They’re young, smart, brash. They wear flip-flops to the office or listen to iPods at their desk. They want to work, but don’t want work to be their life. This is Generation Y, some 70 million of them, embarking on their careers, taking their place in an increasingly multigenerational workplace.
Who is Gen Y? There’s no consensus about the exact time span that Gen Y comprises, but most definitions include those individuals born from about 1982 to 1997. One thing is for sure – they’re bringing new attitudes with them to the workplace. Gen Ys have grown up with an amazing array of experiences and opportunities. And they want their work life to provide that as well, .
For instance, Stella Kenyi, who is passionately interested in international development, was sent by her employer, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to Yai, Sudan, to survey energy use. At Best Buy’s corporate offices, Beth Trippie, a senior scheduling specialist, feels that as long as the results are there, why should it matter how it gets done. She says, “I’m constantly playing video games, on a call, doing work, and the thing is, all of it gets done, and it gets done well”. And Katie Patterson, an assistant account executive in Atlanta says, “We are willing and not afraid to challenge the status quo. An environment where creativity and independent thinking are looked upon as a positive is appealing to people my age. We’re very independent and tech savvy”.
Dealing with the managerial challenges
Managing Gen Y workers presents some unique challenges. Conflicts and resentment can arise over issues such as appearance, technology, and management style. One have to learn how to deal with different managerial challenges prevailing in today’s corporate culture.
How flexible must an organization be in terms of “appropriate” office attire? It may depend on the type of work being done and the size of the organization. There are many organizations where jeans, T-shirts, and flip-flops are acceptable. However, in other settings, employees are expected to dress more conventionally. But even in those more conservative organizations, one possible solution to accommodate the more casual attire preferred by Gen Y is to be more flexible in what’s acceptable. For instance, the guideline might be that when the person is not interacting with someone outside the organization, more casual wear (with some restrictions) can be worn.
What about technology? This generation has lived much of their lives with ATMs, DVDs, cell phones, e-mail, texting, laptops and the Internet. When they don’t have information they need, they just simply enter a few keystrokes to get it. Having grown up with technology, Gen Ys tend to be totally comfortable with it. They’re quite content to meet virtually to solve problems, while bewildered baby boomers expect important problems to be solved with an in-person meeting. Baby boomers complain about Gen Y’s inability to focus on one task, while Gen Ys see nothing wrong with multitasking. Again, flexibility from both is the key.
Finally, what about managing Gen Ys? Like the old car advertisement that used to say: “This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile”, we can say that “this isn’t your father’s or mother’s way of managing”. Gen Y employees want bosses who are open minded; experts in their field, even if they aren’t tech-savvy; organized; teachers, trainers, and mentors; not authoritarian or paternalistic; respectful of their generation; understanding of their need for work/life balance; providing constant feedback; communicating in vivid and compelling ways; and providing stimulating and novel learning experiences.
Gen Y employees have a lot to offer organizations in terms of their knowledge, passion, and abilities. Managers, however, have to recognize and understand the behaviors of this group in order to create an environment in which work can be accomplished efficiently, effectively, and without disruptive conflict.