In this article though, I want to focus primarily on the habits and behaviours of what we know as the Gen Y kids, those born between 1979 and 1994.
I have had several clients contact me over the past 6 months or so wanting to know how to deal with these kids who are coming from high school or university and into the workplace. All the companies were suitably impressed by Gen Y's tech skills but were horribly unimpressed by their manners and their way of treating co-workers - even the way they treated those in management positions.
We now have four generations in our workplaces - the generation known as the Veterans - those born before and during the 2nd World War. Baby boomers - those born after WWII and before the 1960s, Gen X - 60's - 80's and now the Gen Y - born early 80's and brought up on technology. Each generation has a different set of values.
I'm sure every generation looks at the next and is shocked at who they are and how they behave. And of course we hear those dreaded words - ‘in my day....' But I think it safe to say, the Gen Y's are certainly challenging everything ANY generation has ever known before.
Two scenarios brought this home to me first hand.
In the first instance I was speaking at a very large education/technology conference and was talking about career development in the flattened hierarchy. A voice shouted out from the audience - ‘How long does this promotion thing take?' To which I replied ‘How long have you been with the company?'........his reply - ‘one week!' And of course everyone dissolved into raucous laughter.
But a more serious situation arose from an organization which relies heavily on technology graduates. The HR Manager called me with concerns around the serious challenges they were having integrating these Gen Y's into their workplace, in particular, the unrealistic expectations they have of their worth.
In this organization, they put all new staff through an intensive 2 week induction programme, at the end of which, the entire company gathers together to hear the GM share the vision of the company and to complete the welcome process. The GM had barely started speaking when one young grad on the front row challenged him very aggressively with a tirade around - what is the company going to do for me, and why should I stay here etc. etc.
The room became very quiet as people held their breath wondering how on earth the GM would manage such an angry and rude challenge.
In my day.......that young man would have been told something like ‘See that door over there - well that is the door to the pay office - on your way out - pick up your pay.'
Of course we are much more civilized than that these days and so what this GM did, was to take a deep breath and explain what the company would do for all the graduates as they passed through the organization on to whatever or wherever their life took them.
Well done him. Or was it?
Because speaking to anyone that way is simply not OK; it is rude and arrogant and a form of intimidation or even bullying. And so because the grad wasn't challenged on the way he had just spoken to the GM - presumably he will go on challenging others in the same way.
Could the GM have perhaps used the opportunity to say something like - ‘That actually isn't the way we talk to each other here at XYZ company. I am more than happy to answer your questions - but I do expect them to be put in a way that respects whoever you are asking questions of, whether that is me, my management team or anyone else who works in this company.'
So can we work with these kids or are they totally unemployable?
Let's look at what we can learn from them first:
- They challenge the status quo and ask WHY (Gen Y = Gen Why?) not a bad thing.
- They will not tolerate bullying. They have been through a school system which now teaches kids how to look after themselves. A great thing.
- They are used to multi-level problem solving - all those years spent locked in dark rooms playing with their computer have taught them multiple problem solving skills. A fabulous thing.
HOWEVER they too need to learn a few things if they want to be successful in the workplace.
- Respect is a two way street. You demand that I respect you - I ask that you respect me too
- You will not be the boss for a little while - perhaps a few years yet. It is called earning your stripes
- Look, listen and learn. The way your new organization does things may look old-fashioned and unwieldly; you may be able to offer ideas for doing things more effectively and efficiently. But before you go blasting off - ask some questions- and then perhaps offer some ideas and suggestions. And offer them in a way that respects the other person. If you don't then they won't listen - it's as simple as that.
And in the words of Bill Gates:
- Life isn't fair - get used to it
- You will not earn $100,000 a year straight from school or university
- Your school or university may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In school you may be given as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
- Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for it. It was called opportunity.
What more can I say. Welcome to the workplace.