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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Gen Y – they are different, deal with it

Understand them, get the best out of them rather than trying to remould them

SINCE I started the column about a year ago, I often get requests to write about the “younger” generation (Gen-Y).

They are also referred to as Millennias, those born from 1981-1991 (22-year-olds who are new graduates joining the workforce to those who are in the early 30s). Some famous people in this generation include Mark Zuckerberg and Lady Gaga.

There are many surveys to find out who they are, their characteristics and how to better manage them. There are many studies on them because they make up 25% of the world's population.

Retailers, computer and mobile phone companies, games and gadget producers would certainly like to know their tastes, habits, likes and dislikes. Financial institutions would like to know their spending patterns, propensity to save, online purchasing habits, among others.

At work, managers, senior managers and many of the older generation would like to know how to better relate and work with them.

The complaints my friends have about Gen-Y would be something like this:

They have hired a young graduate from a good school, the resume looked impressive, he is pleasant looking, dresses professionally and speaks quite well.

Six to eight months into work, and the guy seems to be always late for work, late for important meetings, appears distracted at work, cannot be reached (on handphone), leaves work at 6:30pm and complains he has no work-life balance, makes mistakes in documents and presentations to clients, goes to meeting unprepared the list goes on.

“When you give them feedback, they don't take it too well and may want to resign.

“They don't know what they don't know. They make mistakes and think they are right. They have unrealistic expectations and think they were unfairly treated.

“They are choosy about what they do. They want interesting and exciting work but cannot deliver. They don't take on much responsibilities but think they should be paid more”.

Someone asked me what they could do to change them. I thought it ought to be the other way around we need to change our ways, expectations and how we work with them.

The generation is a reflection of the society they have grown up in. They didn't cycle nor walked to school. They didn't grow up poor and deprived.

They grew up in a world of celebrities, designer goods, smart phones, computers and the Internet, 24/7 connectivity, iPod, Facebook, Youtube and addictive e-games (instead of games played in the field, rivers or jungle).

They are different in many ways. Accept it and deal with it.

We believe in doing one thing at a time and being focused. Are they distracted and cannot focus or are they good at multitasking?

At work, they listen to music, chat and surf all at the same time. When they are chatting, it is not with one person at a time but with half a dozen different chat groups (as opposed to a few individuals).

They move more they spin the pen when they are at their desk, they click the mouse and turn the pages faster. They have so many windows opened, they flip back and forth.

While they are eating, they surf, text, send pictures on Instagram, make Facebook posts, listen to music, tweet and have conversation with the person in front of them or maybe squeeze in a game at the same time. That is the way they are.

That means they can handle eight tasks while having a meal which equals to higher productivity.

Be sure to engage them with multi tasks and challenging tasks. Don't assume they ought to slowly learn the ropes like how it was 20 to 30 years ago when we were a new graduate. Take advantage of their savviness by having them set up tools, work on complex spread sheets and make searches, gather data or come up with ideas.

(There may be qualifications why you will not assign certain work to them. But if you don't and let them make the mistakes, they would miss the learning opportunity and become bored)

They are used to direct communications having grown up with emails, tweets, handphones, smses, messengers, facebook; they don't like the rigid hierarchy in the organisation or being limited by their position.

If they have something on their mind, they should be able to talk to or email someone higher in the organisation (regardless of level) rather than their immediate superior who don't seem to be able to help or understand.

This can be a positive. They are helping highlight stifling work environment that we have got used to and give meaning to better collaboration between different levels in the organisation. Their opinion counts. We need to get used to their feedback and having our views questioned.

Retention is an issue. They may move on for something more interesting or aspire to be entrepreneurs. How could they not when there are so many Internet multi-millionaires or those who became multi millionaires because they started a business or sold an application to Yahoo or Facebook.

They have been told by billionaires, actors and many successful personalities “not to settle”, they can do anything they set their mind to and should dare to fail.

Inspire them with the right ambitions at work. They are a group prepared to work hard if you can show how the hard work fuels that ambition. Spend time to understand their personal buyer values what they value most in their job and aspire for.

Every generation complains about the next generation. The new generation is somehow less respectful, less hardworking but somehow in time they will become responsible adults with major responsibilities at work and as parents.

The hippies from the 70s became responsible adults and CEOs.

Gen Y is our future. If you are at work or at home with them, spend more time with them. They will shape trends, politics, culture, our work place and many other aspects in the world.

If you experience pain and frustration trying to convince your young boss how things are done in the past, don't try too hard. Listen to his ideas and get used to his ways. You may find that you can still learn and develop.

They are different, they are here to stay. Get used to it... until Gen Z comes.

 Joan Hoi is the author of Take on Change. We need to throw out some of our old selves to better appreciate this young, fun and bright group!

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