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Article No.: 14-8. August 1, 2014

Article Title: Setting the Stage for Success with Gen Y and Millenials

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., CEQC, SPHR

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This is an exciting time in the workplace in that we have five generations working side by side.  It’s also a confusing time, since the generations have different influences from their growing up years and therefore different approaches to life and work.  The two youngest generations, the Yers and the Millennials, often confuse the older workplace generations.  This article is focused on leveraging the strengths of the Yers and Millennials to get them up for success individually and ensure the effectiveness of the entire team.
 
The research for this article is based on interviews that I’ve conducted with workers between the ages of 15 and 23 (Millennials) and 24 to 37 (the Generation Yers).  Beginning in January 2011, I interviewed or conducted focus groups with 570 Gen Yers and 525 Millennials around the U.S.  I was pleasantly surprised by the common ground across these two generations and the three older generations in the workplace (Radio Babies; Baby Boomers; and Gen Xers).  The key, I’ve discovered, is finding ways to enhance communication and minimize conflict so we can all work together effectively and productively.
 
Some background on the Gen Yers and Millennials may be a helpful foundation in understanding what these two generations are seeking from life and work.  The Gen Yers, I discovered, relate most to the Radio Babies (who are between age 69 and 84)!  When asked the reasons for this affinity, many of the Yers told me that they respect the Radio Babies because of the hard work that was required of them during difficult times when they were young.  Despite many challenges the Radio Babies built our country after World Word II and used their sweat equity and ingenuity to build companies that are still successful today.  Gen Yers want to do the same, despite this country’s economy and living in a world literally filled with terror.
 
The self-esteem of the Millennials generation is high, in part because their Generation X and Baby Boomer parents focused on giving frequent positive feedback as they were growing up and requiring their teachers and coaches to do the same.  As a result, Millennials are coming into the workforce with the expectation that they have solid ideas and talent to contribute and that this should put them on a fast track to success.  That success, they believe, will surpass their parents’ accomplishments and provide them with work-life integration so they can work to live rather than live to work.
 
In my interviews, I asked Gen Yers and Millennials what they want from the workplace in order to be inspired and happy.  The first response was often that they want current technology and resources in terms of time with mentors and their boss.  The Millennials in particular said that they’re accustomed to having the latest software at home and are forced to work with outdated technology once they get to the workplace.  This is a big letdown for them.
 
Both generations want to work for organizations that are giving back to society and helping make the planet a healthier, safer place to live.  They seek out organizations that proactively initiate programs such as providing paid time off for their employees to work with their favorite charities or volunteer as a Big Brother or Big Sister.
 
Both generations expect a mentorship culture, one in which they have access to both peers and more seasoned co-workers who can share their expertise about how to use technology; ways to navigate the organizational culture; and how to handle conflict positively.  A key ingredient for a happy workplace for Gen Yers and Millennials is feedback, and lots of it.  Once-a-year performance reviews will not be sufficient to keep these generations happy.  Daily recognition and guidance are expected and will help them thrive in the workplace.
 
One of the biggest requests from Millennials that I heard was for assistance with handling difficult situations and challenging people.  Millennials are accustomed to pouring their hearts out on Twitter or texting friends to discuss personal disagreements.  They are not adept at face-to-face disagreements and turning conflict into collaboration.  This is an opportunity for coaching.  Some of this coaching can and does come from their parents, with whom many Millennials are close, and they also seek out people at work who will provide the same guidance.
 
It’s no wonder that communication across all five generations in the workplace is a challenge.  Think of the many options we have on a daily basis:

  • Face to face, in person or electronically (SKYPE, for example)
  • Text
  • Instagram
  • Selfies
  • Voicemail
  • Letter or memo

Unless we focus on some basic tenets of excellent communication, it’s easy to misinterpret peoples’ meaning and be at odds with coworkers.  Across generations, I encourage active listening – maintaining eye contact when face to face; asking open ended questions; and not interrupting.  These “old” simple principles of respect still operate.  If we tailor our message to the other person’s interest or common ground within our company, the likelihood of miscommunication won’t be as great.  Respect can be shown by asking questions that build understanding and sensitivity to others’ perspectives and recognizing when someone makes an excellent point or contribution.  Especially when talking with Millennials and Yers who are the newest addition to the workplace, it’s important to be crystal clear and set specific expectations.  The “let them sink or swim” approach won’t be successful. 
 
I’ve found that when I give respect, regardless of the generation with whom I’m talking, I generally get respect in return.

 

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