The Millennials currently account for about 20-30% of the workforce. Seventy-four million strong (compared to the 78 million boomers), that percentage is growing and continues to make waves in the workplace. Those in charge have voiced concern and frustration at the situations they have had to manage when it comes to this generation, such as addressing why eyebrow piercings or pink hair may not be appropriate in the business environment; convincing this generation that not everybody gets to make their own hours; helping them understand why they are not going to be promoted after two months of employment; and educating them that it is inappropriate to speak to the CEO with the same tone and informality as friends.
On the flip side those in charge have also voiced excitement over Gen Y’s propensity for workplace creativity and teamwork and their influence when it comes to forcing organizations to incorporate good community, environmental and social policies. They have also been impressed with this Generation’s initiative, risk-taking and “can do” attitudes.
The frustrations of previous generations are justified because they worked hard, sacrificing family time, performing menial tasks to please their supervisors, working long hours, in some cases at the expense of their health, to earn respect and get promoted. The frustrations of Generation Y are also justified, as their life experience and upbringing has led them to want to live now rather than live when they retire. Generation Y values their free time, energy and health over long hours at the office and they insist that work be part of life, not life itself. Gen Y also equates promotion with performance over tenure, which accounts for the endless stories of high expectations and demands for promotion after working in companies for a short period of time. Herein lies the contrast in values that is causing tremors throughout corporations and businesses. Sure the Ys have their drawbacks; however, hasn’t every generation said that about every other generation?
The bottom line is that it’s time to stop complaining and start taking action. This generation, just like every generation before and every generation to come, has brought unique strengths and unique challenges to the workplace. Leading, managing, and motivating these younger employees really requires the same skill set as managing any other employee: strong emotional intelligence, solid leadership and management skills and sometimes, just a great sense of humor. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help in the process.
- have an expectation conversation
- make it personal
- structure and follow through
- problem-solve together when an issue occurs
- set appropriate boundaries
- immediately say no
- accept excuses
- be vague about power and potential
- assume the skills are developed
Start out the managerial relationship with your Generation Y employee by having an expectation conversation. Let them know what they can expect from you, what you expect from them, what opportunities are available that interest them and what aspects of your professional relationship are negotiable and what aspects are not. Make it clear from the onset and revisit this conversation frequently.
Take the time to get to know your Gen Y employee on a personal level and let them get to know you. This generation has a tendency to be loyal to people, not to institutions. Relationships matter.
Provide structure and boundaries, along with a clear developmental action plan. Make sure your Y’s have a clear picture of attainable professional goals. Revisit this frequently to build accountability and to provide a feedback loop for progress and areas of development. Also, do what you’ll say you’ll do, be consistent and expect the same from them. Don’t accept excuses and don’t provide excuses.
Rather than passing the buck back when a problem occurs, spend some time brainstorming and problem solving solutions with your Gen Yer. This process will help them learn different ways to enhance their problem-solving abilities and also develop confidence in their abilities to create effective solutions.
Do not allow your Gen Y employee to treat you like a peer (with disrespect) or like their parent (with dependence). Lay out your expectations clearly and point out concerns, in a supportive and emotionally intelligent manner, when they exist. If you are shocked by certain behaviors then speak up. This will enhance the lines of communication and will create a mature work relationship, while also modeling for a Gen Y employee what appropriate and successful work relationships look like.
Let them prove themselves, not just technically but with regard to organizational structure and people skills. Provide them with power in their roles and work relationships.
Don’t immediately turn down what may seem like an unrealistic demand like time off, workplace flexibility, or promotion. Instead, use it to your advantage by setting up opportunities for them to earn what they are asking for.
There is a natural human tendency to let people slide when they react poorly to feedback. As leaders it is crucial to infuse a sense of responsibility and accountability in employees. Be consistent with your message and hold people accountable.
Be clear about the power and potential that exists within their roles. These days people don’t just want a job they want a job with meaning. Help your new hires understand how their work plays into the larger organizational mission and vision. Understanding your contribution and finding meaning in it helps solidify engagement, as well as accountability.
Talk to your Gen Y about the qualities of leadership that are important to your organization (e.g., independent thinking, maturity and emotional intelligence) and have them set up goals to work on these qualities with your monitoring. If someone is not behaving the way you would like don’t assume they have come into the working relationship with the skills you may have started out with. People generally want to do well and when they don’t that sometimes means they haven’t developed the necessary skill set. This is why managers and leaders help others.
This is a generation of highly talented and highly capable young adults. They are almost as large a group as the boomers and will therefore have a huge impact on corporate culture; they will be taking on leadership roles very soon. It is up to managers to groom this generation to become the next generation of great leaders. The good news is that they are more open to being mentored and taught than previous generations, as long as the relationship is strong. Empower this generation of workers by being involved, being present, being supportive and being interested, and helping them learn to earn what they are asking for.