Working with Generation Y

Diana Vollmer |

CHICAGO — I often hear complaints about young people in their 20s being “the worst” employees. And there’s a tendency to think that since there is an abundance of out-of-work talent available for hire, you don’t need them. Do you?
These twentysomethings — referred to as Generation Y — are hard to manage, aren’t great at following orders, don’t stay with companies long, and can seem like more trouble than they’re worth. You may be in a position to hire others with levels of expertise and maturity that are more closely matched to your own, making for a much more comfortable situation.
On the other hand, young people can bring new vitality and ideas to companies striving to succeed. Understanding this generation and communicating with its members can be critical to the future of your business. It might be a good time to start trying to attract them.
Generation Y includes individuals born between (approximately) 1980 and 2000. Their parents are Baby Boomers and members of Generation X. They have no memory of a Cold War, dial telephones or typewriters. As children, they were kept busy with music lessons and soccer practices. That’s an oversimplification, but it helps form an image.
Many companies are looking for advice on communicating and working with Gen Y. And not only do businesses want to have better working relationships with this group, they also want to sell to them as well. is a good resource on the subject, and it defines several characteristics of Generation Y that can be helpful in working with them.MONEY DOESN’T EQUAL HAPPINESS
Most people thought this when they were young, but Baby Boomers eventually focused on accumulating money and possessions in the hope that they would lead to happiness.
Generation Y has seen the consequences of these actions — unemployment, divorce, bankruptcy — and often follows a different track. The enticement of more money in exchange for working weekends, for instance, does not motivate this group.HAPPINESS IS IN THE EXPERIENCE
The experience itself interests members of Generation Y. Working with friends is important; you might find that when one friend quits, others quit, too. The team matters, and there is little separation between family, friends and work.THEY DON’T WANT TO “PAY THEIR DUES”
When you see your parents and your friends’ parents laid off after years of service, where is the motivation to  follow the same path? And at the same time, this generation thinks, if you don’t like a job, you should quit.
If an employer expects an employee to do “grunt” work before they can move up, they probably won’t stay. They don’t want to climb the ladder, since they’ve seen other people try with poor results.LEARNING IS A PLUS
Generation Y will do whatever you ask if they can learn something at the same time. They’ve spent much of their younger lives learning in highly structured activities. They will follow rules and may not argue, but they can’t necessarily sit still at a desk.
Mentoring will help deal with Gen Y; a learning experience is a currency that continues the indulgent parenting to which they are accustomed. Baby Boomers had to compete against each other and do much of the work themselves. Gen Yers, on the other hand, like to talk to a mentor several times a day, every day. They want and need constant feedback. They want to be a team member and care about their work.EXPECT AUTHENTICITY
Mentoring, building teams, and cutting out the gruntwork takes an honest commitment that shows you care about your employees. This honesty creates transparency, and you will become somewhat vulnerable — a very unusual position if you are a Baby Boomer.THEY MULTITASK TO PRODUCTIVITY
As strange as it may seem with their iPods and text-messaging, Gen Y approaches work differently. But if you assume they can be productive, you are probably correct.
Information and data are important to this group. Everything is answered by the Internet, and creating new ideas by synthesizing this data is a common Gen Y goal.NICENESS COUNTS
Baby Boomers were trained to be leaders. Generation X was isolated and cynical. Generation Y is sunny; they do kind things for each other. They have great social skills. The workplace isn’t always set up to reward this characteristic, however. It is usually set up to be competitive — one person against another.
The common element among all generations is that everyone has the same fundamental values. Everyone wants to learn, cooperate and help others. The difference with Gen Y is that they won’t go to work unless these needs are met. When they make a comment that there are no jobs, it means that there are no “good” jobs.
Members of Gen Y are expected to change careers five times in their lives, on average, and change jobs every 18 months. They believe in multiple revenue streams to offset their parents’ reliance on a single company, and can be extremely entrepreneurial. Others might see this as high-risk, but if one project doesn’t pan out, there’s another waiting to be tried.THE EMPLOYER PERSPECTIVE
Employers must understand that jobs must emphasize learning opportunities. Employers must genuinely care about Gen Y individuals and their careers without making everything seem like drudgery.
Branding (and becoming) a socially “good” company is important in attracting this group, and there’s nothing wrong with having fun at work. Contrary to historical belief, you can have fun and make money at the same time.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at, 415-577-6544.


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