There are around 4 million Gen Y’s (born between 1980 and 1994) in Australia making up around 20% of the population … How to work with Gen Y’s is therefore of critical importance. Discussion of this topic is right up there for today’s business leaders. There has been a significant block of work done on this by all sorts of bodies around the world … large Accounting Firms, H.R. companies and large organisations who employ Gen Y’s … and yet many are struggling for answers.

It needs to be said that not all Gen Y’s are the same. However, there are some common traits in the age group that stand out. They ….

  • value balance in life (more than previous generations?)
  • value wealth and want it quickly (but not necessarily the effort that goes into achieving it?)
  • see work as having to deliver worth to them and not just the other way around
  • are ‘portable” in where they live and where they work
  • have strong expectations of their ‘rights’
  • are inclined to question the status quo and ideas (more than previous generations?)
  • have a short term perspective on some things in life
  • have a strong thirst and ability to source information (but are not great at what to do with all that information?)
  • can stay calm during confrontation and express themselves well (compared to previous generations?)

It’s these aspects that can sometimes challenge older age groups in their understanding of Gen Y’s and how to work with them. “Why do they constantly put their hand out?” “Why don’t they want to make partner?” “Why don’t they do the hard yards?” “Why do they constantly question things?” “Why don’t they want to plan their futures?” “Why don’t they ever seem satisfied?” “I can never work out what they’re really thinking or feeling”. “Why are they in such a hurry in life?”

It’s true that a lot of the above could be said about many previous ‘younger generations’. It is also true that it’s the older generations who taught them a lot of their ways. But it does seem to be true that they are a bit ‘different’ … not worse though and not better; just different. They are certainly a generation of ‘inheritors’ (from previous generations of Australians who built wealth) … that’s not their fault. Many people have deliberately set about creating future wealth for their children, so how can they question the intelligent propensity to welcome it?

It needs to be understood that Gen Y’s are the most formally educated generation ever … almost half of Gen Ys have gone to University and many of the rest studied at TAFE. They need sophistication from those who communicate with them. They also do not want a ‘job’. They want opportunities. And they have multiple expectations of an organisation before they want to join it – culture, variety, fun, training, management style and flexibility. They also want to see a clear purpose for the organisation they join, whatever that may be. And empty words will not persuade them of a worthwhile purpose.

Further, some studies now suggest that Gen Y’s are not self-centered and do not reject traditional values … but that they do want to make a difference and do want to belong.

A few useful notions are helpful in working with Gen Y’s:

First, they require more ‘listening to than most other generations, and, if you don’t get that right, it will be at your peril. Time has got to be invested in them, to listen to them, understand them, and make sure they feel like they have been listened to. Problem is, that all takes time and it takes an ongoing commitment, but it’s pivotal to growing a positive connection with a Gen Y.

Second, the fact that they challenge things is great. We sometimes source people into our businesses to do just that … the Gen Y’s are sitting there ready to perform the very duty.

Third, they are often highly I.T. savvy. They run rings around older generations in what, how and how fast they can make I.T. work effectively. That should be tapped into.

Fourth, as before, not all Gen Y’s are the same … some of them have more traditional attitudes and thinking patterns. And communication with those people can be more akin to what older generations are used to.

Fifth, trust is a critical factor in any human relationship and if it’s not gained from the Gen Y’s they will never perform. It may or may not be true that gaining the trust of a Gen Y is more difficult; that doesn’t matter. What matters is that without trust we have nothing, so do what it takes to be trustworthy to your Gen Y’s.

Sixth, questions and discussion work with Gen Y’s. Telling them does not.

If you’re a Gen Y reading this, don’t be offended … be complimented. If you think you’re different to previous generations, how good is that. If you think you’re similar to previous generations, just living in a different time, many of the communication fundamentals in this article still apply. Time for everyone to stop judging generations and start truly finding the communication mechanisms to work together effectively … that’s not a ‘nice’ statement to make; it’s reality.

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