Now that unemployment is at 8.5% and no one is really talking about a labor shortage any longer, can you forget all that nonsense about how you need to pay special attention to training, motivating, and engaging your Generation Y employees? They ought to be happy just to have a job, right? Not so fast, says Bruce Tulgan, author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Jossey-Bass, March 2009). 'The downturn in the economy will cause them to keep quiet for a while,' says Tulgan, 'but by and large the essential equation remains the same. This generation is being shaped by a lot of forces that cause them to arrive in the workplace with thoughts, words, and actions that are out of sync with the needs of their employers.' Among those forces: over-indulgent parents; growing distrust of corporations; increasing integration of work and non-work time.
Believe it or not, Tulgan (like me) is a big fan of GenY. With their confidence, energy, and enthusiasm, they're likely to be "the most high performing workforce in history,' he says. 'But I have no doubt that they're also the most high maintenance workforce in history.' Knowing how to manage them is to your great advantage. So I asked Tulgan how employers should deal with three common complaints about GenY employees.
1. 'They don't show up on time.' You've got to spell out your expectations clearly, says Tulgan. But at the same time, ask yourself if there's really a business reason for, say, a 9 am start time. Does the employee need to open a store or answer the phone? If coming in late is a deal-breaker, say so. If it's not, consider making the accommodation but, says Tulgan, 'make the quid pro quo explicit,' (i.e. they'll work later, take a shorter lunch, etc.).
2. 'They want to change everything on day one.' GenY employees want to know how your company works and why it works that way. Right now, please. 'The conventional wisdom is ‘stick around a while and get a feel for the place; no one's going to take you seriously until you've been a while,'' says Tulgan. But what GenY needs, he says, is 'a high-intensity orientation' right off the bat – something that gives them organizational context and a gut-level understanding of their role, its relationship to the company's mission, and who all the players are.
3. 'They don't know how to manage themselves.' Here, says Tulgan, you might need to do some remedial work. GenY often comes to work with knowledge and impressive technical skills, but falls short when it comes to managing the day to day work flow. Teach them how to make lists, set priorities, live by a schedule, and set long-term goals. 'They want you to set them up for success,' says Tulgan. 'Then, they will dazzle you.'
Footnote: If you really want to understand how GenY employees view themselves in the larger context of the workplace, take a look at Dan Schawbel'��s new book, Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, March 2009). Schawbel is the 'personal branding' voice of his generation, and his advice to his peers will give you insight into how to make your own company more GenY friendly.
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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