amazing results. This difference is very challenging for other generations. Is this a difficulty or a new strength?
Influential Element #4 Gen Y has had a different experience with feedback then many of the older generations. They do not believe that “no news is good news.” Indeed, they have been a generation raised with concern about developing self esteem through praise and encouragement.
Gen Y has not experienced failures and criticism. They were not always told they could learn from their mistakes. They do not believe in “no pain, no gain” and they don’t understand the “I have suffered and so should you.” In the Gen Y thinking there is no need to suffer as part of growth and learning.
They expect the encouragement and support that comes from positive feedback. When criticism and corrections are necessary, they expect it will come in balance with recognition for what went well and how we can move ahead to make things better. Older generations were taught to give feedback in a formula known as the “Oreo cookie” formula. This meant information was shared in a “positive, negative, positive” format. We now know that this formula generally fails and that the first positive is viewed as a trick or a set up. The last positive is seldom heard by the receiver. The negative or corrective information is often responded to with comments like:
“It doesn’t matter what you do around here, nobody notices the good things.”
“The best way to get any attention here is to make a mistake.”
“If he didn’t like what I was doing, he should have said so at the time.”
Gen Y has experienced environments of ample praise and positive feedback. Their pictures, paintings, report cards, performance and sports activities were all praised and cheered for in positive, personalized ways. They were told how well they did everything (even when it may have been an average or less than average effort.) They were praised for their attempts and for their progress. They didn’t have to wait for the finished product to receive positive feedback.
Generation Y was part of the generation where every participant received a trophy. Positive results were often measured by participation, not by outcomes. They have come to expect feedback for effort and any investment. They also believe the feedback should be given throughout the activity – not just at the end.
The new formula for feedback for Generation Y is four positives to one correction or criticism. Indeed, it is important to build a foundation of positives to ensure reception of a negative piece of feedback. Hence, the new formula is positive, positive, positive, negative, positive. This will ensure that the information is received and considered without defensiveness or blame.
Feedback is one of the greatest motivators for Gen Y workers. They want and need to know they are doing well before they consider changes or corrections. This often requires extra effort and energy from their leaders, supervisors and managers. The old idea that if you are doing well you won’t hear anything about it is old and worn out. Building good levels of self esteem will build morale and motivation in Generation Y.
Influential Element #5 Generation Y are interested in and want to be on a team. They grew up in the “fair play” era where everyone got equal time and opportunity to play every position. This has strongly affected how they view teamwork in the workplace.
They believe that the team bridges organizational structure and evens out the power positions in the workplace. They work “with” not “for” and they believe that everyone has potential for equal contribution to the team results.
However, they also view the team from a social as well as a functional or organizational perspective. They want to work together and interact in social and interpersonal ways. Gen Y is interested in team dynamics and the dynamics of a team.
Gen Y believes in synergy. They like and want to work together because they see the benefits of shared ideas, shared workloads, brainstorming, group decision making and job satisfaction.
They enjoy the stimulation of group discussion and interaction. They recognize the creativity that can be achieved by team conversation and they value the “C” generation approaches of:
They are not interested in working with the “I” generation where they see the following:
Independent decision making
Teamwork allows Generation Y to address their workplace values of belongingness, self esteem and actualization. They know who they are on teams and they gain a huge sense of accomplishment from their contribution to the team. They want to be supported and supportive. They will invest energy in building teams that work and teams to work with.
Sometimes we see this interaction as lacking the ability to be self directed. Sometimes we don’t know how to evaluate team success instead of individual success. It is a different way of working. It may work for us. If we can’t continue to do more with less, maybe we can get enhanced results by working differently and better together.
We’ve been talking “team” for years now. Maybe Gen Y will push us to walk the talk!
Influential Element #6
Gen Y was raised to be assertive. They were clearly told that their opinions and ideas were important and should be shared. They are not afraid to ask questions and they expect and may even demand answers. Older generations encouraged Gen Y as children to be more assertive and stand up for themselves and their values. As a result, they do and then older generations are surprised at their assertiveness. They even suggest it is aggressive or describe it as “attitude.”
Gen Y, as part of their assertiveness expects clear, direct communication. They have no patience for passive/aggressive behaviour and they have been taught to recognize and take action when people behave aggressively (especially bullies in their workplace.)
Gen Y will ask “why.” They expect and believe they deserve an explanation. They put a lot of emphasis on having logical explanations and enough information to support decisions and directions.
Part of their assertive behaviour also involves their desire to engage in discussions and contribute to decisions that are being made. They are much more motivated by activities where they have input into not only what needs to be done, but how to do it. As a result, when they are told what to do, they often see that as the beginning of a discussion rather than the end. And.... they will prefer to be asked than told because it sets a better tone for discussion. It isn’t about doing or not doing what they are told. It is more about being involved in how to get there.
Gen Y are not great believers in non-verbal or indirect communication. When they don’t know or can’t understand what is meant (especially the tone or inference), they will ask for clarity. They know how to make “I” statements and they are skilled at behaviour description. They may say:
“I know you said it was okay. Your tone didn’t sound as convincing. Can you clarify that for me?”
“You didn’t say ‘Good Morning’ on your way in. Is there something we should know about?”
“You didn’t contribute any ideas during our discussion. Should we see that as your agreeing with our ideas?”
Sometimes, these direct observations catch other generations by surprise. They feel “on the spot” or “called to task.” Gen Y wants concrete, clear information.
They are not tolerant of assumptions, perceptions or trying to figure it out. They can influence clear communications and when they do it well – it helps!
Influential Element #7 Generation Y believes in the principle of “Work Smarter not Harder.” They are always on the lookout for shortcuts and easier or simpler ways to do things. They do not subscribe to the idea of “busy hands are happy hands.” Sometimes they get labelled as lazy or as procrastinators when they spend looking for faster, easier ways to get the job done.
They have very little patience for repetitious or routine hard work. They look to technology or new developments to ease labour intensive activities or to break the boredom of routine tasks.
We’ve always had this kind of thinking. It is what is behind many inventors and many new techniques or approaches. The challenge for older generations is to welcome this kind of thinking. We tend to defend it with exchanges like this:
Gen Y: “There is a new app that we should have for this.”
Baby Boomer: “We just implemented a whole new approach two years ago.”
Gen Y: “This new app will save us both time and money.”
Baby Boomer: “We should master what we have before we try something new.”
Gen Y: “This new app is a lot better – we should just get rid of what we have and move quickly before we waste more time and energy.”
Baby Boomer: How can we be sure it is better? We thought this was the answer two years ago.
This conversation results in a defensive baby boomer and a frustrated Gen Y. We need to coach Gen Y to make their case in terms the older generations understand. Whereas the Gen Y thinking is around “let’s try it”, the older generation wants to review it, evaluate carefully and compare it to what has been done before. It is almost a difference of looking back for confidence to experience and success or looking ahead with confidence in anticipated success and change.
It is also a dramatic change in values and expression of what is important. Older generations were praised and rewarded for working harder and longer. A great deal of social conversation revolved around how much, how long and how hard people worked.
Gen Y does not engage in much of this kind of conversation. They tend to be more interested in discoveries, the excitement of change and ideas for improvement. Remember, they were rewarded for thinking outside of the box. They were encouraged to share their thoughts and ways of thinking. They never bought into:
“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”
They bought into a new approach:
“If it works, let’s see if we can make it work better and faster.”
Are we ready for Gen Y at work?
Influential Element #8 Gen Y believes fully in work/life balance. They believe that work and life should complement each other. They place importance on what they do outside of the workplace and how that can actually support and complement their work. It isn’t because they don’t place importance on the work - they do. It is all part of the continuum of who they are and what they do.
Gen Y takes their holidays in full. Indeed, they may even ask for extensions to holiday plans. They view holidays and vacation as time to rejuvenate and energize. They value breaks and they want their workplace to value and appreciate the importance of breaks.
Gen Y will take full family leaves. Both men and women will invest more in family time and involvement than generations have done in the past.
They believe that work and family and social life should support and complement each other. They will seek opportunities to include family and social activities to balance with work activities.
Gen Y seeks a workplace that values work/life balance the way they do. They have an expectation that employers will understand this value system and support it. They look for “family friendly” workplaces that are flexible and responsive to work/life balance needs.
There is some line of thinking that they have been parented by helicopter parents who hovered over them at length. As a result, they have an expectation of being fully appreciated in home and family life. They will expect flex time to go to family events. They will engage in planning that includes social and family events. They expect co-workers and supervisors to be interested and engage in conversation about “outside” activities. In turn, they are interested in the same for others. They have a more “holistic” view of job satisfaction which includes balance for work and play.
Influential Element #9 Gen Y is the generation of comfort, joy and excitement with technology. They have been playing with technology since they were in preschool. They always know what’s new, next and what is exciting in the world of technology.
Computers are their social network, their library of resource, their lines of communication, their connection to the world and news of the world. They Google, they Tweet, they Facebook, they search and play with technology every day. They are always looking for the next change, the new upgrade, the next tool and the next toy even before it comes on the market.
They line up to be as close to first to buy or access the new change in technology. They talk about new technology with excitement, enthusiasm and positive anticipation. They may tend to be impatient with the caution and hesitation or trepidation that older generations have for technology change. They sometimes forget that their joy comes from long term comfort with computers in general and their ongoing love affair with new technology. They are prepared to move quickly and respond to each new challenge with positive energy and expectations for success. Their communication may be somewhat dismissive when they are questioned or asked for detailed explanations.
However, their skill and knowledge level is amazing. We must all work hard to find common language with which to share their skill and knowledge. Gen Y can lead us into the next era of technological advance.
Influential Element #10 Gen Y sees no need to separate work and play. Indeed, they truly believe work should be fun and will have more quality when people enjoy what they do.
Generation Y has started to ask questions in the interviews about “fun activities” in the workplace. They often organize sports pools, pot luck lunches, theme days, meeting icebreakers, office decorating and even friendly competition at work. They look for ways to engage, involve and include working teams in fun or play activities to enhance morale, motivation and workplace interaction.
They will organize social events, they plan fun activities into meetings and retreats and they look for opportunities to incorporate work and play. Sometimes this is difficult for older generations who may have been told to “quit laughing and get to work.” They may sometimes wonder how much work is getting done when people are having fun. There is a growing bank of testimonial evidence from workplaces that work and play can go together. We can actually get the work done even better when we lighten up and enjoy what we do.
We can certainly look forward to the challenge of bringing more fun, play and enjoyment to our work environments. Gen Y will make sure we do.
When we consider all of these influential elements that make up the patterns for Generation Y at work, what do we do now?
Here are ten top tried and true strategies to help us recruit, retain, train and manage Gen Y. Can we meet the challenge?