How should I communicate with “Gen-Ys”?

Retaining “Gen-Ys” has been a recurring management issue for many years now.

It has started with the entry of “Gen-Ys” (born around approximately mid-1970s to early 2000s) into the workplace: Self-directed learners, independent thinkers, at times somewhat individualistic creators, proficient “multi-taskers” and yes, focused and goal-oriented individuals. The entry of these groups of youths into the workplace has served as a wake-up call to management that the working world – or rather the profile of  incoming employees – is changing again. And some things need to be done before the “Gen-Ys” exit from the workplace to be entrepreneurs even before they have stepped in, creating a vast scarcity in the corporate workplace in the upcoming years.

The question is often along the lines of retaining them. Such line of questioning often explores the methods and techniques of retaining them. However, this is hardly effective if one does not put in much effort to understand them. What exactly are “Gen-Ys”? Employers and Human Resources (HR) staff really should not be faulted for failing to retain them as after all, they are the new generation. And it’s not easy to understand their mindset when it comes to work.

However, having worked at a post-secondary educational institution for several years, I do have some insights behind Gen-Ys’ mindset towards work. And to truly understand them in their life’s endeavours, I have put in quite some time to analyse and ruminate on their thoughts and motivations. I have done this previously to motivate them in their studies but after understanding their thoughts, mindsets and lifestyle, I gradually came to a realisation that my findings may be able to provide some thoughts for corporate management members who are constantly seeking to get some insights in this area.

Below are some of my findings pertaining to “Gen-Ys”. They may not accurately portray all the “Gen-Ys” (after all, none of us are exact clones of one another) but they do serve as great highlights on their motivations and their differences from others:

  • Individualistic: “Gen-Ys” are individualistic to a certain degree and this pretty much translates into their lifestyle and job preferences. They like to pursue their own interest and hobbies, to the point of committing much time and effort into perfecting it. For instance, if a “Gen-Y” is interested in hip-hop dancing, he/she can dedicate time for study during the day but it’s almost an expectation on their part that they will be able to train their dance moves from the end of the lesson till early evening. They tend to be very focused and consistent in their endeavours and few things can deter them from pursuing their passions. In the corporate workplaces, their goal-oriented nature will prove to be very valuable to the organisation’s vision. However, this is based on the assumption that the organisation’s vision is aligned with that of the “Gen-Ys”. Their strong and determined focus to pursue their passion in life means that work-life balance is among the top priorities for the “Gen-Ys”, and the organisation that is able to provide that increases their chances of talent retention among this generation of youths. As supervising managers of “Gen-Ys”, it will be advisable to assess the “Gen-Ys” under their charge individually in terms of their interests and working style and how these interests and working style can be aligned with their job responsibilities and tasks. The latter is often a very challenging task since employees are expected to align their goals with that of the organisation, and not other way round. However, doing otherwise might result in a massive brain-drain of this generation in the corporate workplace.
  • Recognition-seeking: At first glance, the term “recognition-seeking” reeks of arrogant and pompous individuals, self-seeking mercenaries and promotion-seeking wannabes but this is NOT the case.  All of us want to be recognised for our effort and achievements in whenever we do. We can even see it in kids who often seeks praises from parents for their accomplishments – be it finishing a set of dance moves, an act of storytelling or completing a house chore. For mature adults, adolescence and children, it is only in the degree of seeking recognition that varies. “Gen-Ys” are no different.  In the classroom, they wanted to be acknowledged as great students and excellent team players. Consistent motivation and encouragement are the efficient tools in making them excellent, rather than constant chiding and reprimand. “Gen-Ys” want to know their progress, that they are doing well and that they will continue to do better. Of course, highlighting areas to improve on to them in a nice way will work wonders when guiding them to improve. They do not need someone to tell them that they are not doing well, that they are way behind and to kill their dreams. In another words, they need positive motivations and encouragements to spur them on, not negative criticism and downers to put them down. This is something that all appraising managers or working professionals in similar capacity should be mindful of. Appreciate and value the contributions of “Gen-Ys” and they will be prove to be previous gems in the organisations.
  • Short-attention span and multitasking: There are many who have faulted technology – specifically the prevalence of the internet and related applications in recent years  – for Gen-Ys’ short attention span and their penchant for multitasking.  While it may prove detrimental when it comes to handling long-term projects within corporate workplace settings, it will be good to view Gen-Y’s capability to communicate with their teammates while doing research concurrently. Although in recent years, research has shown that multitasking slows down rather than speed up one’s work pace, it will be interesting to divert the abilities of “Gen-Y” to multitask to work involving varied and challenging roles and responsibilities. This is something that most of them will be interested in. This also implies that supervisors briefing them on job specifications  not only have to be concise and precise in their approach, but the briefing time should be as brief as possible too. Giving them the main and important points will do. And remember to break their tasks into stages so that they can be motivated upon the completion of each stage.
  • “Online” lifestyle: Their fascination with “online” correspondences (such as SMS, MSN, blogs and emails) means that there are times when “Gen-Ys” will stay online for hours, be it working or during their leisure hours. Some of them do not like to be disturbed when they are in cyberspace. A good way to work with them will be to decide when it’s a good time for a face-to-face discussion, fix a date where both parties agree and meet at the arrange date and time. There’s not much to worry about “Gen-Y” not meeting up because although they value their personal space and time, they also value and respect work responsibilities.  Even as educators, it can be observed that they prefer educators to talk with them, and NOT talk down at them – be it online or offline. To them, respect goes both ways. They are avid online users, which means that they are familiar with new and upcoming technology, good researchers when the topic sustains their interests and are often ambassadors of their interests and passions (they will dress according to their fashion sense during their schooling days, excel at any public performance through rigorous and gruelling training sessions and believe in the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams and goals). The technological expertise of “Gen-Ys” can thus be tapped into by the organisations and they can then contribute their IT skill sets to the organisations.

Gen-Ys are precious assets to any organisations if their true potential can be released and their energy harnessed. But to do that, the “Gen-Ys” has to be treated as unique and distinct individuals whose talents are appreciated, valued and promoted. The reasons that “Gen-Y” leave an organisation are many and varied but the primary causes are lack of recognition of their talents, unsatisfactory monetary remunerations and work style conflicts between their immediate supervisors and themselves.

I hope that the abovementioned suggestion will provide managers – especially those in the supervisory role of “Gen-Ys” – with some insights into how to work with “Gen-Ys” better. And to encourage the managers to give fairer appraisals to these “Gen-Ys” based on their goal-driven attitude and energised enthusiasm. Judge the “Gen-Ys” not based on one’s expectations of them but based on their contributions and merits.


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