Generation Y. The Millennials. Their impact on the workforce created generational debate like none before. You’ve heard the stereotypes. The 22 year old graduate telling the General Manager on Day 2 how to do his job better and was bored and looking for a transfer to a more stimulating department by Week 3, perhaps one that wouldn’t be limiting his career advancement so much.
So who are GenY and are they really any different to the preceding generations?
If you were born from about 1980 to the mid 1990’s you proudly wear the label of Generation Y or Millennial. And yes, they are different to their older work colleagues. In many ways.
This is the generation that grew up at the same time as the emergence of the internet and social media. Older GenY can just remember a time when there wasn’t such a thing as being ‘on-line’, although that was when they were in primary school, so the memory is foggy. By the time they were teenagers the information revolution had arrived. GenY access and use online information in ways that are very different to those older than them. Most GenX and Baby Boomers use their technology to do the same things they used to do in the pre-technology era, only more efficiently. GenY are different. They have a totally new paradigm when it comes to information and technology. They are tribal and use their devices to manage the eco-system of their tribe.
GenY went to university as the default setting after completing high school and have emerged as the generation with huge debt, firstly from university fees and more recently with staggeringly high mortgages. If your GenY leaves you for a job paying only a few thousand dollars more, it really often is because of the money, to alleviate some of the mortgage stress.
Like other generations, GenY sees the world based on their experiences during their teenage years. As teenagers during the 90’s and early 2000’s they saw the world at its most unpredictable. Over this period Nelson Mandela was freed and became President of South Africa, the Soviet Union and Communism collapsed, the first Gulf War occurred, the internet and tech bubble expanded before spectacularly exploding and sending the world’s tech entrepreneurs broke. They laughed out loud at our irrational and over the top response to the Y2K bug. Then, most notably of all, 9/11 happened and the world changed forever.
How did these extraordinary events shape GenY? Overwhelmingly, they have seared into their consciousness that the world is an unpredictable place. But unlike older generations, GenY are not scared of the unpredictability. In fact, they embraced it from a young age because CNN and other 24 hour news channels de-mystified much of what was going on around them. GenY perfected the gap year and took off travelling. To them, the world is a very small and totally connected place.
They are not scared of difference in the ways older generations are. GenY are comfortable with and ready to accept others as they are and interested to learn from people of difference and diversity. Gender inequality totally confuses them and they are appalled at many of the behaviours they see in the workplace. The GenY sexes mix equally and comfortably which should be celebrated.
At work they are confident in their own abilities. They are better educated than many of their managers and take seriously the messages they see and hear about their rights. Too often they are let down by poor management systems that pay lip service to things like workplace bullying and without proper recourse to effective HR systems, they instead take to social media to amplify their grievances.
When Baby Boomers and GenX were let down by poor management or cynical workplace systems, they tended to internalise their complaints, knowing that their options were limited. GenY believe the world is their oyster, so vote with their feet and via Twitter when their value or belief systems are compromised.
Never forget, this is the Xbox, Play Station and on-line shopping generation. Their brains are hard-wired to expect instant gratification when they press the right buttons. Place them into situations where there is no regular recognition or reward for what they do and you will lose them very quickly. They want stimulus, variety and an opportunity to constantly learn new skills. Cutting off their internet access at work or barring certain websites is akin to caveman management. You may as well light a fire in the middle of the office and spit roast a woolly mammoth.
Do not believe the nonsense that is pedalled about GenY being lazy. Like every other group, they exhibit the full range of workplace behaviours. As a cohort however, when they are energised around a cause and inspired by authentic leadership and supportive culture, they have an extraordinarily high work output. Most GenY have already thought of better, more efficient ways to get their work done than via the inflexible systems that exist in their offices today. But they are waiting for the quid pro quo before offering the solution to their GenX or Baby Boomer boss. If you fail to provide the type of workplace that inspires them, not only will they quit, but you might just find yourself in direct competition with that same GenY who had the courage to start up their own micro business. Possibly they’ve already done so, while still working for you.
GenY have a way of making life very uncomfortable for bad bosses and tired workplaces. But if you think they are tough, just wait for GenZ who are finishing high school and entering the workforce now.