January 22, 2016

Bridging the Gap with Millennials: Managing Gen-Y Employees

Generation Y – or Millennials – is a label given to people born between the early 80s and early 2000s (reference Wikipedia). In today’s times, as a large number of people from this generation are joining the workforce, we are witnessing a major change in the ways of working, an overall work culture and job expectations.

As an Engineering Manager, I feel that though there are quite a few challenges working with this generation, if their strengths are harnessed sensitively and in right direction the results can be quite amazing.

Each individual has their own personality traits and it is not fair to generalize them into groups based on a specific age group. However, I am writing this blog keeping in mind my experience with most of my teams and by experiencing the trends that are changing from the times I started working as a trainee around 13 years ago. I have also included references from various surveys conducted by Forbes and Deloitte to support my thoughts throughout this blog.

Work-Life balance

The line between work and life has become too thin, as Gen Y is motivated to work in order to enjoy life. The distractions of gadgets of the modern age notwithstanding, Gen Y is well informed and formulate an opinion on almost everything very early on in life. To maintain a healthy work-life balance they expect flexible work schedules; which in a way is justified as they are mature individuals who can effectively plan their day. It doesn’t necessarily generate a good output, working 8 to 5 each day, especially when you have dependencies on people across geographies.

However, Gen Y may need to demonstrate that while maintaining a good work-life balance they are also doing great work and consistently delighting their customer, simply by prioritizing better between professional and personal chores. They should also be willing to devote longer hours at work, especially at the beginning of the career, so as to prepare themselves for a successful career path.

Forbes reference: 74% of Millennials want flexible work schedules. And 88% want “work-life integration,” which isn’t the same as work-life balance, since work and life now blend together inextricably.

Constructive Feedback

Gen Y is keen to hear early and on-going feedback and doesn’t really endorse the idea of annual/semi-annual review sessions. They are more interested in casual, on-the-fly feedback.

Be it positive or negative feedback, it should be conveyed sensitively and managers should ensure that there is no room for any misunderstanding. Expectations should be clearly communicated along with the mechanism to measure its success or failure. This will make the evaluation process very transparent. Managers should be empowered with rewards and recognition at the team level to encourage deserving team members and also motivate others in the team to excel in their tasks.

On the other hand, Gen Y should be more receptive to constructive criticism. A major reason for dissatisfaction arises as they possess unrealistic expectations. At times it takes shape due to a sense of entitlement which morphs into an inflated view of oneself. As the saying goes, there is no shortcut to success, there is a long way to be traversed with dedication and hard work that makes you special and makes you stand out from the entire lot.

Forbes reference: Gen Y workers welcome corrective feedback and critiques, but prior to receiving this feedback it is paramount that they have a manager who carefully listens to their point of view. Rather than blow people away with what’s wrong, managers who first try to understand what has happened from the employee’s point of view are more successful at giving effective feedback.

Smart risk takers

Gen Y individuals are more often smart risk-takers with a Go, Get it! approach. This comes from a mindset as they see themselves as leaders and are pretty confident in their skill set.

This generation is more independent and is not afraid of asking questions. Exploring answers to these questions can lead to more efficient/effective ways of doing work. In order to yield better and faster results, Managers can facilitate enthusiasts of Gen Y by providing them some good mentors. Experience from these mentors and the zeal of the millennials is a perfect blend to reap maximum benefits thru calculated risks.

Having said that, Gen Y may need to pick up their targets carefully based upon their capabilities, areas of interest or resources available at their disposal. While in the process of traversing the path which is less travelled, they should also be careful not to question every single process or decision. It is advisable that they set appropriate targets or goals and may also consider if setting small milestones can yield better results.

Deloitte Survey Reference: Almost one in four Millennials are ‘asking for a chance’ to show their leadership skills. Additionally, 50 percent believe their organizations could do more to develop future leaders

Work towards innovation

I would rather term Gen Y as the “Generation of Innovation”. This generation is greatly influenced by how innovative an organization is.

Gen Y is more collaborative and coming with a social mindset they are more comfortable working in teams. Organizations should aim towards building a healthy team culture and foster ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Managers can find ways to nurture their creativity and engage/coach them to improve performance.

Deloitte Survey Reference: Almost 60 percent of Millennials believe organizations can become good at innovation by following established processes and that innovation can be learned and is repeatable, rather than being spontaneous and random.

Flexible to change

Gen Y tends to be most adaptive to changing markets and demands. They use more technology and hence are always updated with latest products, services and information, which is available real time and on-demand.

Managers must ensure that they share as many updates (as they can) so that minds don’t wander, channelize their energies in the right direction. Organizations should look at bringing in more agility in their process where they can be tweaked for better outcomes rather than molding individuals as per the processes further restricting their adaptability to rapidly changing priorities. The ability of an organization to effectively deploy both the new technology and the Gen Y’s tech-savvy skills, will give them an edge over others.

Forbes Reference: As “digital natives,” Gen Yers have a desire for flexibility, yet maintain a preference for speed and efficiency. They are also willing to put the time in to stay ‘digitally literate’ as technologies rapidly change.

Social Responsibilities

The Millennials tend to think beyond themselves and think of ways of giving back to the society. They are more inclined towards organizations that follow ethical practices and are aligned to one or more social cause.

Corporate voluntary programs can be designed so as the leverage the tendency of this generation to work better in groups. They are good team players and such programs allow them to connect with people within the organization with whom they are not working directly. Organizations are also coming up with various programs like donating some work hours to charity, giving some paid time-off for volunteers or partner with a non-profit organization and they have witnessed a good participation from Gen Y.

These measures, in turn, help the organizations build Brand visibility in the community and increase job satisfaction level amongst employees.

Deloitte Survey Reference: 63 percent of Millennials gave to charities, 43 percent actively volunteered or were a member of a community organization and 52 percent signed petitions.

It’s all about bridging the gap

To sum it up – while working with Gen Y, management folks should remember that ‘One-size fits all’ is a wrong approach.  To achieve this effectively, project managers should be tasked and empowered to manage employees on a micro scale. Higher management should focus more on managing the overall engagement on a macro scale. Managers may further empower deserving Gen Y individuals thru Delegation of tasks. This will give them a sense of responsibility and also establish faith in them, towards the management.

On the other hand, Gen Y must appreciate that they are not ‘entitled’ to be ‘special’; rather they have to work hard, think out of the box and stand out of the crowd to be treated as ‘special’. They need to attain a certain level of experience and skillset to move up the next step on the corporate ladder.