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Generation Y at work

Last week, I got side-tracked in my quest to learn how Generation Y (born between around 1980 and 2000) will handle the challenge of management in the workplace.  The oldest and most talented of them are stepping up to that challenge already and we can expect a significant cohort of new Generation Y managers in our workplaces over the next few years.

Back to that highly salient topic…


What do we know about Gen Y at work?

Generation Y tends to have a more relaxed view of authority than the rebellious Gen X-ers, who grew up with punk and civil unrest (Northern Ireland, miners strike and race riots in the UK).  Their ambition and optimism gives them more in common with the post-WW2 Baby Boomers than with their Gen X colleagues, who tend to be more cynical and self-reliant.

Perhaps most important as an influence are the highly structured lives many Gen Y employees had as children.  Their ambitious Baby Boomer parents managed their lives to an exceptional degree, and the younger Gen Y-ers had Gen X self-fulfilment junkies as parents, who see children as a project to fulfil to the highest standard.  So Gen Y grew up unused-to gaps in their schedule or managing themselves.  They had constant stimulation and are already demanding the same at work.

Likewise, the high levels of respect and trust the parents of Gen Y children showed their offspring has meant that Gen Y, more than any preceding generation, expects to be treated as equals.

What does this mean for Gen Y managers?

This is all my speculation, and I welcome comments.

Speculation 1: Gen Y, like generations before, will try to manage the way they wanted to be managed.

What this means is that they want, and so will try to create a stimulating, organized workplace, where employees know what is expected of them and can stay constantly in touch with a wide variety of colleagues.  They want a workplace where staff have a sense of autonomy and a chance to be a star.

Speculation 2: Some Gen Y managers will miss their aim – of course.

What this probably means is that an organised workplace will turn into micro-managing with too little autonomy, or that too much freedom will result in poor controls of the use of technology and opportunities to communicate.

The challenge will be to create effective collaborations that get things done in an unstructured environment where there is too much opportunity to communicate constantly.

Speculation 3: Gen Y managers will annoy Gen X subordinates

There are always stars who get promoted above not only their peers, but also those who are older.  For a Gen Y boss who is comfortable with authority and therefore keen to assert it, the challenge will be in managing a Gen X subordinate who, like many Gen X-ers, is inclined to react against authority.

Speculation 4: Gen Y managers will be respectful and inclusive

This will no longer be an ideal as it has been for managers in the 1990s and 2000s, it will be a natural way of being for Gen Y managers, who will involve wide and virtual teams, and give regular and frank feedback.  This will be uncomfortable for entrenched Gen X attitudes, but may just lead to the kind of problem solving that the world’s challenges demand.

So Here’s the Deal

The next ten years will see a palpably new generation take managerial posts in our corporations, charities and public bodies – and in politics.  That generation will do things differently.  If you are in management now and will be leading this new generation of managers, or if your work involves developing and training managers, then it’s time to suit-up and start observing Gen Y at work; because your existing ideas of management will start to show their age.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

… before they get out-of-date!  [Don’t worry, we constantly refresh the series with updated editions – ed]

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3 thoughts on “Generation Y at work

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