Workplace Issues

Talkin’ About Y Generation

“When Gen Ys don’t hear from their boss, they’re freaking out. The annual performance review is not enough,” an under-30 workplace expert says.
Taylor ProvostOctober 2, 2012

Generation Y workers aren’t slackers, they’re just misunderstood. And they need a whole lot of interaction with their bosses.

That’s what Wilson Standish, account manager at research and consulting firm Trendera — and a member of Generation Y himself — told a crowd of CFO Rising West attendees in Las Vegas Monday morning.

“We all lived for those participation trophies in school and that has stayed with us,” he said. “When Gen Ys don’t hear from their boss, they’re freaking out. The annual performance review is not enough.”

Standish said many Gen Y workers would prefer to have a weekly check-in with a supervisor, and the review doesn’t have to be positive. “They need a sense of progress, or how they’re affecting the big picture. It’ll give them more confidence in their roles, and they’ll want to work harder.”

Gen Y may sound harder to please than its predecessors, Standish acknowledged, but with half the world’s population under 30, businesses can’t really afford to ignore their demands. He assured CFOs attending Rising West that changing company policy to be more in line with Gen Y’s personality would pay off in the end.

“I know there’s a perception of entitlement when it comes to Gen Ys, but they don’t expect to have success given to them. They’re willing to put in the work to fulfill their dreams.

“Gen Ys grew up in the ’90s. They thought things were going great, that they’d go to college and then get a job with a starting salary of $70,000. Obviously, that didn’t happen,” said Standish. “They had the rug pulled out from under them, and now they need to reassess their goals.”

Members of Gen Y, also known as Millennials, were born between 1980 and 1995. They have faced more pressure to succeed than any generation before them, and yearn to make a good impression in the workplace.

They’re more productive in environments that allow for easy communication and collaboration with coworkers. From an early age, Gen Ys were expected to engage with their peers, Standish said. In elementary school their desks were grouped together, and collaboration was encouraged. Isolation is unfamiliar to a Gen Y, and therefore distracting.

Gen Ys have also grown up surrounded by a constant flow of information, and are less inclined to cut off ties with the workplace upon leaving the physical office for the day. They’re more likely to check their work e-mail first thing in the morning and have inbox notifications on their phone. As a result, they don’t feel like they have to be at the office to be productive, said Standish. In fact, an office environment that feels too constraining to a Gen Y can have the opposite effect.

“Creating a work environment that puts an emphasis on happiness will create a more productive Gen Y worker,” he said. “I’m not saying every office has to be the Google office or the Facebook office. You don’t have to have a basketball court; you just have to make sure it’s an enjoyable place to be.”

While Gen Ys still prefer to have a workspace of their own, Standish said, surveys conducted by Trendera indicate they’re even more productive working from the comfort of their own home once or twice a week. Because they don’t want to lose the freedom they’ve so graciously been granted, Standish said, they’ll get the work done as efficiently, if not more, as during a day in the office. And because they’re constantly connected through their smartphones and tablets, they’re less likely to go off the grid.

But with all the desire for freedom and flexibility comes a neediness inherent in many Gen Y workers, said Standish. Gen Ys crave constant feedback from their superiors: some kind of assurance that their work is satisfactory. It all started with those gold stars in kindergarten that brought forth a generation seeking instant gratification.

4 Powerful Communication Strategies for Your Next Board Meeting