Management techniques to capture Generation Y's heart and mind
by Karen Gately
Recognising and adapting to generational differences is an important priority for any leader. Leveraging the full potential of a team takes understanding each person in the group, and knowing how to get the best from them. While each person is unique, certain beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are common among people of each generation. It’s important not to follow blanket stereotypes, but understanding the unique characteristics of each generation will allow you to target your efforts to attract, engage and retain people in these groups.
Many of the leaders I work with find Generation Y workers particularly challenging to manage. Reflecting on my own experiences, Baby Boomers tend to be especially perplexed and frustrated by Gen Y. These younger members of our workforce have a reputation for being short-term focused, holding unrealistically high expectations and lacking loyalty. Referred to also as ‘Millennials’ they are also often described as being demanding, impatient, self centred and opinionated. Tending to stay in one role for only two years on average, this ‘job hunting’ generation creates a staff turnover nightmare for many leaders.
Born between 1982 and 2004, it is estimated that by 2025 Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. Like any other before or after them, Generation Y holds expectations and behave in ways unique to them. Despite the poor rep they often get, what they offer is far from all bad; in my experience this generation is just as likely as any other to make a positive contribution to your business. The key lies in your ability to engage both their hearts and their minds. An engaged and talented Millennial is likely to bring passion and independent thinking that will enable any business to thrive.
Characteristics of Millennials
Millennials tend to ask why, a lot. Before they get on board with anything, they want to understand why they should. Why is it important? Why should I do that? Why are we going in this direction? Why aren’t we doing something else? Gen Y wants to understand what you are thinking and why you are thinking it before they will buy in and sign up for the journey. Once they are on board, they want to continue to understand why that makes sense. Helping Gen Y to see why anything they are asked or encouraged to do matters, and is vital to keeping them engaged.
They also tend to be ambitious; Gen Y needs to know how they are progressing. Eager to learn, grow and advance, career management is an important strategy to keep Millennials with your business over time. If steps up a hierarchical ladder are not an option in your organisation, provide Millennials with the opportunity to develop through experience. For example, include them on project teams and committees, give them time to spend working in other roles or supporting colleagues from whom they can learn.
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Members of Gen Y have a strong desire to make a meaningful contribution. Having an impact on the world through their work is particularly important to this generation of worker. Unlike other generations who are happy getting their job done, Gen Y want to know they are making a worthwhile difference.They are more likely to choose to work for an organisation that does something they believe is important. Equally, they are more likely to leave if they can’t buy in to the mission and vision of your business. They are also inclined to hold expectations that their employer maintain high standards of social responsibility.
Millennials also value freedom and autonomy: they are independently minded individuals who need to be empowered in order to thrive. Holding them accountable comes with empowering them to take full ownership of their job. Millennials expect you to give them the opportunity to drive – free of oversight and direction. In other words, they want to be left to get on with doing what they need to. They expect the freedom to make decisions and autonomy to determine the best way of going about their work. Establishing clear boundaries within which they are free to operate is critical to achieving balance between providing the freedom they want and supervision or coaching they need.
Optimism and positivity are among the most endearing characteristics of the Y generation. Having grown up in times of dramatic change and advancement, Millennials live with the philosophy that practically anything can happen in life. They live for the moment and believe you should enjoy life while you can. When they think something is important, they are typically willing to give it and choose to believe in their ability to succeed.
As a generation dealing with rapid change, they tend to respond well to it. This is a generation who watched their parents divorce and friends come out of the closet as gay. They have seen advances in technology older generations imagined only possible in the realms of science fiction. Gen Y is more open to change than any generation that came before. This means they also expect change, become restless and move on quickly. Born in the era of technology, they need constant stimulation and love to share their ideas about how things can be done differently. Harness their creativity by ensuring they know their ideas are valued and respected.
They also expect to be appreciated and treated with respect. Feedback and acknowledgement are both key to keeping Gen Y engaged and productive. If they believe their talents and efforts are recognised they will work harder. Their ambitious nature means they are especially encouraged when people in senior positions are aware of the contribution they make and potential they offer. Less materialistic than other generations, they typically respond well to being thanked with a pat on the back and ‘step up’ opportunity. Bring an attitude of give and take to your relationship with Millennials and they are more likely to do the same in turn.
Perhaps one of their downfalls, they have a short attention span. The way you communicate with Millennials will have a big impact on your ability to get their attention and influence their thinking. Not at all inclined to read lengthy emails or newsletters, this is a group who expect information to be delivered in bite-size chunks they can readily digest. It’s important to keep having conversations, but also leverage online forums to connect and deliver your message. Keep the content fresh – Gen Y will only visit your company intranet if it’s dynamic, regularly offering new information and features.
How do you manage a Millennial?
Managing Generation Y is a challenge that demands an open minded, respectful, committed and engaging approach from leaders. Capturing the hearts and minds of Millennials demands that you be open-minded to different ways of doing things, including how they get their jobs done. Being respectful is a huge priority; appreciate their contribution and make reasonable demands of their time. Remember they have lives outside of work and expect you to allow them flexibility to balance their priorities.
Be committed both to their career and them as employees. Provide opportunities for them to learn, grow and advance. Demonstrate you are willing to invest in them and support their career success. Also be engaging: build a compelling vision of the future and inspire them to commit to the journey. Allow them to see why your mission matters and the importance of the role they can play.
Although Gen Y employees share many of the same characteristics, do not assume all stereotypes. They are hardworking and can be hugely beneficial to your organisation, if you know how to utilise their unique set of skills and personalities.