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Bringing out the best in Gen Y

Gen Y (born between 1981 - 1999), otherwise known as the "Millennial kids", Generation "WHY" and "internet Generation". They are the next generation of professionals, managers and leaders.

Gen Ys are tech savvy, constantly connected and highly educated. In most advanced economies, they have experienced greater economic prosperity and convenience and are more nurtured than preceding generations, all of which have shaped their attitude to life, work, jobs and their bosses.

They are generally characterised as impatient, demanding, self absorbed with little employer or job loyalty. There has been, and will continue to be, a myriad of articles on the problems associated with Gen Y in the workforce.

Is this negative press fair? Is this generation the product of poor parenting? Or are their attitudes and beliefs in themselves the result of parenting that has nurtured a sense of entitlement and instilled confidence to challenge and ask for what they want. Many have also witnessed the impact of their parent's work-life balance stresses and concluded that there is more to life than a job.

Irrespective of our own individual perceptions on Gen Y, there are currently 4.65 million Australians in Gen Y, comprising of 21% of our workforce and by 2020, this number will increase to 35% 1. This means we can't afford to discount them and the value they can bring to a business.

This group are not intentionally demanding or disrespectful. The fact of the matter is, generation Y provides us with an emerging mind-set that many managers struggle to relate to, let alone to engage and retain. In general they challenge old fashioned paradigms such as 'a job for life' or the idea of hierarchical structures where position alone commands respect. Even in many traditional hierarchical societies some of the customs, entitlements and barriers that have been set by national and workplace cultures are now regarded as 'old fashioned'. Quite clearly Gen Ys are less tolerant of an authoritarian style of management and respect has to be earned by managers and leaders from this group, irrespective of age or seniority.

iHR Australia's 2010 Australian Professional Employee Values (APEV) Survey demonstrated that this generation expect their managers and leaders to be trustworthy and decisions to be fair and ethical. This group expect and need meaning both in terms of their relationship and job responsibilities. They want to have friendships with their peers and expect their managers to connect with them not just professionally but also personally.

They want and need frequent feedback and communication about their performance, development and career and thrive under a management style of mentoring and coaching.

Tips for managing your Gen Ys

Select for attitude not necessarily for grades. Invest the time in interviews to understand their attitudes and likely behaviours, in particular their ability to problem solve.

Connect by showing a genuine interest in their lives outside the workplace without interfering.

Coach and guide them and don't try and control them or take over, it doesn't work. Gen Y want to implement and do themselves and be trusted to do so.

Walk the talk and earn their respect by being a great manager or leader. Be emotionally intelligent in the relationship and create a culture of mutual respect.

Share the vision but manage by short-term objectives and goals e.g. quarterly objectives and monthly KPIs. Gen Ys can become distracted easily and lose focus. The annual performance appraisal on its own does not suffice.

Direct - shadow - empower when they are learning new tasks or skills. Be clear about expectations and performance outcomes. Shadow them when there are inexperienced but also be prepared to let go when they are nearly there and empower them to make decisions and act on their own when they can.

Create development opportunities which sometimes requires some creative thinking but can also be very rewarding for both parties. Look for opportunities to share your own tasks.

Provide regular feedback which must be constructive, clear and timely. Be honest without over praising and over protection which can be as damaging as destructive feedback.

Ask and tell - Don't be afraid to ask them about their expectations and no doubt they will tell you but also be very clear about what you expect as a manager. Make it a two way street and foster a culture of open and transparent communication.

Exit gracefully - It's unlikely that a Gen Y employee will stay in any one organisation for a significantly lengthy period. Therefore, accept that at some stage they will move on and when this does happen, it should be done in a way that is a positive experience. Sometimes this means helping them and guiding them towards their next move.

Conclusion

Are this group challenging - yes. Do they sometimes need reminding and understanding on what is realistic and achievable - yes. Can they easily get distracted and lose focus - yes. Do they have their fair share of talent, poor and good performers like every other generation - yes. Does it mean catering to their every need, expectation and often restlessness or that a one size approach fits all - no.

But can they be committed, loyal, hard working and a significant contributor to a business - absolutely, when they are developed and nurtured in a culture of respect, openness and transparency and a management style that focuses on encouragement, development and empowerment.

And yes, it does mean that if we are serious about motivating and retaining this generation in our workplace, we are forced to think about our leadership styles and redefine our traditional work environments.

1 Mccrindle Research, New Generations at Work, Media Release - August 2010

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