Are Generations X and Y Slackers or Stars in the Workplace?

by Doug and Polly White

Managing younger employees can be a challenge, especially for Baby Boomer bosses. If you want to recruit, retain and motivate Generation Xers and Ys, you need to know how they view their careers and workplaces.

We are often asked by our clients, "How do I improve the work ethic of my younger employees?" This is a tough one. We are all a product of our upbringing. We are shaped by the parenting norms of our generation, as well as the events, people and issues that influenced our early years. As such, generational groups tend to have different norms and behaviors that impact the workplace both positively and negatively. The truth is, each generation believes that its work ethic is "better and/or stronger" than the work ethic of subsequent generations. It is also true that each generation believes that its work ethic is sufficient and appropriate for the time. Therefore, a better question might be: how do I recruit, retain and motivate younger employees?

Being a proud member of the Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) I will define younger as those workers from Generations X and Y.

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1978, has been described as independent, tech-savvy, pragmatic and competent. Experts attribute much of their independence to the latch-key experience that many from that generation shared. Xers were often raised by single parents or by parents who both worked outside the home. This change in parenting norms helped to create a generation that is more self-managing. In addition, these early experiences caused Xers to strive for the work-life balance lacking in their workaholic Boomer-parents. These experiences also may color Xers' feelings towards their employers. Members of this generation tend to change jobs frequently - every three to five years. They are inclined to be free agents and distrust corporate motives.



To recruit, retain and motivate Xers, first appeal to their need for balance. Develop family-friendly programs that offer flexible schedules, telecommuting and job-sharing. Encourage their independence and ability to manage multiple priorities. Remove bureaucracy and tenure-based rewards, but don't remove yourself. Xers crave feedback, especially from their boss. Spend personal, one-on-one time with these employees to create relationships and foster trust. Emphasize their accomplishments and results over methods and how they got there. Include them in decision making; they are problem-solvers. Finally, if you want something done, give it to an Xer. They have been self-managing from a young age.

Generation Y, born between 1979 and 1994, is most often labeled as entitled, impatient, and outspoken with an inability to take criticism. They are deemed to be high maintenance, but most experts agree with more potential than any previous generation. They grew up with instant gratification, devoted parents, and the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality. They are adaptable and flexible which they need in order to deal with the ever increasing rate of change. Ys are not just technology savvy, they are technology sophisticated. Finally, although they have seen corruption in their sports heroes, business leaders and even their President, they continue to believe that they can and will change the world for the better.

To keep the best of Generation Y at your workplace you will need to offer flexibility and fun. While I believe the truth of this statement, just writing this raises the hackles on my Baby-Boomer back. However, organizations that hope to be successful in attracting and retaining Ys will need programs that support an even higher level of work/life balance. They may need short sabbaticals to pursue personal interests. In addition, you will need to offer the latest technology. If you thought the three-to-five-year tenure for Generation X was short, Generation Y is proving to be even less. The best of this Generation is looking to move up fast and will stay with organizations only if they can see and attain their goals quickly. Therefore, management should share possible career paths with Ys openly and often. Management will need to give Ys a lot of positive feedback and, only after you have their trust, coach them on the value of constructive criticism. Finally, Generation Y looks for and values organizations that are good corporate citizens. Support their causes and allow employees to contribute and participate.

If organizations are to be successful in managing the incoming generations they will need to recognize the values and attributes that each bring to the workplace. Accepting that a different work ethic is not necessarily an inferior work ethic is a first step. Instead, develop programs and strategies that will allow you to leverage the positive qualities of each generation to the benefit of both your employees and your organization.

Doug and Polly White are Principals at Whitestone Partners; a management-consulting firm that helps small businesses build the infrastructure they need to grow profitably. They are also coauthors of the groundbreaking new book, Let Go to Grow: Why Some Businesses Thrive and Others Fail to Reach Their Potential  (Palari Publishing 2011). The book explains how entrepreneurs can avoid the most common pitfalls as their businesses grow and is available at www.WhitestonePartnersInc.com  

 
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