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Here Comes Gen Y' the Hell Should I?

May 1, 2007
Get ready. Here they come. Gen Y is entering the labor
Get ready. Here they come. Gen Y is entering the labor force. Maybe Gen Why is a better term, as in Gen Why-The-Hell-Should-I?

The generation of people born between 1978 and 2000 is fundamentally different than the Baby Boomers or Gen X. The attitudes are different. The expectations are different. The skills are different. If you want to succeed with a Gen Y workforce, you must learn how to manage differently. Here's why.

Gen Y grew up comfortable. They lacked little. Theirs was a world of material indulgence in a time of unprecedented prosperity. They are impatient for things they desire. Gen Y employees won't want to wait until you feel they're "properly developed" before giving out promotions or assigning service trucks. They've seldom had to wait for anything and won't want to wait for you.

Gen Y was lavishly praised growing up. The self-esteem of a Gen Y worker is elevated and demanding. According to Bruce Tulgan from Rainmaker Thinking, "Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured, and programmed with a slew of activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance."

They don't take criticism easily and demand constant strokes and praise. Gen Yers have been told they're special all their lives, and they'll expect you to tell them the same.

Gen Y has never experienced a deep national recession. Gen Y was born after the "Carter Malaise," and has scant memory of the relatively mild eight-month economic slowdowns in 1990 and 2001. From the Gen Y-er's teen years forward, employer demand has exceeded the Gen Y labor supply. For Gen Y, jobs have always, and will always, be plentiful. They won't fear unemployment.

Gen Y is a technically savvy generation. They grew up surrounded by computers, DVDs, the Internet, and video games. They won't resist the industry's increasing amount of technological innovations, like handheld computer-based service and diagnostic tools. They'll embrace them.

Gen Y became accustomed to digital learning from computer software like Reader Rabbit before they started grade school. Gen Y employees expect learning to be highly interactive, fun, and rewarding. Does your service meeting (cough) meet this criteria?

Gen Y's digital upbringing facilitates multitasking. Eric Chester, author of Getting Them to Give a Damn, explains: "While your mind operates more like a VCR, theirs functions more like a DVD player. Although both devices process complex sights and sounds, one accesses information in a sequential order, while the other can access and process it sequentially, in reverse, or in random order with no loss of time."

Just watch any Gen Y simultaneously talking to someone while texting on a mobile, and chatting over instant messenger, and it's apparent that this generation effortlessly switches from task to task and juggles multiple items with ease.

Gen Y challenges authority. "They've grown up questioning their parents, and now they're questioning their employers," says Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor with Long Island University at Brooklyn. "They don't know how to shut up, which is great, but that's aggravating to the 50-year-old manager who says, ‘Do it and do it now.'" Because you say so isn't good enough for Gen Y. Gen Y-ers will cause you to re-evaluate your reasoning.

Gen Y works to live, rather than lives to work. Personal time matters more than money.

The key is to manage Gen Y employees like they're volunteers. Just being the boss isn't enough. You must create a vision for your company and sell people on the importance of your mission. For that matter, sell the importance of each task and duty. Adjust the work to fit the needs and interests of the employee, so the employee can find fulfillment from work.

Be flexible. Persuade rather than dictate. Show continuous appreciation and recognition. Cheerlead often. It's good advice for any company, but mandatory with Gen Y employees.

Managing your workforce like a volunteer organization not only gets the best performance from a Gen Y workforce, it will get the best performance from almost any workforce. The difference: Gen Yers will leave without it.

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, an Internet based contractor alliance that employs a number of Gen Y programmers. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. For a free copy of 100 Simple Practices Every Service Business Should Perform by Service Roundtable Chairman Lee Rosenberg, contact Liz Patrick by email at [email protected] or toll free at 877/262.3341.