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Generation Y- Not: Gen Y in The Workplace.

As most of us know, the government workforce if beginning to retire. Baby Boomers are being replaced by Gen X and increasingly Gen Y. Gen Y is a rapidly growing part of the workforce and they are changing the way we do business. Yet little is known about them and how to get the best out of them in the workplace. Managing generational differences has become an increasingly growing area for OD work. In today’s diverse and ever changing business environment, it is imperative to the areas of retention and engagement for organizations to successfully communicate across generational boundaries.

So how does a leader effectively manage, engage, retain, and communicate with Gen Y? What makes Gen Y different at work? How will those just embarking on their careers work and play? What are the technology and culture shifts occurring in the workplace? These are just a few topics we will explore.

As a Gen Y’er myself, who also does work in generational management, I have a few thoughts at what makes us different at work. Gen Y’ers believe in a work hard play hard type of environment. This generation doesn’t see the need to be attached to a desk for eight hours a day if they can get their work completed in six. Gen Y want something beyond an all consuming career. They want true work life balance. They believe they can raise their children, spend time with family and social networks, and still meet challenges and achieve goals at both home and at work. If work can be done at home, or a conference call can be had while at a soccer game for their children, they expect that flexibility.

Per the technology and culture shifts that are occurring (and need to stick in any organization that wishes to attract and retain Gen Y and younger talent), simply put the use of new and up and coming forms of technology are a necessity. Gen Y is used to technology; some were even born with it at their fingertips. They aren’t scared of new technologies and adapt fast to new innovations. To attract, retain and engage Gen Y don’t shy away from new technologies that enable telecommuting or virtual work environments, or that help contribute to work life balance. Utilize video teleconferencing, Webinars, laptops with wireless access. Technology can be used to encourage group and project based work. Use technology to build in collaboration, create informal team building exercises, and as leverage for positive public relations for your organization.

Regarding culture, open and honest communication and a culture of performance rewards is a necessity. Gen Y believes that communication is key in all directions, up, down, and lateral. To get the most out of
Gen Y at work, create an environment where they are encouraged and rewarded for speaking up regarding ideas and concerns, regardless of level in the organization. Add a structured coaching or mentoring program to your organization. Build in monthly or quarterly development check-ins and create a space for discussion. Communication often leads to innovation, increased trust, and engagement. Gen Y has a low tolerance for political bureaucracy and doesn’t buy into the “tenure” or “chain of command” approach .They believe results, not years of service or level in the organization, drive team success. Consider changing the structure of your organization to a more flat model with less hierarchy and more rewards based on merit and performance, not tenure and title.

These technological and cultural shifts are not going away any time soon as Gen Y is a growing part of the workforce, for government to attract and retain Gen Y talent they must adopt a more flexible approach. For additional insights visit our blog: http://thetolerothinktank.blogspot.com/

Also check out our article: Generational Engagement-Top 10 Ways to Engage Gen Y Employees!


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Very cool. I’m particularly agree with the technology – Gen Y have been using easy, free consumer tools for “work” (usually studying or connecting with family) for years. That can be skype for video, google docs or Facebook groups. They know how to instantly get people together and collaborate. Waiting years for a solution is not a solution.

Scott Span

Thanks. I totally agree, as a Gen Y-er myself, I utilize all those tools and some, both personally and professionally. Very good point, Though Gen Y and younger can have a hint of delayed gratification, I don’t think it makes sense for our organizations to expect to wait years for solutions either!


Agreed. And I always make the point that you have to enable this creativity as even if you try to block it, there will always be a work around.

Diego Maldonado

I agree with the statement: “Gen Y has a low tolerance for political bureaucracy and doesn’t buy into the “tenure” or “chain of command” approach .”.

I’m not a Gen Y’er, but I love their way they work, think and have the ability to see things through. It is a challenge for those managers/individuals responsible for teams to embrace the uniqueness of the Gen Y. Micro-management of the Gen Y’er (or any generation for that matter) is a morale and people killer, it is a disease that needs to be purged. The Gen Y’ers strive on trust, the ability to independently contribute to the success of a project/task and love to be praised. They work hard, stay late when needed and appreciate the flexibility to adjust their schedules to meet their personal needs. The conflict comes when the old schooler’s manage as though they are Kings/Queens/Emperor (I’m the only shining light syndrome), emanate a level of distrust and deception that requires or appears to require a micro-management style. I’ve been through the OPM managment schools and this is a topic that is part of their curriculum.

Having just come back to the government services after a 10 year absence and working in industry managing and teamworking with all generations of individuals, I can honestly say that I am shocked and disappointed on how little progress as been made in getting our next generation of leaders trained and mentored appropriately. Sure we can all say we have the programs and have the processes in place that would contradict my previous statement, but let’s be real,it’s all show and tell. We need to do more.

Scott Span

Diego, AMEN! One thing I would add, the conflict doesn’t just happen due to inflexible management style, it happens due to lack of, or lack of understanding about, cross generational communication styles.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Scott. Here’s where I resonate as a Gen X’er:

“This generation doesn’t see the need to be attached to a desk for eight hours a day if they can get their work completed in six. Gen Y want something beyond an all consuming career. They want true work life balance.”

I think here’s where your generation and mine see eye to eye. Once we ascend to leadership positions, we’ll be creating a culture where it’s less important when and where something gets done and more important why and BY when. In other words, we’ll be focused on the meaning behind the mission and the target…then do whatever it takes, likely working collaboratively to get things done on time, within budget and at high quality. Less working hard like our parents, and more working as efficiently as possible seeking the same outcomes.

What do you think?

Terrence (Terry) Hill PHR

Good points Scott! As the father of a couple Millennials, I couldn’t agree more. Also, as the coordinator of a Millennial program – Presidential Management Fellows – I can attest to the accuracy of your assertions. Unfortunately, generational friction results from generational differences in the workplace. The Pew Research Center just released a special study on Millennials. Check it out at http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1501/%20millennials-new-survey-generational-personality-upbeat-open-new-ideas-technology-bound.

Karen Simpson

These are all good points! Unfortunately, there are those folks especially in leadership positions who still believe that you need to be at your desk and at the office for 8+ hours. Telework and other flexible options are not accepted. I once heard a comment from a SES – “I had to be in the office and at my desk for 8+hours my entire career. Why do these kids think they can come in and change the rules? It is not going to happen in my office as long as I am in charge.” Maybe the SES is jealous and is resisting to the change, however, leaders do need to wake up and embrace the change!

Scott Span

Andrew- I think I couldn’t agree more. It’s about working smart, not just working to work (8hrs)! This is one of the big shifts that will occur as Gen Y begins to move into leadership roles.

Terrence- Thanks for the info. I will definitely take a look. We have a PMF at my previous client agency, and in discussions with him, many of the things in my post held true (including the frustration of government being slow to adapt to these trends).

Karen- I bump up against that mentality all to often. Like most people, those folks are resistant and in some cases fearful of change. What is really needed is a true transformational change in mindset and behavior. Trying to make this happen is a constant challenge. Sadly, if things don’t change, when these resistant leaders retire, the succession planning issues will only grow worse as government won’t be able to attract Gen Y and younger talent.

Andrea Schneider

I keep thinking that open, cross-generational teams would go a long way in mentoring, sharing, learning and appreciating the varied and distinct differences between the generations. If these teams could be put together with an ‘open learning’ approach, we might be able to surface our differences without being adversarial.

Not only do we face leadership resistance to creativity because of power and control issues, this same dynamic can also play out if diversifying project teams. The younger generations could seems threatening just because they are so comfortable and easy going with technology, which may be the exact opposite of the more senior people. Instead of seeing any of this as threatening, we could shift our thinking to asset development for everyone.
No one likes to feel stupid or slow. I know there are many times I wish was born with a computer nearby and naturally part of my world. Things today would be so much easier, but I still want members on my team who do have that expertise.
If we are going to effectively work together I would like to see a more relaxed, open and generous spirit all the way around. The experiences of the older generation is also valuable as part of the ongoing dialog of historical and practical wisdom, much needed, even with so much reliance on technology.
We still need the insights and skills gained without technology as they give us insights on how to really make programs for the public effective.
I’d live to see purposeful development of cross generational teams. I think we would be truly enriched.

I go back to traditional American Indian culture where elders are honored for their wisdom, historical perspective and keeping the tribes stories alive for the younger generations. They too are facing questions of how to keep the younger members of the tribe and Indian culture involved and part of their history as they assimilate into Urban American Tribes in the areas outside of the reservation.
These inter-generational issues are showing up in so many places right now, many with similar themes, though different context’s.

Scott Span

Andrea, and I keep thinking…how right you are and I couldn’t agree more. Due partly to the reasons you mention is why I have developed and delivered customized workshops and speaking engagements on the topics of cross generational communication and engaging a multi- generational workforce. Sadly however, gaining traction on these topics in the Gov space (where they can certainly benefit) has proven a challenge, and expected challenge but a challenge nonetheless. Happy to chat more, feel free to msg. me and we can exchange email.

Exploring the differences, and similarities, amongst the various generations in the workplace and increasing communication and understanding is key to organizational sustainability!

If you have not already seen it you may also appreciate my recent blog post on Gen Y: