Managing Generation Y -- Part 2

Bruce Tulgan and Carolyn A. Martin reflect on how managers can get the most from the grown-up children of the late '70s and early '80s

In Managing Generation Y, Bruce Tulgan and Carolyn A. Martin present a pocket guide to help managers understand the kids born between 1978 and 1998 -- a group of employees with quite different qualities from the Gen Xers before them.

Their book offers a look at these young adults aged 16 to 22, many with impressive resumes even before they hit the full-time workplace. With three to four part-time jobs or internships under their belts, the authors say, members of this group are already sure what they want from their careers and how they want to be managed.

The following excerpt is from Tulgan and Martin's book.

CHAPTER TWO: What Can Managers Expect From Generation Y?

When you meet them -- in interviews, team meetings, coaching sessions, behind the counter, on the warehouse floor, in the cubicle next to yours -- what should you expect? Although Gen Yers are as different from one another as they are from previous generations, you will find common characteristics running rampant throughout this cohort.

Gen Yers are much like their Gen X siblings -- independent, techno-savvy, entrepreneurial, hard workers who thrive on flexibility --- only much, much more. In place of Gen Xers' fierce independence, you will find Gen Yers to be more comfortable in their self-reliance. Whereas Gen Xers grew up witnessing Moore's Law (in the Information Age, technology doubles in performance every two years) in action and the transition from calculators to personal computers, by the time Gen Y was entering its teenage years, Moore's Law was being challenged as too slow. Most Gen Yers have been using computers since preschool and can dazzle the greatest techies of Gen X.

Understanding these characteristics -- and the challenges they pose -- will give you the edge in learning how to manage Gen Y. Gen Xers are in a hurry, no doubt. They want to know what you have to offer them next week, but Gen Y wants to know what you have to offer them RIGHT NOW. Gen Xers thrive on new experience, while Gen Yers demand thrill. Again, Gen Y is like Gen X on fast-forward with self-esteem.

Gen Yers are comfortably self-reliant

Like Xers, Yers are a "latchkey" generation. With America's high divorce rate and dual-income families, many have been left to their own devices and taught to take care of themselves. Reared on the discourse of self-esteem, Gen Yers are far less fierce than Xers in their independence. Rather than the Gen X style -- "I'd better be able to fend for myself. Now get out of my way!" -- Gen Yers' self-reliance is more comfortable and self-assured: "Of course I can fend for myself." Gen Yers' strong desire for collaboration adds another dimension: They want to do things their own way, but they work most enthusiastically in teams.

Bruce Tulgan
Bruce Tulgan

Unlike their undersupervised Gen X siblings, many Yers have grown up oversupervised. Their parents have them enrolled in time-intensive before- and after-school activities and have bound them to the technological tethers of pagers and cell phones. Gen Yers have been so micromanaged by their parents, teachers, and counselors that they are eager to manage their own time. That means managers must be prepared to coach Gen Yers in time management --- how to break up larger projects into manageable pieces, plan their time, handle day-to-day tasks and responsibilities in the midst of daily interruptions, and meet their deadlines -- so they won't have to put up with managers breathing down their necks.

A 21-year-old office assistant in a real estate firm speaks for her generation when she says: "I definitely don't want someone breathing down my neck because I like to be given stuff and I like to do it at my own pace and I will get it done."

Yers love to be assigned a challenge (the results you need), given some freedom to explore the challenge, and then matched to the best team to tackle the challenge together. A multinational pharmaceutical company told us recently they just hired twenty graduates from the same university. Their strategy was to provide new hires with ready-made friendship groups and support systems to ease their transition into the workplace. What's your strategy?

They want technology -- and everything else -- right now

An ad for a high-tech company shows a youngster sitting before a computer, head in hands, exasperation pouring from his face. The caption reads: "The average Internet download takes 22 seconds. That's 22 seconds longer than a 10-year-old wants to wait." The pace of everything continues to accelerate. Twenty-two seconds seems long to a 10 year-old, a year is long-term to a Gen Yer, and three years is just a mirage.

They won't be lured by promises of climbing ladders, paying dues, and cashing out at retirement. They want to know: What value can I add today? What can I learn today? What will you offer me today? How will I be rewarded today?

Organizations that can't -- or won't -- customize training, career paths, incentives, work responsibilities need a wake-up call.

Of course, youthful impatience exists in every generation. But Yers often exhibit a "healthy impatience" when their tasks and responsibilities are at stake. They're asking: "How can I do my job when I don't have what I need -- training, resources, information -- to pull it off?"

You can count on it: Gen Yers will be curious not only about your culture, mission and goals; products, services and customers; compensation and benefits, but about the technology you use to support them. Gen Yers have high expectations of technology -- and when it doesn't measure up, they get impatient.

Gen Yers want infinitely thrilling opportunities

Gen X was touted as the most entrepreneurial generation in American history -- that is, until Gen Y. Today, it is not twentysomething business leaders capturing headlines, but teenagers. Encouraged by their Gen X predecessors, and often financed by their Baby Boomer parents, Gen Yers are starting their own businesses in their teenage years in record numbers-from employment services to Web shows for teens to incredibly successful dot coms -- often while they're still in high school.

High schools have continuously expanded on-site opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to include businesses in computers, construction, catering, design and manufacturing, day care, and art sales.

Gen Yers will always need the wisdom of older, seasoned mentors. That's a given. And they crave the guidance of knowledgeable, confident managers and co-workers. But they also want their valuable contributions appreciated -- they want their ideas to be heard by expert listeners who don't discount Yers outright simply because they're young. Gen Yers are not merely outside-the-box thinkers: They are innovative over-the-wall doers who won't settle for one-size-fits-all solutions.

Carolyn Martin
Carolyn A. Martin

Don't be surprised when Gen Yers ask you unrelentingly, "Why?" Gen Yers will challenge everything. Don't get miffed when they throw an "of course, there are other ways to do this" attitude at you. This constant questioning is the product of life-long exposure to the diverse points of view and the infinite possibilities presented by technology and the information tidal wave: Gen Yers have been bombarded by endless choices and options. They've been challenged by diverse core beliefs, opinions and points of view. They're frequently unwilling to settle for one solution until others are explored. And that is, of course, the prerequisite for innovation.

Expect the best from Gen Y and that's what you'll get

Are we looking at Gen Y through rose-colored glasses?

Of course, some Gen Yers are violent. Of course, some are bigoted and disrespectful. Of course, some are irresponsible. Of course, some will never contribute anything meaningful to life. We know that. But those youngsters are far and few between and hardly the most noteworthy segment of Generation Y.

Our research has focused on the broad trends and the vast majority of this emerging generation: Talented young adults who are eager to make a difference and who are looking for adult role models to help them on their way. An old saw claims: "You get what you expect." The best parents, the best educators, and the best leaders have always known that.

As Yers continue to make inroads into the workplace, the balance will gradually shift from Veteran/Boomer-dominated values and structures to those defined by Gen X and Gen Y -- and, synchronistically, those demanded by the new economy. Together, these two generations are already redefining how organizations can get the best work done by the best talent. Gen X and Gen Y together already make up nearly half of the American workforce, fifty-five million strong. More than fourteen million Gen Yers are already active in the U.S. workforce today. In fact, the rate of teenagers working in the United States is the highest in the industrialized world, and the highest in recorded U.S. history.

Both Gen X and Gen Y witnessed the demise of the lifetime employment paradigm their grandparents retired from and their parents were disillusioned by. After the tumultuous '80s and early '90s, when businesses told the workforce, "You're no longer our business. You're on your own," free agency became the wave of the future. And people of all ages are riding it today.

This trend will hold true for Gen Y. Whether working for themselves or others, Gen Yers have become the owners of what Tom Peters calls "Me, Inc." The best young talent is learning to negotiate the best deals in ways older generations would never have conceived.

A recent cartoon in a local newspaper pits a professional couple against a Gen Yer. The man is expounding, "The job market's tight. We don't want to lose you, so we're increasing your stock options, relaxing the dress code and installing a cappuccino machine...." The Gen Yer wearily responds: "Ok, I'll still baby-sit for you." And so it goes -- in organizations big and small around the country.

From Managing Generation Y: Global Citizens Born in the Late Seventies and Early Eighties by Bruce Tulgan & Carolyn A. Martin, Ph.D. Copyright 2001 RainmakerThinking, Inc. Reprinted with permission of HRD Press Inc.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.