Why Y? Working with Gen Y and Surviving

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As generational research steams ahead and more and more gigabytes are collected, we are fast looking for answers to an age-old question.  “Why are these young people so weird?” Wait! Did I say that?  Yes, but just so you know, there are young people among us that have tattoos, pierced lips and tongues that are bright, multi-talented —and they don’t wear button down shirts!

Working productively with the Millennial’s, the Nintendo Generation, the Echo Boomers or whichever label we put on these 12-25 year olds is critically important today, since there are 60 million in the United States that are entering the job market. Let me give those of you that struggle some ideas, three to be exact, to working in harmony with the young men and women with iPods in their ears and cell phones strapped to their back-packs.

Tip Number One.  Keep them engaged and challenged.  This generation has been multi-tasking since they were born; talking on a cell phone while playing Nintendo is common for these bright young people. Their parents have involved them in soccer, gymnastics and playgroups, and by doing so have built a generation that is comfortable doing something different all of the time. Having meaningful work was less important to their Grandparents because they were happy to be working. The expectations of the Gen-Y'ers are much different.  They’ve been busy most of their lives doing many different activities and flourish in that environment. Give them something important to do and get out of the way, they will astound you!

Tip Number Two.  Keep your technology current.  Any investment in your technology is perceived as an investment in them. For the older generation, growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, the first color television was a big deal. Today the Y Generation sees a better picture on their iPod. They can download a half hour sitcom for a couple of bucks and watch it at their leisure. The Gen-Y’er expectation is clearly, “How can I do my job with the equipment we have here?” Their Baby Boomer manager doesn’t get it.  “Hey, we only had three channels on our television,” is not an acceptable response.

Tip Number Three.  Don’t expect respect simply because you are more senior. Not that these super-high achievers are disrespectful. They are not! Authority just doesn’t intimidate them. That’s a good thing! Some executives over the last 20 years have asked for honest feedback (not that they’ve always done anything with it) from their staff and associates. These young professionals will certainly give us feedback. We need to be careful how we respond to it. A much more open and accepting leadership style is critical. These young people respect success and want to be part of it. They don’t really get excited about more conventional forms of recognition such as preferential parking. What gets them fired up is working on something meaningful and being part of a winning effort.

Things change, and as quickly as we adapt to one, the next is upon us. Each generation has lamented about the next and worried that they won’t be able to take the hand-off.  We are optimists and tend to see the glass half-full. This is generation could be the greatest of all time.

One more thing, just when you get this group figured out, then comes Generation Z!  Egad!