Managing generation Y (How to manage my brother)

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I realized that managing Genertion Y requires a huge shift in thinking when I was giving career advice to my twenty-three year-old brother, Erik. He is a top recruit at a top investment-banking firm and he just got a promotion ahead of everyone else in his year.

And he’s looking for a job. He fought very hard to get that promotion. I told him I thought he owed it to the guy who promoted him to stay for a bit. Here’s the email response I got:

“I don’t feel loyalty to the senior people here. I don’t think they are treating me well at all. I asked the head of my group if I could change groups to get more experience in what I’m interested in and he said no. I’ve just been put on a time consuming project where I won’t learn anything and it’s going to last six months. I told the head of my group that I thought it was a bad project for my development, and his response was that he’s the one who controls if I get promoted, and he wants me to do it. I also was put on this project in lieu of doing something I’ve never done before, which would be very good for my development.”

At first I was shocked to read the email. I have been grateful for every promotion I’ve ever received. But you know what? My brother is right. He doesn’t owe the guy anything for giving him a promotion because my brother isn’t getting interesting work right now.

My brother is not unique to his generation. He is the norm. Especially for high performers. Here’s a list of ways to effectively manage young twentysomethings so that they will do good work for you.

As you read it, instead of thinking critically of the new generation, think about yourself. I have found that as I challenge my own assumptions with my brother’s way of thinking, I see more possibilities for myself.

1. When you are interviewing young people, don’t ask them why they left their last job. Or their last three jobs in three years. Who cares? Instead ask about their commitment to doing good work for you right now. Don’t bother thinking you’re hiring someone to stay at your company longer than you can keep the learning curve steep.

2. Manage a young worker every single day. But think of yourself as a coach. Check in. Help prioritize, teach tricks, steer their path. Independence is definitely not what young people are all about. They want mentoring, teamwork and responsibility. Just be sure to give them work that is challenging enough to them to warrant daily input from a coach.

3. Make the work meaningful. They want to know how their work fits into the big picture. How does it help the company? How does it help the team? And don’t even think of delegating those projects that involve five hours pushing papers through a copy machine: Outsource to Kinkos.

4. Forget about nine to five. No one needs it. Figure out the hours you need to be able to definitely see this person’s face. The rest of the hours are up to her. If you tell her you need to see her face nine to five, you better be sitting next to her the whole day, saying things that could never be emailed.

5. Learn to use IM. When a whole generation is addicted to it, you can’t ignore it. Baby boomer lifestyle is not going to dominate the office forever. Make the switch now before you are too slow to keep up with conversation.

6. Don’t ask young people to be patient. Why should they be patient? Who does that serve? As long as they deliver something to you every day, and they are not rude, leave them alone. Let them dream that they can achieve in one year what took you ten. Maybe they can. Don’t take it personally.

14 replies
  1. Sam
    Sam says:

    ok I agree the employee has no incentive to be loyal but not because the job is “boring”.
    I mean “boring” is really subjective isn’t it? What your brother finds boring may be interesting to the next person. Furthermore; the project may actually be very important to the success of the company.
    If you are getting paid to do this job, do the job. The boss may not have time to dress it up with laser lights and sock puppets to make it “fun” enough for your brother’s attention span.
    And patience actually does serve a purpose. Rushing through anything in work or life could cause problems. Timing is important.

  2. Camille
    Camille says:

    Sam – “Laser lights and sock puppets” is the funniest thing I have read in a long time!

    As a 40-year-old owner of a small business, I found this article in response to needing to understand the mind of a 28-year-old woman I just interviewed for a sales position. I may be an old fogie, but I definitely have the mindset that if you are being paid, just do your job!

    There is a sense of entitlement that younger people seem to have that they deserve more before they have paid their dues. Work has to be “interesting, meaningful, challenging, personally rewarding” etc and my mantra has been “work is work, that’s why they call it work”. It’s a challenge to bend to this Gen Y way of thinking…

    • Russ Williams
      Russ Williams says:

      Hi Camille!

      “Pay their dues”? Why? I’m on the Gen X/Gen Y cusp, and have some traits from each, but I’ve yet to see a valid case for asking someone to pay their dues.

      There’s just work, and either the person is capable of doing it or they are not. If not, is it that they lack specific experience in some particular area, or that they lack some fundamental skills? If they are capable, why not let them do it?

      If the only answer you can give is that they’ve not been around for long enough (“not enough ‘experience'”) or haven’t proven their loyalty yet, you might want to think about why you’re asking for such things. Do you really need them? Or do you just want the work done?

  3. Bianca - Gen Y
    Bianca - Gen Y says:

    I had to laugh at this article & others covering the same topic. I am an ‘older’ gen Y (28) & can really relate to some of the comments / conclusions. It is uncanny how similar we are to our peers at similar age groups. I am ‘mentoring’ a younger gen Y (23) & find her really difficult at times. Somebeody who is 23 can’t be a ‘senior’ anything, you get that with years experience. A lot of people I meet in the workplace in the younger gen y group have this perception that they are ‘senior’, ha ha. News for them. What do they suppose they’ll be doing after 30, super super senior manager second in charge, or some arbitary title conjured up to falsely give a sense of achievement! Very funny.

  4. Nikola
    Nikola says:

    While I understand your point it is far too narrow to my understanding. Ok that’s all valid for a teenager working at a job with a learning period of up to a week and not having to communicate with clients.

    However there are things like business hours during which your company serves clients. Cost of tutoring an employee that will not actually stay. Cost of micromanaging baby-like behavior. And the word responsibility doesn’t really fit the case. How responsible is it actually to leave in the middle of a project?

    It all sounds really fun and inspiring, but really there are flaws in this generation’s understanding of personal values. The main problem as I see it is that they don’t really respect themselves. They just expect someone else to provide them with the opportunity for that too.

  5. Terrence Wing
    Terrence Wing says:

    The conversation on the generation gaps is one I enjoy immensely. The challenge that comes with incorporating any new generation into the workforce is the lack of cultural infra-structure.

    An employer should identify what they need to survive the challenge of longevity, refit their infrastructure accordingly, and then find the talent and tools necessary. This may or may not include a massive migration of Gen Y to your workforce. What it should include is finding the right talent PERIOD!

    Gen Y brings a lot of value to the workforce but they aren’t in a position to hold employers hostage. Much of what they want makes business sense. Absolutely. But we also have to coach them to get out of their own way.

    Your brother whom I am sure is talented, demonstrated a level of incompetence that prevails in young generations. That is their ability to persuade, collaborate, and build commitment in the presence of adversity. Leaving an organization every time you don’t get your way, demonstrated to me as an employer, you are not a good fit for my organization. I want professionals that know how to win and lose gracefully. Without this skill, he is potentially not as valuable as he may see himself.

  6. Mary
    Mary says:

    I work with a few Gen Y and Gen X cusp folks…. One of them said something interesting to me the other day. She told me that she didn’t expect higher pay or a more prestigious title (she’s been with the organization for over year now.) She’s not stupid and understands the dynamics of “climbing the latter” as they currently stand. She told me what she really wants is more work and learning experiences. She’s hungry for knowledge. Don’t write them all of just yet…

  7. John Mattucci
    John Mattucci says:

    This chastising of “the Gen-Y worker” for not wanting to take on uninteresting work, I feel, is a difference in priority between the generations.
    Gen-Y has made the decision that the most important thing to them is rewarding and challenging work. More important than making more money, or having a title in the company.

    This has to do with the reality of the work place for the Gen-Y’er. Most likely there will be no pension waiting for them if they are diligent, and boring work leaves no personal growth or experience if they get laid off or outsourced later in life. Its been mentioned many times on this blog that the “work for a company for 30 years and get a gold watch” isn’t the reality anymore.

    I’ll sum up what Gen-Y is all about with a article title from the January edition of Men’s Health, “Purpose is the New Money.”

    The idea that a Gen-Y worker won’t do the work because it it is uninteresting, leaving the company and putting them at a disadvantage, is not true from the way it was being described earlier in the comments. Gen-Y are suppose to be loyal, and they will get the job done, but don’t expect them to stay around for long once they gain the courage to start looking for something new.

  8. Delan
    Delan says:

    After seeing about fifteen articles on managing Gen-Y workforce since November 2013, I read this article and noticed it was published in 2012.

    I agree with every word.

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