I had an unforgettable conversation with a friend recently. He employs hundreds of people and just hired some recent college graduates. He told me he planned to begin seeing a therapist. This was a bit surprising since he is a healthy, well-adjusted mid-life company president. When I asked why, he said he wasn’t able to cope with the number of mothers who were accompanying their 22 year-old son or daughter to job interviews—to negotiate their salary package. Yes, you read that right. Furthermore, he mentioned that one mother had returned six months after her son was hired to see why he’d not received a raise yet. After all, he had shown up to work on time for six months.
Such is the new world we are entering into as executives. There is a new breed of employee walking through our front door. They are different than we are and we have a choice. We can either get mad or get busy discovering how to turn their potential into performance.
1. Job hopping in search of the perfect career.
This generation wants a job that fits their passions and strengths. They want to explore. What makes this noble pursuit a bit complex is that by and large, this generation doesn’t want to “pay their dues” working at the bottom of the ladder in an office until they earn a spot that fits them. This explains in part why 6 out of 10 graduates move home after college. They don’t feel the pressure to work just to make money. They are waiting for the right job. It also helps to explain a most confusing phenomenom to employers: adulthood now begins at 26, not 18. They want to use their twenties to explore not settle. In a random sampling nationwide, 30% of working young adults said they were presently looking for a new job. Certainly there are exceptions to this rule. However, employers need to brace themselves for the fact that these twenty-somethings will be “floods” not “rivers” after college. They will be going every direction not focused in one direction.
What can we do? Build an authentic relationship and earn your right to give them counsel. Then, help them to simplify their lives and goals. Help them to be realistic in their expectations. Let me remind you that Generation X struggled with authority. Generation Y struggles with reality. Help them to focus; to discover what their true passions are and weed out some of the search. Give them some variety while they are working in your organization.
2. Waves of depression coming and going.
I am concerned that few people will see this one coming. Growing up, this generation of kids was used to “getting their own way.” They have seldom heard “no” as an answer. Mom and dad were intent on building strong self-esteem in them—so they got rewarded just for participating on a team. (I have been to little league awards banquets where ninth place ribbons were given out to boys and girls!) All of this has served to make them feel like winners regardless of whether they performed well or not. They have a high expectation of self and the speed of their climb up the corporate ladder. They have experienced little or no failure. They feel everyone is a winner.
How will this play out on the job? Obviously, their supervisor may not be as intent on safe guarding their self esteem. The moment they are reprimanded for a performance issue or low production, it may just cause them to tail spin. Sadly, many of these kids have climbed Mount Everest but have never punched a time clock. As they’re forced to face a setback or unglamorous work, it may be emotionally hard
What can we do? Like you, I recognize that someday these young people must meet up with the real world. I am not suggesting we turn into doting, “helicopter” mothers and fathers as we lead them. However, we will need to be prepared to play the role of a coach not just a supervisor to this new generation of workers. Treat them as young leaders you are mentoring. Let them know you believe in them and have their best interests in mind. Celebrate when they perform well, before launching into the improvements they need to make in their work. Give them short-term commitments, if possible, to put some “wins” under their belts. I believe this generation will respond well to “bad news” when this kind of relationship is established with them.
3. Innovative new rules for technology.
Generation Y doesn’t seem to be limited to present rules for how things get done. They are constantly looking for new ways to do things. They challenge past practices of the older generation. I believe these students will redefine technology and how it’s used for both communication and work. Their scope will be larger than our current one and they will feel free to suggest out-of-the-box ideas to a team that might be stuck on one methodology. This new generation is bold and they feel more comfortable with new technology than either of the previous two generations. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, taught us that some will invent new ways of relating while in college.
Communication via technology is a vivid example. Many students today would define “email” as a way to communicate with older people. They text message, IM, use Facebook, MySpace, and younger ones use Club Penguin. Research tells us that 95% of this generation has cell phones—but they will use them to send text messages more than phone calls. They are in constant communication with peers and parents (the latest stats say young adults talk to parents on a daily basis). You might say that technology is an extension of their bodies. Look for this generation to be bold about technology and just how they can use it for their good and the benefit of the team.
What can we do? Don’t get defensive when someone from Generation iY questions your present methods or use of technology. Welcome their input—be emotionally secure enough to inquire about their thought process. Create a team to do some innovative brainstorming, then, invite them to participate on that team. According to our focus groups, they love employers who value what they have to say from day one. Stay open to change and be ready to embrace new ideas. Young people support what they help create.
4. Parent involvement in job and salary negotiation.
Throughout their childhood and adolescence, students have reported that their parents (more than anyone else) are the number one influence in their lives. This seems to continue even after college graduation. Some 90% of young adults surveyed say they are “very close” to their parents. 45% of 18-25 year olds say they communicate with their parents every day. And parents are all too happy to remain in this choice spot. From “helicopter parents” who hover over their children to “karaoke parents” who try desperately to look and sound like their kids so they can remain buddies—many parents have removed the opportunity for their child to fail and learn from it. These parents actually become involved in the hiring process as their son or daughter interviews for their first job.
Unlike 40% of the Baby Boomer generation who said they are “better off without their parents”, this generation wants to or feels they must include mom or dad in their first job selection. Even when a parent doesn’t show up in person, many employers said they were interrogated by the young person being interviewed and the questions seemed random—as though they came from someone else, not the flow of the conversation. (I think I know where those questions came from.) The fact is, the apron strings are frequently not cut even when a twenty something is finished with school.
What can we do? First, communicate clearly your respect and admiration for their parents’ desire to be involved. Let them know you see the value in their mentorship. However, take the opportunity to make this a learning time with the potential employee. Share with them the value that standing alone and assuming responsibility can give—and yes, even the value of failure. Some things are only learned through the pain of failing. Persist in communicating you want to know their opinion and their preferences about an issue, not someone else’s. Give them dignity as they interact with you as an adult. Use the interaction with them to learn whether they are even ready to stand alone on the job and to take initiative and responsibility.
5. The expectation of change, amusement and immediate feedback.
This new generation can multi-task and handle a variety of projects on any given day. Just don’t make them sit still for long. The TV and internet world they grew up in allowed these young people to stay entertained and change was only one click away is they got bored. This mindset is a mixed blessing. They want and even need lots of challenges coming at them. Problem is, they might just be unable to finish a project due to its waning novelty. Generation iY simply does not subscribe to the standard assumptions about work—that you have to endure work you don’t like; that you must put in your time and earn a promotion; that you have to work a set number of hours to get a job done. When it comes to working on projects, I believe they will rethink the “how” not just the “what” on the job.
There may even be an unrealistic expectation on their part as to how fun or exciting a job should be. Their teachers discovered this at school, now employers will do the same. For instance, in 2000, 90% of Gen iY planned on going to college. By 2007, however, 30% of them didn’t even finish high school. It’s not because they are stupid. They are bored and want change. Now. Certainly, supervisors can simply fire their young employees if they don’t follow through on the menial, unglamorous tasks they must do. If they do, however, many young adults will simply sell themselves to the next highest bidder down the street (like a product on E-bay) who needs a multi-tasking, energetic worker. They tend to find a way to get their own way.
What can we do? I suggest managers must do more coaching than bossing. These young employees are hungry for mentors and if they find it in the workplace, those mentors will elicit great loyalty, the kind that can only be earned not demanded. This will require supervisors to work hard at people skills and to be patient with these young staff members. Make “getting the task accomplished” more important than “the time spent doing it”. Provide constant feedback on their work. One manager suggested that he must be half diplomat and half shrink in order to connect with his young team. The bottom line is this. Managers will help young employees if they explain the “why” behind the task, and tell them how important it is to the overall goals or the company. This will make it easier for them to stay the course.
6. A search for meaning not just money.
This one is very important for employers to understand. Young job seekers today want work that gives back to communities. They want to be part of a company that matters, and makes the world a better place. I recognize this may sound cliché, but it’s true. Twenty-somethings desire their work to be transformational not merely transactional. They want to interact with organizations they believe in. They seek jobs they have a passion for, and will do business with companies that understand the big picture, and are not just about generating a profit. According to a survey of 13-25 year olds, 69% say that when they shop, they consider the company’s environmental and social commitment. Further, 90% said they’ll switch brands if the other retailer is associated with a good cause.
Is this a paradox we see within our young generation? Perhaps. They certainly can be self-absorbed and are used to getting their own way. But the television they have watched as children has convinced them they are supposed to change the world—and they can. 61% of these young adults say they feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world. So, they want a cause in which they can participate. Even as young people, they are already concerned about their legacy.
What can we do? It would be a good start to become an organization that cares about giving back to the community, not just about making money. You might explore dates on the calendar when you permit and even encourage team members to participate in fund-raisers, 10K runs or let them choose a charity they love and match any money they give to that charity. Find causes that match your DNA as an organization and identify creative ways to join them. Then, be sure you communicate this with your team members.
7. Deal breaker: Can I work with my friends?
As strange as this may sound, Generation iY wants to work with their friends, just like they went to school with their friends. Focus groups have demonstrated that many will choose jobs where they can team up with comrades. This is a shift from their parent’s generation. Two out of three will choose a place to live before they choose their job, not vice versa. Peers are huge; this young generation values their reputation with those peers and they want to stay in constant contact with them. Growing up they were able to do this, moving from NeoPets, to Club Penguin, to MySpace to Facebook. Thousands got involved with World of Warcraft where they took part in a group from which they drew their identity. Those identities and opinions of their peers are everything. They are simply used to working and playing in teams, with friends.
What can we do? I am aware of two companies that discovered this reality, and have hired an entire flat (or apartment) of friends or fraternity of guys to work construction or sell products for them. In return, they not only got a slew of workers, but they got a team with good attitudes and relationships. In the end, everyone won. The move accelerated production and morale.
8. The pursuit of both influence and affluence.
Influence and affluence are both important to them They want to change their world, but they are frequently self-indulged narcissists. They don’t want to give up too much free time, but they want to do “work” that matters; that impacts their world in a measurable way. They are used to getting what they want—new clothes, new technology, even the right grades in school. At the same time, they are aware of many of the deep needs in the world because of easy access to news programs. They have grown up with the Oklahoma City bombing, the Terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the Asian tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. These tragedies are expected among the teen and twenty something population. Their response? They want to solve these problems and make a difference. But they want to do it over a weekend. Or, on a short-term mission trip. And they don’t want to wait until tomorrow to do it. They have a bias for action and interaction. After all, they have lots of other things they want to accomplish in their lives.
The earlier kids born into this generation were more self-sacrificing. They wanted to influence their world, but affluence wasn’t in the center of their radar screen. Today, both are front and center in their minds. According to a recent survey of Gen iY, their number one goal was to become rich. Number two was to become famous. Earlier students from this generation said little about money. They were more drawn to give themselves to a cause they believed in, and let the money take care of itself. Graduates we meet today say money is very important and they want to be well off as adults. It is one of their highest priorities. They’ve seen young people become celebrities overnight (i.e. American Idol) and hope to get rich in their twenties. It’s not that they don’t care about changing the world—they just want to do it with a six-figure salary.
What can we do? Max Depree says that the first job of the leader is to define reality. I believe we must help these new employees step into the real world. Influence and affluence take time, and lots of hard, unglamorous work. As we put them to work, we must show them how the often-menial tasks they’re asked to do tie into the big picture and actually do change the world in some way. Provide a sense of the big picture to them. Connect what they are doing to the legacy they want to leave. Finally, help them see that service to the world, not fame in the world, is a far more satisfying mission in life.
They are a postponed yet passionate generation.
We’ve observed the best word that describes this young generation is: passionate. It’s a word they use often, much more than Generation X, who came before them. They are determined to “find their passion” and devote their life to it. Or, should I say, part of their life. Reports say they may have more than one passion and may experience multiple careers in their adult life. It’s hard for them to narrow it down. If they possess five passions, they may pursue five careers. But, they always want to be about a “passion” (some passion) in the moment they are living right now. They don’t want to do anything halfway. And we have the opportunity to not only be an employer for them, but a mentor to them. I am convinced that despite the challenges Gen iY faces, they have tremendous potential. Let’s do our best to help them reach it.
For more information on leading Generation iY visit www.savetheirfuturenow.com.