Managing Gen Y: Do They Require a Different Approach?

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This topic contains 25 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 7 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #133313

    I’m participating in an international symposium in a week and one of the core themes the organizers would like me to address is “managing Gen Y.” Generally, here’s what studies reveal about Gen Y / Millennials and their unique characteristics at work:

    Work Style: Work to deadlines, not necessarily to schedules

    Authority/Leadership: Value autonomy, less inclined to pursue formal leadership positions

    Communication: Casual and direct, eager to please

    Recognition/Reward: Individual and public praise (exposure), opportunity for broadening skills

    Work/Family: Value blending personal life into work

    Loyalty: To the people involved with their project

    Technology: How else do you expect me to get my work done?

    Are these characteristics true?

    Do they impact the way Gen Y should / wants to be managed?

  • #133361

    John Bordeaux

    I still have no patience with categorizing people based on the year of their birth. Yes, they grow up surrounded by common influences, to a degree, but these references to “Gens” reduces human beings to cattle.

    And I speak as a dry-aged Angus.

    Here’s someone who agrees, to an alarming degree, with the need to scold, er, manage young people:

  • #133359

    Kevin Dubs

    I think it’s hard to peg and entire generation to hold the exact same values but some of these ring true for me, other’s don’t. I think technology is the element that is most universal to our generation. Another one that’s not included is our need to have impact in what we do. I sometimes get frustrated with large projects where the final product is a PowerPoint or Study.

    The authority/leadership characteristic I’m not so sure about. I know quite a few people that want formal leadership positions and I’d also add that we like autonomy with leadership support.

  • #133357

    Bill Brantley

    Funny. This sounds just like the stuff they used to write about managing Generation X back when I was working in state government in the early 90s.

    I agree with John – stop categorizing people based on one variable. People are more than their birthdate, place of origin, shoe size, and astrological sign.

    While you are working on your talk read this: Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground by Jennifer J. Deal

    Here is a good summary of her points:

    1. All generations have similar values; they just express them differently
    2. Everyone wants respect; they just don’t define it the same way
    3. Trust matters
    4. People want leaders who are credible and trustworthy
    5. Organizational politics is a problem–no matter how old (or young) you are
    6. No one really likes change
    7. Loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation
    8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as an older one–if you do the right things.
    9. Everyone wants to learn more than just about anything else
    10. Almost everyone wants a coach

  • #133353

    Sachin Shah

    The important thing to realize is that people are at different stages in their career. These roughly correspond to the concept of generations but don’t always match sup.

    For example, new government workers (no matter the age) generally have some idealism, tend to be eager to please, want to work on high-impact, visible projects and demonstrate traits most commonly associated with Gen Y. I have a colleague (who will probably read this!) who may appear to be a younger Boomer, but has the energy, drive and passion that are the best characteristics of Millennials.

    In terms of management, the important thing is to recognize the forces driving someone’s life and to put them in positions to integrate their external influences with their work. A new government worker looking to make a mark will produce a markedly different result than at 20 year veteran looking to establish a legacy, even if the two workers are reasonably close in age.

  • #133351

    Karen Simpson

    I think there is some truth to the above points. This generation grew up with technology so they are use it. Plus, the environmental factors are different. However, these are still individuals. Not everyone in this generation fits into the mold.

  • #133349

    John Bordeaux

    It is heartening to see people agree that humans are humans, and deeply individual. Every once in a while, a consultant comes along, writes an article/book and declares (s)he’s found the 5-7 things that the new crop of young’uns has in common! Gosh, it’s as if they were born with an Android in their grubby fists, they won’t put up with having to put it down before entering a SCIF! And we all read the article and buy the book and its inevitable sequel: “How to Deal with These Cyborg Children.” The seminars follow, and soon the GS-15 is adding the ideas to his PowerPointed all-hands.

    And that’s when we stop, and say, wait a second. In my experience, these people are individuals – and that matters more than the fact that the latest technology wave amounted to a change in our aquarium water. I’m not going to adopt these age-based hammers and start applying it to my workforce, heck I use Facebook more than my kid. Universal management rules aren’t.

    So that’s my advice for your symposium, Andrew. It’s interesting to reflect on the shared experiences for a certain cohort, but that doesn’t mean we turn the telescope around and start USING these reflections to interact with the members of the cohort. Life just isn’t that easy.

  • #133347

    Dennis Snyder

    I’m always disturbed by categorizations of people that imply some sort of gender/age/racial/cultural bias. I’ve attended numerous management seminars that purport to ease your managerial tensions by helping you understand people more quickly. My belief is they tend to highlight the differences that set us apart, which feeds diectly into dysfunctional teams. Of course the intended goal is to help make the teams more functional. It seems to me this is classic cart before the horse in terms of defining characteristics for managerial techique before defining the goals of management. The unfortunate artifact is the technique is counterproductive to the goal. As with any project you need to articulate the goal and select the tools that get you there while evaluating their effectiveness along the way and making mid-course changes where necessary.

    My overarching point is that managing people into effective teams means you address their individual strengths and achievements that complement the team.

    Some things to consider as you examine the groups you work with/for/over:

    – Gen X and Y are labeled as technology proficient, yet Boomers are generally credited with developing that technology from its infancy.

    – Boomers are generally labeled as resistant to change, yet as senior management they are typically the implementers of change.

    – Gen X/Y/Millenials are credited with awareness of work/life blending, yet the Boomers who are facing impending retirement find blending work/life issues becomes more tangible as that day grows closer.

    Just my $0.02

  • #133345

    Charles A. Ray

    Andrew: I’m late responding to this post – I spent the last week bouncing over Zimbabwe’s back roads in the Zambezi Valley – but I’d have to say you have pegged Gen Y very well; at least based on my experiences withe large numbers of them on my staff. It is also true that this has to be taken into account when managing them. Of course, each generation has some unique characteristics that determine which leadership techniques are more effective with them.

  • #133343

    Yes! This is exactly where I lead the entire speech (and how I’ve generally addressed this issue in the past). I talk about the type of work environment that Gen Y would like to experience…and ultimately ask: “Wait. Wouldn’t we all want this?” Then I ask them to think about where they will be in 2020 – look at our future with clear vision. Most of will want a more mobile work environment that incorporates technology to get more done…working more to deadlines rather than punching a clock and putting in long hours.

    Bill – Can I have your permission to use a quote from your comment with attribution?

  • #133341

    P.S. Jennifer Deal has made her living off material and tools that emphasize these gaps…so it’s interesting that she is writing that kind of article 🙂

  • #133339

    Agree, John…I’ve been doing the Gens training for awhile…see my remarks to Bill above.

    I always converge on the commonalities…

    Have you seen my “Generation C” material? Strives to focus on the fact that it’s not just Gen Y or Gen X using the stuff.

  • #133337

    Thanks, Karen. Based on my direct experience coupled with studies and survey results, it appears as if Gen Y doesn’t use all technology and social media, really focusing more on Facebook and texting or mobile phone-based activity. The trends for the rest of social media have been older for the most part.

  • #133335

    Agree on the need to focus on individuals….

    And I do think there is some value in exploring the natural differences that arise because of race, gender, age, etc. We shouldn’t dismiss them – especially race and gender. Those in power or in the majority never completely understand the experience of the minority or those with less influence.

    So it’s really a balancing act, I think…between learning a bit about cultural and historical impacts that create a different world view for some groups of people….but also respecting the attributes that make each person unique.

  • #133333

    Thanks, Charles. Are you finding that to be true despite nationality? Any difference between American and Zimbabwean young people?

  • #133331

    Bill Brantley

    @Andy – Certainly! Thank you.

  • #133329

    Bill Brantley

    Thars gold in them there generational hills! 🙂

  • #133327

    Colleen Ayers

    Interesting discussion. I’ll just throw in my two bits, that some traits are more from what stage in life you’re in than what generation you are in. For example, new professionals just coming out of higher education are likely to value monetary rewards more than a pat on the back. This isn’t because they’re money-grubbing materialists; it’s because they have student loan repayments up the wazoo! I absolutely hate the idea of looking for monetary rewards, but oh my gosh, have they saved my bank account more than once. (Or the time that I begged for the opportunity to earn overtime, just so I wouldn’t need to take a second job!)

    Millenials are also starting to diverge a bit between those with spouses and/or children, versus those who have been putting career/education first and are still single. I think that’s going to start eroding some of the “universal” values of the generation.

  • #133325

    John Bordeaux

    Agree – except the research does not point to anything such as “universal” values of a generation. There is a wide variance (deviance) within any generational cohort – and the things you point to matter much more than the birth year. The plural of anecdote is not data, folks. The research does not support these generational distinctions. And don’t get me started on the flaws of the survey method… 🙂

  • #133323

    Alicia Mazzara

    I’ve read that members of Gen Y are more likely to job hop than other generations. In my own experience, I have seen a lot of my friends switch jobs with a fair bit of frequency; I don’t think there is necessarily an expectation of staying in one place and working ones way up. This seems like a management challenge if you are investing a lot of resources and training into someone who leaves after a year or two.

  • #133321

    Phyllis Pickett

    I work in an office where four generations work together — pre-Boomers, Boomers, and however folks label the other two. For a government law office, this is almost unheard of as far as management models go because wisdom, age and experience are valuable but do not trump youthful, hard workers who have successfully achieved results and built trust.

    In my view, we hit rough spots when the communication is weakened. As a Boomer, maybe I like to think that I can talk the pre-Boomers’ “language” but also “translate” to younger staffers. I remind myself, however, of the famous words of George Bernard Shaw, that “the problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” With that in mind, I find diverse work groups have the major benefit of the strenghs of all involved, and the minor issue of maintaining everyone’s attention to the goal.

    With effective communication, and the willingness to have what I call “difficult conversations” when needed, the multi-generational workplace is awesome.

  • #133319

    Larry Michael Lyon

    The research shows that there is a difference in people who have grown up with social networking compared with earlier generations. Professor Sherry Turkle at the MIT Media Lab writes about a critical moment during a persons development (typically at about 15 years old) when they go out on their own on a trip they have to rely on themselves. That moment never takes place with people who grow up with cell phones, particularly cell phones with an internet connection. These people are always connected and never really alone. Add this to the reality that by the time these people reach the work force they have spent literally thousands of hours connected to the net. The research is abundant that these peoples brains are simply wired differently than older employees and management without these experiences.

    Its not only middle and upper management along with a continuing large number of senior government employees particularly in purchasing and contracts departments entered the workforce during the Cold War expansion of the 1980’s who simply don’t understand or appreciate the impacts of technology. This is seem most clearly when you implement social networking in the workplace. Management may be savvy enough not to resist but the stress level of both older management and staff is significant.

  • #133317

    Bill Brantley

    The research is also clear that older folks can rewire their brains after spending a week working with the Net. And I have to dispute your notion that folks during the Cold War expansion of the 1980s didn’t appreciate the impact of technology as it also well documented that these are the same people who introduced the PC to the workplace so that they can use the first killer apps of Word Processing and Spreadsheets.

    Brain plasticity (“rewiring your brain”) occurs at all ages and the belief that our brains are hardwired by the time we reach our late 30s is a myth. Young people may be adept at social networking but older folks are one of the fastest growing groups on social networks.

  • #133315

    John Bordeaux

    Thanks Bill, dead on. My favorite reflection here was someone’s apocryphal quote that has a young person saying: “Look at all the technology around me. The Internet, satellites, cell phones, portable music, etc. What did your generation do without all these things?” The answer: “We built them.”

    This is why we look to what we know about cognitive neuroscience for answers – because we don’t have the brain scans of the Boomers…from when they were the same age. Comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt, when you scan a young person’s brain, and then assert mine wasn’t anything like that in the 1970s. (In fact, my brain from the 70s should not be used for anything remotely scientific.)

    The idea that young people’s brains are wired differently than older people is an interesting one – but may be due more to the time spent on the planet than time spent on XBox.

    To Larry’s point: I’m pretty much one of those who entered the Air Force in 1982, Cold Warrior, I. And I’ve not struggled with understanding or appreciating the effects of technology. In fact, I’m much more “connected” to these tools than any of my three grown children. Google me if you’re crashingly bored sometime. It takes a bit to build that footprint. Not an extraordinary feat, though. Pretty common practice. Even for Cold Warriors.

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