In so many IT departments, the preponderance of staff now comes from Generation Y. Also known as the Millennials, Generation Y consists of those staff members that were born after 1980 and were the children of the Baby Boomers. 

Over the next seven years, 50 percent of our workforce will retire, and the largest number of college grads will enter the labor force. What this means is that more and more members of Generation Y will be entering the workplace, and every IT manager must understand how to motivate and manage this group.

In order to understand this generation you have to first understand how they were brought up. They were raised in an environment where parents did all they could to give their children almost everything they ever wanted. Their parents went out of their way to make sure that their ego and self worth never took a battering. Most of their emotional and material needs were met unquestionably.

I have talked to so many managers that just do not know how to manage this generation as they are so vastly different from the Baby Boomers. These managers just do not get what motivates and retains Gen Y's. Obviously, if you want to be a great IT manager, then you must understand what makes this generation tick.

What makes this generation of tech workers tick

First, this generation wants to feel as if they are doing something that is worthwhile and of value. They will not just follow orders blindly, but must be shown how what is being asked of them fits into the larger picture. If you ask them to go to a new technology school, it is imperative that you explain how this schooling will be of value to them as well as to the company.

When asking this generation to work on a project, you cannot just tell them how to do it. If you tell them step by step how to do something, they will rebel and leave your employ. Instead, it is best to just let them know what outcome you want. For example, you would not tell one of your Generation Y staff how to modify part of your website. Rather, you would tell them what you want the final product to look like and let them make it happen. Micro-managing this generation will not work. You just have to let them figure out a way to get the job done.

Making the workplace fun is so important to this generation. They fully understand that they spend more time at work than they do at home, and as a result, they almost demand that their workplace is a fun one.

The best types of fun are things that are not planned, such as taking a break and having ice cream brought in. One IT manager that we work with holds a Nerf basketball shot competition and gives away cash. Another manager comes to each staff meeting dressed in a different costume.

In my office, I have a marshmallow gun that I use to shoot staff just to break up work. I can promise you that they love it when I get it out and start shooting. I am just worried what is going to happen when they find out where they can buy these guns. That is going to be fun.

Loyalty not a great attribute

Loyalty is not one of Gen Y's greatest attributes as they are much more concerned with their work life experiences and will move without much motivation. After receiving his MBA, my son went to work with Hewett Associates in Atlanta. He stayed there four months before he went to work with Home Depot. He did not see any problem with changing jobs that quickly, nor did Home Depot have a problem hiring him knowing that he only stayed four months on his last job. The real reason he left was bad management. He just did not feel challenged.

You really have to challenge this generation as they have such a low tolerance for doing repetitive work. Their attention span is very short, and I would imagine that this is from all of the multi-tasking that they have done all of their lives. As a great manager, you must find work that will constantly challenge this generation, or they will leave.

Throughout their early lives, Gen Y's were constantly coached in everything from sports to music. As a result, they just expect to be mentored. While they are very independent, they are still looking for a great coach, and it is critical that you have coaches for these Gen Y's.

Managing Generation Y is different, but if you really understand what motivates them, it is easy to draw so much value from them.

Jerry Osteryoung has been both a Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at Florida State University for over 35 years. While at FSU he headed up the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship where he directly assisted over 3,000 businesses.  You can read his blog at or you can write him at