Don’t sweat the Gen Ys


Many pundits will have you believe that companies will be challenged dealing with the attitudes, habits and demands of the Millennial generation – workers younger than 30 also known as Generation Ys.

These skeptics assert that people under the age of 30 are needy and narcissistic. Generation Ys seek high pay and all the perks but aren’t truly committed to their organization. Though Millennials bridle at being criticized, they can be easily swayed by the next hot thing.  As this large cohort enters the workforce in increasing numbers, can companies afford to put their trust in these worrisome characterizations?

In consulting to dozens of North American firms, I found that Millennials were not that much different from their Gen X and Baby Boomer peers.  Not surprisingly, I became interested in new research from Jennifer Deal out of the Center for Creative Leadership.  Her findings – based on 13,000 online interviews – puncture many of the myths and stereotypes about what is wrong with the Millennial generation.  Highlights of the findings were recently published strategy+business magazine:

Stereotype #1 – Because they were overly indulged as youngsters, Millennials don’t want to be told what to do. As a result, they will be very difficult to manage and motivate.

The reality – This myth is not supported by the data.  In fact, the research shows that Generation Ys are much more willing to defer to authority than Gen Xers and Boomers. One possible explanation for this deference lies in the coaching they received from their parents and teachers growing up.  Millennials learned early on that doing what an authority figure tells them to do is more likely to result in success.  Consequently, they are more inclined to listen to management, if it can yield the same positive results.

For managers – Proactively coach and educate Millennials on the firms’ culture and what is expected of them.  

Stereotype #2 – Because they were overly indulged in their pre-work lives, Generation Ys will lack organizational loyalty. Companies should therefore expect higher turnover and more mercenary-like behavior. 

The reality – The findings showed that Generation Ys have about the same level of organizational fidelity as Boomers and Gen Xers.  This could trace to age-related issues: young people switch jobs more often than older workers.  Another possible explanation could be the recession the Millennials have had bad luck of finding themselves in. More difficult times tend to increase job switching.

For managers – Regularly canvass employees on their needs and attitudes.  Develop and communicate a strong employee value proposition, especially for top performers. 

Sterotype#3 –  Millennials aren’t really that interested in their work, or any work that is not “cool.”  As a result, it will be a challenge to motivate them.

The reality – The data clearly shows that Generation Ys are just as intrinsically motivated as Gen Xers and Boomers.  The negative perceptions– when they do exist – around Millennials may be more easily explained by age or economy-related issues than generational characteristics.  Furthermore, their lack of interest could merely be a function of poorly defined roles or a lack of autonomy.

For managers – Design roles that are stimulating and empowering for all employees.

Stereotype #4 – Millennials are motivated largely by high pay and cool perks, especially a work-life balance. Organizations will suffer financially trying to satisfy these unrealistic desires.

The reality – There is no correlation between Generation Ys and a strong desire for money.  Millennials are as motivated by perks and money as Gen Xers and Boomers.  For that matter, these extrinsic needs do not rank all that high for any group, on average.  The author suggests that the desire for money is more driven by title and role than by generational differences.  As well, lower paid workers (the status of most Millennials) will naturally want more money and perks than people at higher levels in the company.

The issue of work-life balance is one area where Generation Ys diverge from other groups.  According to the research, they are marginally more interested in having a better work-life balance than Boomers and Gen Xers.  This variance is more likely to be a result of life stage factors common to many Millennials (e.g., having young children) than larger generational shifts.  Moreover, they tend to believe that providing a work-life balance is a smart way for a company to get the most productivity from their employees.

For managers – Understand what intrinsic and extrinsic triggers will motivate your workforce as well as each employee.  When the optimal system is designed and implemented, ensure all employees have sufficient visibility into the compensation model and the performance measurement system.

When it comes to managing  Generation Ys, the key is to separate myth from fact, and to focus on creating an organizational culture that supports and motivates all employees regardless of when they were born.  To the Millennial-bashers, thou dost protest too much.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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