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Young Guns

Friday, October 30, 2009
Could Generation Y Employees Be The Solution To Your Hiring Woes?
By Don Sadler

The unemployment rate in the U.S. may be reaching levels not seen in a generation, but that’s little solace to many micro-business owners who are still having a hard time finding reliable, qualified employees.

If you’re experiencing hiring challenges, one solution might be to broaden your search to include members of Generation Y. Also called Millennials, they were born roughly between 1979 and 1988. Businesses that ignore these 20-somethings are shutting the door on a huge universe of potential employees—employees that might be a perfect fit for micro-businesses.

These young workers show less interest in traditional perks (like corporate ladders that micro-businesses usually don’t supply) and more interest in benefits that enable them to lead balanced lives (like flex time that many micro-businesses can easily offer).

The sheer number of Gen Y individuals rivals that of the massive baby boomer generation: 76 million, compared to 85 million boomers and just 50 million Gen Xers. In her book “Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook” (Crisp Learning, 2003), Claire Raines calls Gen Y “the hottest commodity on the job market since Rosie the Riveter.”

If you’re a Gen Xer or baby boomer, use caution when hiring and managing Generation Y employees. Assuming that Gen Y workers are motivated by the same perks and have the same job or career ambitions as you is a big mistake. Almost everything about Generation Y employees is unique: why they work, what they look for in a job and employer, their views on loyalty, what motivates them to work hard, and how they communicate.

“The Millennials present unique challenges for older managers who struggle with these differing values and beliefs, wondering how to motivate their younger colleagues,” says Dr. Maynard Brusman, the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and talent management firm in San Francisco, Calif.

Before hiring your first Gen Y worker, you’d be wise to understand what makes these employees tick. Here’s a crash course.

Different Workplace Attitudes
Jason Ryan Dorsey is one of the nation’s foremost experts on Generation Y. Known as the “Gen Y Guy,” he is a member of Generation Y himself. He also speaks and consults on the topic. And he’s the author of “Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business” (Wiley, 2009).

“There are three big workplace attitudes that make Gen Y different from our older colleagues and bosses,” he says. “First, we’re the only generation that has no expectation of lifetime employment. My interviews show that Gen Y defines long-term employment and loyalty as working at the same place for just 13 months.

“The second factor is our feeling of entitlement,” he continues. “This is the biggest complaint I get from business owners who hire Gen Ys. And the third factor is our relationship with technology.”

A recent study by LexisNexis, a global provider of business information, illustrates the wide technology gap that exists between Generation Y and baby boomers:
  • Gen Y employees spend an average of 10.6 hours a day accessing social networking sites, blogs, Internet forums and the like, while baby boomers spend only 5.6 hours.
  • More than one-third of Gen Y employees believe using personal digital assistants or laptops during meetings is efficient, but only 17 percent of boomers do. 
  • Sixty-two percent of Gen Y professionals report accessing a social networking site from work, while only 14 percent of boomers say they have done so.
“The results of this survey suggest a real wake-up call for managers who are part of the boomer generation,” says Mike Walsh, CEO of LexisNexis U.S. Legal Markets. “They need to acknowledge that a technology gap exists and find ways to maximize productivity by implementing effective workflow solutions and integrated resources.”

Penelope Trunk, author of “Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success” (Warner Books, 2007) and founder of Brazen Careerist, an online community that helps young people manage their careers, offers a few more Gen Y characteristics.

“They have high expectations for personal growth, even in entry-level jobs,” says Trunk. “Friendship is a strong motivator for them—many will choose a job just to be with their friends. And they want to know how their work fits into the big picture; how it helps the company and their team.”

Chris DeSantis, a consultant who specializes in workplace generations, concurs.

“Gen Y employees are highly collaborative and like working on teams. They’re also very socially conscious.”

Trunk notes that “support for volunteering” is among the benefits that Gen Y employees value most. In a recent Deloitte survey, more than half of Gen Y respondents said they prefer employment at companies that provide volunteer opportunities.

Interestingly, a high percentage of Generation Y employees do not aspire to move up the corporate ladder into management. Forty-two percent of Gen Y respondents to a recent survey by Randstad, a worldwide staffing organization, answered no to the question “Do you want to be a manager?”

“What they’ve seen of moving up the ladder isn’t happiness,” says DeSantis, “but rather long hours, more responsibility and not much more pay. And their parents have told them there are no guarantees, so watch your back.”

Adds Brusman: “This group shuns past definitions of success, like climbing the company ladder. In their view, the company ladder is irrelevant.”

Hiring And Managing Gen Y
Many large firms are devising new programs and strategies to help older managers better understand the unique characteristics of Gen Y employees so they can do a better job of hiring and managing them. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Give frequent feedback
Technology has given Gen Y employees access to instant communication, which has become their expectation in every area of life, including work. Annual or even quarterly performance reviews are ancient history as far as Gen Y is concerned.

“Manage these workers every single day, but think of yourself as more of a coach,” says Trunk. “Check in, teach them tricks and help them prioritize and steer their path.”

And don’t be vague in your communication, urges author Dorsey, a member of Generation Y.

“Gen Y employees need very specific examples of the workplace performance you expect. Many of us are entering the work force at an older age than previous generations and often with little or no career preparation.”

Make work meaningful
Most Gen Y employees sense a higher calling to their vocation than just earning a paycheck.

“They want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways, no matter where they are,” says Trunk. “Don’t bother thinking you’re hiring someone to stay at your company longer than you can keep the learning curve steep.”

She adds that entrepreneurship functions as a safety net for this generation. “They grew up on the Internet and they know how to launch a viable online business.”

Embrace new technology
According to DeSantis, this is the first time in human history that a younger generation is teaching older generations how to do something.

“They’re so immersed in technology that it’s a part of who they are,” he says about Gen Y cohorts.
As a manager, don’t fight technology—embrace it instead, and give Gen Y workers the equipment they need to stay on the technological cutting edge.

Involve them in decision making
Most Gen Y employees were raised to believe that their opinions have validity, DeSantis notes, so they expect their thoughts to be heard in the workplace.

“The old management structure would say ‘You haven’t been here long enough to have an opinion,’ but this doesn’t cut it with Gen Ys.”

Always explain why

“Because I said so” or “We’ve always done it that way” are not sufficient explanations for Gen Y employees. Work schedules are a good example. If there’s an appropriate business reason for an employee to be at work between 9 and 5—because that’s when customers visit or call, for example—explain this clearly. If there’s not, don’t make one up or try to bluff—your Gen Y employees will see through it in a second.

Be flexible
For Gen Y employees, the line between work and home barely exists.

“It feels normal for them to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week,” says Trunk. “Forget about 9 to 5. Instead, figure out the hours you need to be able to see their face, and leave the rest up to them.”

This flexibility should extend to your hiring and interviewing process as well.

“Don’t ask them why they left their last job,” Trunk adds. “Who cares? And while taking time off to travel might have been a red flag in the past, you should now view it as a life learning experience.”

Reward and praise verbally

Recognition for a job well done consistently ranks near the top of surveys that ask what makes employees happy, and this is especially true for Gen Y employees.

“Find substantive things they’re doing well and be frequent in praising them,” says DeSantis. “Do it verbally and via new communication technology like Twitter, LinkedIn and instant message.”

Also, be willing to reward good work with added responsibility.

Manage closely, but don’t micromanage

Instead, serve as more of a mentor and guide.

“Independence is definitely not what they are about,” says author Trunk. “Gen Ys want mentoring, teamwork and responsibility.”

Consultant DeSantis adds: “The more closely you micromanage Gen Y employees, the more mediocre results you’re likely to get. But if you let them go and give lots of great feedback, there’s a good chance you’ll get stellar results.”

Don Sadler is a freelance writer and young baby boomer. During his career, he has implemented some of these strategies to successfully manage Gen Y employees. Reach him at don@donsadlerwriter.com.

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