Gen Y in the workplace

Flip Flops, Twitter, Instant messaging? Gen Y is here to stay folks and in fact, they currently account for approximately 20%-30% of the workforce. Seventy-four million strong (compared to the 78 million boomers), that percentage is growing and growing and certainly making waves in the workplace.

Those in charge have voiced concern at the situations they have had to manage when it comes to this generation, such as addressing why eyebrow piercings or pink hair may not be appropriate in the business environment; convincing this generation that not everybody gets to make their own hours; helping them understand why they are not going to be promoted after two months of employment; and educating them that it is inappropriate to speak to the CEO with the same tone and informality as friends. They have also, however, voiced amazement and excitement over Gen Y’s influence when it comes to creativity and teamwork in the workplace; forcing organizations to incorporate good community, environmental and social policies; and the initiative, risk taking and “I can do it’ attitudes among their talented Gen Y employees.

Generation Y is multitalented, over stimulated, socially aware, demanding and resourceful. They are also utterly challenging and confusing to the workplace, as well as to their supervisors and managers, who are interestingly enough the same age as their extremely supportive, hovering “helicopter” parents. Generation Y was raised on a healthy dose of self-esteem and a “you can be anything and all that you want to be” mentality.

Their Boomer and older Gen X parents rebelled against the more traditional parenting styles of their parents (e.g., children are seen but not necessarily heard, children show respect to authority figures no matter what, children work hard to earn reward and recognition) and focused on having strong, positive relationships with their children, supporting, honoring and protecting them no matter what and providing them with every opportunity for growth and expression. As a consequence of this societal shift, parents successfully pressured school systems to change their approach to education, overemphasizing self esteem and instilling a system of rewards not based on merit. This parental revolt coupled with cultural changes (academic, social, political, environmental, global, and technological) that have ensued over the past 20 years has created enormous changes in the upbringing of Generation Y. Subsequently, this generation has challenged the corporate landscape with an entirely different work ethic, attitude and a different set of values shaking the foundation of workplaces everywhere.

The frustrations of previous generations are justified because they worked hard, sacrificing family time, performing menial tasks to please their supervisors, working long hours, in some cases at the expense of their health, to earn respect and get promoted. The frustrations of Generation Y are also justified, as their life experience and upbringing has led them to want to live now rather than live when they retire. Generation Y values their free time, energy and health over long hours at the office and they insist that work be part of life, not life itself. Gen Y also equates promotion with performance over tenure, which accounts for the endless stories of high expectations and demands for promotion after working in companies for a short period of time. Here in lies the contrast in values that is causing tremors throughout corporations and businesses. Sure the Ys have their drawbacks; however, hasn’t every generation said that about every other generation?

The bottom line is that it’s time to stop complaining and start taking action. This generation, just like every generation before and every generation to come, has brought unique strengths and unique challenges to the workplace. The good news is that they are incredibly open to mentoring and guidance and sincerely crave training and development. With this in mind, it’s time for management to adapt, taking a highly engaged, highly supportive and highly “hands-on” approach.

Not only will this type of management help you proactively intercept problems as they start developing, it will help you keep an eye on the “rising stars” from the pool of younger workers. Sure they want to progress quickly and their demands may be frustrating but instead of letting that get the best of you, turn their demands and expectations into opportunities for them to earn what they are asking for, which in turn will bring rewards for you company now and in the future.

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