Generation Y at Work: How to Properly Manage them

Young workers are invading the workplace. To better manage Generation Y at work and to properly manage them, you need to understand their way of thinking.

Work environment
Employee Experience

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Thursday, September 04, 2014


For the most part, Generation Y employees have been getting a bad reputation in terms of how manageable they are in the workplace. This generation of people, typically born between the early 1980s and 2000s, are often referred to as echo boomers, as their parents are the notorious baby boomers. They’ve grown up during a time where internet is right at their fingertips, where social media is no longer a novelty but a necessity, and where being technically savvy is more than a trend, it’s a lifestyle.

So how does this all relate to Generation Y at work? Well, employers are now discovering that they need to rethink certain aspects of their employment cycle to meet the needs of this fast-paced generation.

To better manage Generation Y at work, you need to understand their way of thinking. Note that this is a generalization and that not all Generation Y employees should be viewed through the same lens.

Work is more than a paycheck

Gone are the days when people worked solely to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Today’s “millennials” (as they are sometimes referred to) are adopting a more comprehensive outlook, where careers are also about exploring passions, peaking curiosities and living an experience.

They are also looking for what an organization can offer them as far as benefits. And I’m not just talking about insurance and paid vacations. It’s all about things that are aesthetically pleasing, such as a stylish office, cutting-edge technologies and even a fancy coffee machine or well-stocked community fridge. They appreciate companies that keep up with the trends, that show their appreciation towards their employees not only through monetary compensation, but through fun, social activities, access to elite opportunities, and gratification.

Generation Y may consider these as commonplace, therefore as a manager, retaining these employees requires a whole new mindset. Knowing that they seek experiences and are more likely to change jobs in order to embark on other career adventures, it is important to re-examine what you can offer them that has a slight edge over competing organizations in order to increase employee retention rate.

Fast is the new normal: A generation of fast-paced multi-taskers

I remember overhearing a co-worker discuss her teenage son doing research for a term paper one evening. He was typing away on the computer, while listening to music, his cellphone buzzing with incoming texts and the TV was on in the background. While her initial thought was “there’s no way he is capable of concentrating”, this ability to multi-task and have constant stimulation around him has become the Generation Y’s reality, and oddly enough, preparing him, to a certain extent, for the fast-paced world we now live in.

I realize this is not exactly the best example of good work etiquette, it should merely help sensitize managers on how to motivate the fast-paced, multi-taskers that are Generation Y at work. Offering them the chance to embark on simultaneous tasks, short-term successes and quick promotions is right up their alley. However, as a manager, you must know what you can and cannot offer, and make it clear during the initial stages of hiring.

Generation Y at work have also been known to adopt a more entrepreneurial outlook, and they have the tendency to be more upfront with that they want. Their personalities may suggest more flexibility and risk-taking. Employers will need to make a point to hear them out once in a while, even when unrealistic demands cannot be met. When applicable, involve them in stimulating discussions and decision-making so they feel implicated and part of the solution.

Generation Y: The “I don’t want to miss anything” Generation

Don’t forget that Generation Y grew up surrounded by technology. Their attachment to their smartphones and/or social media can be due to the fact that they just don’t want to miss out on anything. God forbid something happens in the world that they weren’t on top of. You may think that having so much news at your fingertips can cause an information overload, but chances are Generation Y absorbs such information like a sponge, with enough room to finish a report, conduct a presentation and sip a cup of coffee with friends after work.

How does this translate to Generation Y at work? Well, as a manager, remembering that these employees will want to be up-to-date with current trends, that they are likely to check their smartphones many, many, MANY times a day, and that they understand this new technological world better than most, so allowing them to navigate it may not always be a bad thing. These Millennials may be able to provide you with a lot of information about what’s going on in social media in order to improve marketing strategies and help your company become more known in virtual communities.

Thou shall be flexible

Generation Y are now, more than ever, juggling work and family life. Their big ambitions require more flexibility at work in order to get where they want to be in their careers while still being able to raise a family. Employers may need to come to terms that the typical strict work schedules and long-standing processes may drive away this generation of more adaptable, imaginative workers that yes, enjoy working, but probably feel that there are better approaches to work.

Breaking the mold on the traditional ways of doing things, and challenging what has always been in the workplace, can result in Generation Y at work being misinterpreted as having unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement. Whether or not these perceptions are actually true, as a manager, you should definitely consider offering them a better work-life balance, such as flexible hours and telecommuting. With such advanced technologies today, working from a distance has never been easier. Learn how to facilitate telecommuting within your organization.

Generation Y at work… or Generation WHY? at work

To facilitate the integration of a Generation Y employee into your organization, especially if it is filled with employees from older generations, it is important to detect who will have the tendency to be intimidated or threatened by their avant-garde nature. Those with personalities that are more resistant to change, that take little risks or who appreciate conventional work methods may be inclined to ask “why” Generation Y is reinventing how they do things around the office, “why” change is inevitable, and “why” are they asking for more. They will need help adjusting to new workplace trends. And chances are these people are more afraid of the changes that Generation Y at work may bring as opposed to the actual employee per se.

Managing Generation Y at work has definitely required some adjustments in order to meet their need for flexibility, fast-paced, multi-tasking, ambitious goals and quick promotions. Remember it’s also about benefits that go beyond money, that involve a fun ambiance, trendy gadgets and privileges. Yes, they may be likely to change jobs more often, to look for the next big experience, and at times to feel a certain entitlement, but these aspects do not take away from their hard-work, commitment and initiative.

In spite of generation gaps, find out what really motivates your employees. It’s what it all comes down to.

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