Generation Y – individuals born after 1980 – has started to fully infiltrate the workplace. Raised by the career-minded ‘baby boomer’ generation (born between 1946 and 1960), this new generation is focused and ambitious in ways that are set to challenge employers.
Rather than building up a career over a period of time, as their parents did, they want to make their mark immediately and are likely to play up if they feel they haven’t been given the opportunity to develop or prove themselves.
Well-educated and somewhat spoiled by intense levels of attention from parents keen to develop them, Generation Y grew up with plenty of opportunities to enhance their abilities through sport and other extra-curricular activities – making them naturally self-assured and goal-driven.
In your face
High-maintenance, but also high-performance, Generation Y is incredibly independent and insistent that it be judged on the outcome of work, rather than ‘face-time’ – being seen to be there. They simply don’t get the nine-to-five routine embraced by generations before them and expect to be allowed to leave once they’ve completed their tasks.
At the same time, they are technically savvy and more than willing to work on a project from home to achieve a result. And this presents a marvellous opportunity for employers grappling with how best to get the most out of a multi-generational workforce – the opportunity to give back workers individual ownership of tasks and assess and appraise performance according to output instead of time input.
Given that the UK currently works more hours than any other European nation, yet is far from the most productive, this fundamental shift in the assessment of productivity is long overdue.
Applying new, more rigorous, ways of assessing individual output will encourage and empower existing employees to work more effectively, and provide them with more time outside work to relax and increase their vitality and resilience to stress and illness.
Whereas Generation X workers (those employees born in the 1960s and ’70s), still feel the need to apologise for and justify their desire to leave work on time, more often than not to care for children, Generation Y expects work to fit into the rest of their life. The next generation of employees wants to work asynchronously – anytime and anywhere – in return for hitting targets.
Observing the apparent ease with which Generation Y fits work around their lives, and undertakes socially meaningful activities, will eventually liberate older workers to better balance their own lives.
Until then, if incorporating more and more Generation Y employees into the workplace isn’t to give rise to friction and team breakdown, managers must be supported in getting the most out of a multi-generational workforce.
Demand-led culture change
To help them succeed, employers must educate managers about the demands these new employees will make of them and provide access to ongoing coaching and support, such as a dedicated employee assistance programme, to help them identify the best way of handling particular situations and individuals.
Managers will need to acquire the ability to ‘parent’ younger staff in ways that will inspire them to play to their strengths but also reign in weaknesses and set boundaries.
One of the biggest challenges will be to educate Generation Y workers to understand that they can’t have everything their own way. In particular, the desire to multi-task by listening to iPods or chatting to friends on social network sites at the same time as doing work will need to be addressed – not least, as a recent study from the University of London demonstrated, IQ drops by 10% when distracted by more than one task. Far better to work intensively for two hours, then take a break. In this sense, Generation Y has much to learn and must be encouraged to embrace better levels of routine and discipline.
By meeting younger workers halfway, older staff stand to become enlightened by new technologies and more productive and creative by taking more breaks, working less and focusing on generating results as efficiently as possible, instead of adhering to the outdated principles of a face-time culture.