Stop Picking on Gen Y

Nov 4 08:38 2008 Kim A Huggins Print This Article

The truth is that there are many misconceptions about this generation and it’s time to understand and engage them rather than dismiss them as young, inexperienced brats. 

Stop Picking on Gen Y:  They Are Our Future Leaders

Enough is enough.  The Gen Y’s are really getting a bad rap.  I’m sure you’ve heard it or maybe you’ve even said it:  “they have no work ethic.”  “they expect to come in and be promoted right away even though they have no experience.”  “they want to wear their yoga pants and flip flops to work.”   The truth is that there are many misconceptions about this generation and it’s time to understand and engage them rather than dismiss them as young,Guest Posting inexperienced brats. 

Who is Gen Y?

This generation was born between the years of 1982-2000 and are currently ages 7-26.  Today they represent about 15% of the workforce.  In the next three years that number will more than double.  They have experienced school shootings, September 11th, Clinton/Lewinsky and the Go Green movement.  They are the most technologically savvy of all generations and have multi-tasking skills that many of us can only dream of.   They volunteer in the community, work part-time and start their own businesses as early as age 10.  

Why then is there so much animosity around this generation?  To understand, let’s explore 5 misconceptions often associated with Gen Y.

1.       They have no work ethic

This is the comment that I hear most often.   Many employers and managers feel that Gen Y’s do not want to work over a set number of hours a day or put in the time necessary to get the job done.  Ask a Gen Y and they will tell you that they do have a strong work ethic as long as the work they are doing is something they consider important.  They are attracted to a work environment where they are viewed as a value added, contributing member.  They prefer not to have to do menial work or engage in work processes that are outdated and inefficient.  They are committed to getting the job done but it will most likely be done in a different way than the other generations. 

Tip:  Be clear and set expectations up front with Gen Y’s and they will produce.  Make sure that they understand the why behind what they are being asked to do. 

2.       They are disrespectful

Gen Y’s have grown up in a world where relationships are very different.  The family unit has changed significantly.  One-third of Gen Y’s were born to single, unwed moms.  Many others were raised in families with mixed ethnic or racial backgrounds, grandparents or relatives playing a key role in their upbringing, same-sex parents. That’s not to say that Gen Y’s don’t feel the love because they certainly do.  They are an integral part of their family, participate in major family decisions and share a mutual level of respect with the adults around them.  They challenge decisions, ask a lot of questions and offer dissenting opinions.  This type of behavior has been condoned and encouraged.

It’s when they enter the work environment that this becomes an obstacle.  Gen Y’s approach to authority is much more informal.  They have no problem questioning a decision or suggesting alternative ways of doing things.  They take the concept of “open door policy” literally.  This often gets interpreted as being rude or disrespectful of the organizational hierarchy. 

Tip:  Create an environment of mutual respect with your Gen Y employees and assume their intentions are good.   If their behavior is not conducive to the work environment, help them understand what they can do differently.  They thrive on receiving feedback, being mentored and developed. 

3.       They lack communication skills

Think about the primary modes of communication for this generation – text messaging and instant messaging.  While they all have cell phones, they rarely use them to talk live rather they use them to send text messages.  In doing this they create short, direct and concise messages.  My Gen Y nephew explained the way they communicate like this “In your childhood, you probably called one or two close friends to have long talks each night.  Now we have social networking websites, like Facebook, where we can have hundreds of “friends” with whom we communicate simultaneously.  We find it easier to stay in touch via new technology, but don’t think that we are communication deficient.”

They also have created a whole new world of acronyms.  A few months ago, my teenage son asked me to review a paper he had written.  As I went through it, I noticed that he had used the letter “U” for the word “you.”  I pointed out to him his “typos” to which he replied “Oh mom, what is wrong with the English language?  Who spells out the word “you” when you can simply use one letter?”  It will certainly be interesting to see how their new language influences our world over the next several years.  

Gen Y’s don’t lack communication skills.  They communicate more frequently than most of us.  It’s just that they do so in different ways. 

Tip:  Acknowledge this difference and find ways to leverage their modes of communication while assisting them in determining how to balance verbal and technological communication. 

4.       Their focus is on money and promotions

This is true to a certain extent.  A survey conducted by Pew Research Center indicates that 81% of 18- to 25-year olds surveyed feel that getting rich is their generation’s most important or second most important life goal.  Let’s put this in perspective though.  In an article posted in USA today, economist Robert Frank of Cornell University explains that “young people today may earn more in dollars than their parents did, but their money buys less.”  Costs for basics such as: housing, health insurance and education have significantly increased while income growth for middle class has slowed.  The US dollar today does not go as far as it used to so the concept of “getting rich” becomes more of a priority for Gen Y. 

One Gen Y afforded me the following perspective “There is a large emphasis on monetary gain in our society.  The do-work-for-a-tangible reward system has been the basis of our hard scholastic work since kindergarten (when we were taught to strive for the A or the “good job” sticker rather than for the sake of self-improvement).  The educational system is very much based in rewarding hard work immediately, which leads many Gen Y’s to expect that in the real world.”

Good pay is important to Gen Y, there is no question about that.  However, other aspects of employment are also very important. 

Tip:  Gen Y’s place a huge emphasis on development, feedback and learning opportunities.  They look for creative, challenging projects and colleagues that are willing and able to share knowledge.  When determining whether to stay with an employer or leave, Gen Y’s will typically focus on the opportunities that exist for growth and development and not so much on what they are getting paid. 

5.       They are self-centered and spoiled

For many Gen Y’s, life has revolved around them.  They’ve been afforded many opportunities.  They have been involved in various extracurricular activities.  They have been raised under the notion of “you can do anything or be anything you want to be.”  Their parents and families have been heavily involved in their lives.  Therefore, they have high expectations for themselves and their employers.  This isn’t such a bad thing.  In fact, other generations have benefited already and will continue to benefit from demands made by this generation.  Flexible work hours, more casual business dress and making work “fun” have been influenced by Gen Y.    Yes, they know what they want, they are willing to ask for it and they challenge the status quo.  At the same time they are globally and environmentally conscious.  They value diversity and pride themselves on being inclusive.  They truly want to make the world a better place.  There’s really no shame in that. 

Tip:  Find ways to engage Gen Y’s on a variety of projects and utilize their strengths.  When possible, offer options in regard to work schedules, benefits and training opportunities.  Seek to understand by building awareness and initiating conversations about generational differences in your organization. 

The bottom line is that Gen Y will lead our world someday and that day is not too far off.   They have many, many positive attributes to bring to the workplace.  I hope that those of us from other generations will learn to show them the respect they deserve and leverage what they have to offer. 

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About Article Author

Kim A Huggins
Kim A Huggins

Kim Huggins is the President of K HR Solutions, LLC based in Harleysville, PA.  Her company offers services in the areas of organizational effectiveness, leadership development and team dynamics.  Kim is a nationally recognized trainer and speaker on the topic of Generational Differences. 

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