A Quick Guide to Understanding & Managing Generation Y in the Workplace

September 13th, 2011 | Hiring Resources | No Comments »


Wondering why your desk is a little more flooded with resumes than usual recently? As it gets warmer outside and closer to fully-fledged summer months, the Class of 2011 is flooding into the workplace en masse. Which, of course, brings up the ever-buzzing topic of Generation Y in the workplace.

It remains an important topic because this generation’s members are the first in history whose lives are so significantly entrenched in technology, and with each graduate class comes a new level of this entrenchment.

So, assuming one of their resumes catches your eye, the question inevitably becomes, how will you manage them in the workplace?

Why Gen Y

Many attribute Gen Y’s unique characteristics to the new style of parenting adopted by Generation X. But technology plays a huge role here too. For the first time, you have a generation that has grown up in a truly global community – one that changes the face of human interaction and offers true convenience and instant gratification.

So what you end up with is young adults who were encouraged to be “fair,” with no real “winners” – thanks to their parents – in a fast paced world where measurement, rewards, and communication is easier and faster than ever before – thanks to technology.

In the workplace, then, Gen Yers are not as competitive with each other as they are with themselves. They want feedback for these efforts in a measurable format and they want rewards when they increase those results. Plus, in keeping with their fast pace, they’re much more likely to switch jobs many times, rather than sticking to just one for years at a time.

Measuring Gen Y

Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, writes that Generation Y acts in the workplace in much the same way as they do in a video game, where they are beating their own high scores over and over. Their standards are set by points, and the more these points are tracked and recorded, the more motivated they will be and the better they’ll perform.

Therefore, in the workplace, the most effective way to motivate Gen Yers is to apply levels to their work, where each project they complete and quality to which they do so gets them closer to the next level. As long as the quotas you set are realistic and meaningful, the more results you’ll see from them.

Rewarding Gen Y

Traditional rewards just aren’t going to cut it with these Gen Yers. They’ve been able to customize almost all aspects of their lives since childhood, especially as technology becomes even more advanced. So while one Gen Yer may be satisfied with a bonus for their superior productivity, the next Gen Yer prefers a reward of flex hours, and another likes perks such as gift cards or trips.

Granted, you may not want to up-end your entire existing compensation program, but as your workplace fills up with this newest generation, it’s definitely worth looking into incentive programs that provide short-term rewards. Even small acknowledgements of each “level” they reach in their work will be appreciated and effective.

Short Term Gen Y

As mentioned, this generation simply won’t stay at a job as long as workers in the past, giving each job an average of 3-5 years instead of an average of 5-7 or even 7-10 years. But this doesn’t necessarily mean Gen Yers don’t have strong career paths; the steps on that path are simply more frequent.

This means that if you want the most productive Gen Y workers, you must give them a sense of professional development and career growth, even if they’re only giving you a few years of work. Challenge them, and make sure they know the purpose of their work.

Plus, those rewards you’re giving them? They’re probably going to be more effective in smaller, more frequent doses.

Hire Gen Y

The bottom line is that Generation Y reacts very differently to traditional management styles than previous generations. Cater to their shorter attention span, by tracking their progress and providing feedback and rewards when their goals are reached. This may call for an adjustment in your management style, but you’ll soon have much more productive and effective employees on your hands if you put the effort in.
And hey – they may not have too much experience behind their backs yet, but given the richness of technology in their lives, they are much more valuable to your workplace than you may initially suspect. So don’t despair at that pile of fresh resumes on your desk; they are the future, so invest in them today.