With the rain showers and songbirds of spring also comes the rush of diplomas and graduation barbecues. For employers, this means one thing: another wave of Generation Y candidates passing resumes under their eyes, filling their cubicles, and coexisting with the rest of their workforce, which in general, is vastly divergent from this batch of newcomers. The generational melting pot is in full effect; more now than ever before, the business world is experiencing the largest span of employees in its companies to date. Babyboomers are prolonging the retirement process in response to advancements in healthcare (the ability to physically work longer) and the economic recession (the financial necessity to work longer). This large demographic had just reached a state of equilibrium in the workplace with their generational successors, Generation X, when Generation Y entered the equation with different experiences, different methodologies and different attitudes.
Generation Y, or “Millennials” as they are commonly called, are those born roughly between the 1980’s and 2000’s. Many people feel these “entitled kids” obsessed with texting, Ipods, and Facebook are more spoiled brats than business professionals. However, there has never been a time more crucial than now to debunk these stereotypes and crack the code on how to utilize these very beneficial employees.
According to Careerbuilder, over the next two decades Baby Boomers will start to retire at an estimated rate of 1 employee every 8 seconds. “Our country is at the beginning of a labor shortage of approximately 35 million skilled and educated workers,” the article said. According to “Y-Size Your Business” by Jason Ryan Dorsey, “We (Millenials) are your opportunity to make an entire generation of 79.8 million people a competitive advantage for your company and your career.”
Several articles have been written echoing the sentiments of Babyboomers and Gen X-ers across the nation, the common thread being that Millenials have a bad reputation. But is that reputation justified? Some of the commonalities around this generalization include that Millenials are spoiled, entitled individuals craving and expecting instant gratification from little to no work. They need their hand held within the workplace and are incapable of carving their own paths. They show little respect for seniority and guidelines, and a disloyalty to the companies “gracious” enough to employ them. In reality, there are many disparities between the actual traits of Millenials and these perceptions of them.
You Say “Spoiled,” We Say “Praise Culture”
To be certain, this generation has in fact grown up in a more complimentary culture, which some dub as “coddled” or the “Trophy Generation,” referring to the “everyone wins” mentality. While this is true to an extent, a more accurate explanation is that these individuals grew up in a “Praise Culture,” which is not necessarily such a bad thing. In fact, many employers are attempting to embrace such a praise culture in the workplace for its positive and progressive edge. So how do managers deal with this mentality? It will require managers to provide more feedback, but because of Millenials’ thirst for acceptance, you will find this feedback will often times be extremely positive. In addition, since Gen Y-ers rely primarily on acceptance and approval as a benchmark for success, they tend to be less motivated by money. According to a 2009 survey conducted by Monster, only 17% of Gen Y respondents identified compensation as the primary indicator of success. As an employer, the key to leveraging your Millenials is effective communication with timely and constructive feedback. In fact, a recent CareerBuilder survey noted that over 60 percent of Millenial respondents want to hear from their managers at least once a day. Because Millenials are used to praise, some people think that they are unable to accept criticism; on the contrary, they thrive on feedback and constant improvement, so throwing away the “annual review” and adapting more frequent communication schedules will help maximize the potential of Millenials for your company.
You Say “Entitlement,” We Say “Rapid Results”
Along these same lines, many feel that Millenials have a sense of entitlement. In actuality, their mentality stems more from a rapid results and immediate gratification idea, where they do expect to move up quickly and see prompt results, but that does not mean they are not willing to work for it. They do expect that skill and effort will weigh more on promotional and raise decisions than seniority. Although this model does not align with how many companies operate their businesses, it should not be considered a negative mark against Millenials; companies that use this to their advantage and make their decisions based on merit and not seniority are likely to see more productivity and resolve from all employees, not just Millenials.
You Say “Dependent,” We Say “Communal”
Another common stereotype is that Gen Y-ers are not self-motivated and “need their hands held.” Although it is true that Millenials thrive on praise and collaborating with others, their vehement team player attitude is actually a positive point, as this group has a heightened sense of community and relationships between peers. One solution to maximize the use of your Millenials is to set up a mentorship program. A mentor can help establish career paths within the company and foster driven employees concentrated on key company initiatives. A mentorship program would help everyone in the organization communicate, collaborate, set goals and attain them.
You Say “Outspoken,” We Say “Self-Expressive”
Millenials are also commonly criticized for being outspoken and abrasive in everything from their attire to their demeanor. This candid disposition can also be thought of as self-expressive; for your company, this means they are not abashed by putting their ideas out there. Insatiable brainstormers, they are adept at locating plentiful and unique solutions and bringing in fresh perspectives. Millenials have a breadth of knowledge in areas other generations may not, such as technology and social media, so we should embrace the sharing of their thoughts to advance our corporations in these key areas.
You Say “Disloyal,” We Say “Noncomplacent”
Another concern managers have about Generation Y is that they are more likely to job-hop and not stay loyal to their company. More accurately described, they are not complacent. Use this to your advantage. According to Dorsey, “Our (Millenials’) generational viewpoint makes us more inclined to leave an employer where we don’t feel fit.” Because of Millenials’ craving for meaningful work (30 percent of the demographic identified it as the most important measure of a successful career), they are not disloyal to jobs where they are making a difference. They are systematically reducing your overhead for you when they feel unproductive and stagnant, but are giving 110% to employers and positions for which they feel they are making a positive impact; consider it a favor.
You Say “Lazy,” We Say “Flexible”
One final criticism of Millenials is that they are lazy and indolent, when actually, they crave flexibility. Many Babyboomers believe a reluctance to work 9-5 demonstrates a reluctance to work in general; Millenials like to think of their workday in terms of productivity and progress, not 9-5 timelines. They do not believe in being shackled to their desk. They do not understand why they can not complete a report at 6:00 PM from home, and they are confused by the notion of sitting at a desk for 9 hours when they finished their work in 6. “They want to work, but they don’t want work to be their life,” says a USA Today article. This goes back to Millenials’ hunger for self-fulfillment and leading a meaningful life; they strive for efficiency and utilizing their time in the most meaningful way possible. If employers capitalize on this flexibility, it could render more productivity and even longer hours from Millenials. “It feels normal for Gen Y employees to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week,” says Dorsey.
There is no denying that there are key differences to this demographic. But instead of turning all of the differences to negatives, we should learn to embrace these Millenial traits and use them to fuel new avenues in our business, just like society has in every other era when a new generation of employees entered the workforce. “The American Society of Training and Development is predicting that 76 million Americans will retire over the next two decades. Only 46 million will be arriving to replace them. Most of those new workers will be Generation Y-ers,” said a CIO.com article. So rather than dismissing the generation as a group of texting, whining, demanding, lazy individuals who need to learn to respect authority and pull up their pants, you would do well by your company to, as CIO put it, “prepare for the most high-maintenance, yet potentially most high-performing generation ever.”
Orrell, Lisa. “6 Ways to Retain Your Generation Y Future Leaders.” Careerbuilder.
Dorsey, Jason Ryan. “Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business.”
Gelston, Steff. “Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomers: Workplace Generation Wars.” CIO.com.