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Don' t mention the S-word Don’t mention the S-word !

This is a true story about Gen Y on the work floor. Every year over again when the trees in our garden are losing their leafs, my girlfriend starts dreaming about going on winter holidays. It is also the time when I try to avoid ending up in our annual conversation on skiing. When friends start talking about their planned skiing holidays, my girlfriend fiancée 🙂 picks up with the tradition of trying to convince me to head to the Alps for a skiing or snowboarding trip. So far I have successfully managed to come up with an alternative holiday trip and make her change her mind. We have been booking a last minute vacation to the sun or a city trip to snowy Berlin, and this year our honeymoon, but feel free to suggest an alternative for the coming winter(s)!

No egoboost

Now, what does this have to do with Gen Y on the work floor, you probably want to know? Before I come to that, let me explain why I don’t want to go skiing or snowboarding. Firstly, because I am a scaredy-cat who remembers the annual TV news topic on the air ambulances (‘gipsvluchten’ in Dutch) after the skiing season. Secondly, I am also convinced that my ego would have a pretty hard time when I am being surpassed by friends on the course, or even worse by 8-year olds. If there is one thing I know about skiing, it is that you will always spot the difference between someone who learned to slide down the slopes as a fearless young kid and those who started skiing at a later age. The same can be said about many other skills and that is exactly where my story on Gen Y and Human Resources Management starts.

Gen Y goggles

As baby boomers are leaving the work floor to enjoy their well-deserved retirements, their places are being taken by today’s new work floor entrants, Gen Y. Being a Y myself – even being one with a big, but easy-to-bruise ego – I do feel a bit uncomfortable when writing this down. But, it is a true fact that Gen Y is at least bringing some unique skills to the job market. Much has been written about Gen Y as the most advertising and technology-savvy generation and the consequences on how advertisers should communicate in today’s world. Let’s think of conversation managers, a new function (with many different titles) that is recently created in many companies. Who would you select as your ear and voice when listening and talking to today’s consumers? A Gen Y candidate who grew up in today’s fully wired world or a candidate that might have learned intellectually how to use the newest communication technologies and social media? Right.
Of course the way Gen Y incorporates technologies in their daily life can also be productive in many other functions. Think of innovation, one of my personal business passions. Innovation often issues from a clash between different personal perspectives and Gen Y will definitely bring in a different view as their beliefs are not built on how things have been done for the past decades. Thanks to their baby boom parents Gen Y will also take and defend an own point-of-view. The baby boom parents and teachers imprinted the notion of individual emancipation in Gen Y’s minds. At early age, Gen Y was told that they are special with an own opinion and should always be critical to what others are telling them. Being raised in that atmosphere of equal relationships and co-decision makes them good team players, but also poses some important challenges to their managers.

Managing Gen Y

Gen Y has also been referred to as the AND/AND-generation, indicating that they have a constant need for instant gratification. Now, my Gen Y ego has less of a problem to admit this is indeed a true fact. When we have an idea, we want to realize it straight away and do not easily take ‘no’ as answer. Luckily, again we can blame it on our baby boomer parents. Being raised in double-income families – or others maybe by divorced parents in a battle to be the favorite parent – Gen Y was given a lot of chances when growing up and got to experience many different things in life. I guess every millennial has heard the sentence ‘in my time, we didn’t go to restaurants, on holidays, etc.’ at least once in their youth. Gen Y also brings this state-of-mind to the work floor. Work/life balance is without a doubt a much discussed topic in many companies, this also holds for mine. Sure Gen Y understands that work needs to be done, but they also think having time to spend with your friends and beloved ones or to explore the world is at least equally important. They work to live rather than live to work. ‘Don’t be rich, live rich’ is the more creative mantra of two Belgian digital nomads. Although they describe themselves as thirty somethings, I am pretty sure they have at least some Gen Y characteristics and their lifestyle is definitely inspiring for many of those. What they did is as simple as brilliant. They packed their bags, laptops and iPhones to travel to some of the most beautiful countries all over the work. Being digitally connected to their existing clients and prospects, they kept on working while doing so. Talking about balancing work and life!

As said, Gen Y can be perfect team players, but another important challenge for employers is to stimulate collaboration with employees from other generations as Gen Y deals with authority in other ways compared to previous generations. They will simply reject any form of dictatorial authority in the work place; therefore their managers should be using a more emotionally intelligent approach. Instead of directing and telling what to do, ‘mentoring’ will probably proof to be a much better way to manage Gen Y employees. They will be more loyal to companies where they can stand up for their beliefs and get the feeling they have an impact on their career. Coaching and mentoring is the ideal way for organizations to guide and help them in taking decisions and their career. It also works the other way around. In many companies reverse mentoring might be the best solution for some business issues. Gen Y employees can be great mentors for colleagues in dealing with new technologies, software, social media, etc. I am pretty sure there is nothing more satisfying than helping out others by sharing your personal expertise or skills. Ironically, baby boomers who are now leaving the work floor understand Gen Y better than Gen X does. Why? Pretty simple, they raised them, remember? That is why I think this finding a solution for this challenge will only more important for organizations that want to attract and retain their talent.

Tell me what you think

I guess I am lucky with a Gen Y expert in my company who knows all about the specific needs and wants of Gen Y, but still I am very curious to hear how your company deals with these challenges! Perhaps you are experiencing another challenge which I did not mention? Let me know, I’d be happy to discuss with you. And of course, any alternatives for a skiing trip are still very much welcome!

Posted in Insights