There are about 80 million of them out there, and they are moving up the ranks fast. They are Generation Y.

Yes, they need a lot of attention, they like to move fast, they seem to have no shame. Knee-jerk reactions on how to lead them will cause turnover of these top performers.

Members of Generation Y are born between the late seventies and late nineties. Of all the generations in the workforce, they seem to be getting the most flack.
Here are some of the complaints I hear. They’re lazy. They’re impatient. They take up so much of my time. They want to be promoted right away. They don’t realize I had to earn what I have now. They think work has to fun. Argh.

But while they seem high-maintenance, they are also high-performing. To get the most out of them, here are some mistakes to avoid.

#1:  Don’t cut face time short.

To you, Gen Y employees appear needy. Wow, they always want to talk, share ideas, hear my opinion! Why can’t they simply get to work?! To them, they are looking for insight from you; they want to interact. They are NOT plug and play employees. They grew up in highly structured environments. They want to be trained. Use the time they request from you to be explicit about their responsibilities. If they do a fine job, hand over more. Challenge them daily.

#2:  Don’t misunderstand their need for speed.

If you’re a Gen Xer like me, you earned your stripes differently: you worked hard and waited patiently. That was the way it was done! Well, things have changed.  Gen Yers have been raised with instant gratification as a theme. Technology has obviously played a huge role in their lives. It’s not that they don’t want to earn a promotion or a bonus; they simply desire it to happen faster –  and for the process to be more transparent. Hmm, sounds nice to me!

#3:  Don’t isolate them.

Members of generation Y are incredibly  social. They have been team-oriented since pee-wee soccer. Hence, creating a workplace that allows for regular collaboration – with all levels of employees and within all functions – enables them to learn and perform. And they want to do both: discover new skills and do a superb job.

The sands of time won’t blow away what Gen Y has done. What may appear to be indulgences now – like flex time and training  – may in fact be the standards of the future. Maybe it isn’t such a radical idea that one should be happy and fulfilled AND engaged at work. What do you think?

© Leila Bulling Towne 2010

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