Managing Generation Y (Paper)
Managing Generation Y
The following paper by Professor Susan Eisner was presented at the 2005 Society for Advancement of Management (SAM) International Conference, and published in the Proceedings of that conference.
(Note: The software for this webpage does not support tables. Figures and tables that appear in the published paper may not appear "boxed" or tabled, here, as a result; spacing within tables and the reference section may also be distorted.)
By 2006, two experienced workers will leave the workforce for every one who enters. Already, nearly 60% of HR professionals in large companies report conflict between younger and older workers. This paper seeks to present winning strategies for managing intergenerational implications of Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) entrance to the contemporary workplace, supported by a review of existing literature and findings of original survey research. It describes relevant core characteristics of each of the four generations that comprise today’s workforce, Gen Y’s workplace perceptions and satisfaction, challenges and opportunities presented by Gen Y’s entry to the workplace, and resulting management strategies for achieving high performance.
With the entry of Generation Y to the working world, the workforce for the first time contains four generations: Traditionalists (also called Veterans, Silents, or Greatest Generation; 75 million born before 1945; 10% of the workforce), Baby Boomers (80 million born 1945-1964; 45% of the workforce), Generation X (Gen X) (46 million born 1965-1980; 30% of the workforce), and Generation Y (Gen Y) also called Echo Boomers, Millenials, Internet Generation, or Nexters; 76 million born after 1980; 15% of the workforce) (Paul, 2004; Francis-Smith, 2004; Johns, 2003; Martin and Tulgan, 2004; Raines, 2002). Though there is some slight variation in the way the literature names these generations and classifies start and end dates, there is general descriptive consensus among academics and practitioners regarding these generations.
Moreover, there appears to be agreement that this confluence of generations is a reality with immediate consequences for managers. Over the next ten years, the U.S. population older than 65 will increase by 26%, those 40-54 will fall by 5%, and those 25-30 will increase by 6% (Connelly, 2003). By 2006, two experienced workers will leave the workforce for every one who enters it (Piktialis, 2004). Already, nearly 60% of HR professionals in large companies report conflict between younger and older workers (Work Ethic Primary Conflict, 2004), and cite impending labor shortages as increasing the value of every employee (Southard and Lewis, 2004; Dealing With Your New Generation Mix, 2004). Against this backdrop, intergenerational differences may become a foremost aspect of diversity in the U.S. workplace.
Through today’s electronic universe, websites targeted to various generations have been created. A consulting specialty of intergenerational management has also emerged. Bruce Tulgan, author of the 2003 report “Generational Shift: What We Saw At the Workplace Revolution (Tulgan, 2004),” has been active in that arena for more than ten years. A review of peer-reviewed academic articles and practitioner-targeted publications finds that research providing foundational literature regarding intergenerational management has begun. This paper seeks to contribute to that literature, management practice, and business education through secondary and primary research. It examines the core characteristics of the newest entrants to the workplace – Generation Y – and the strategic implications for management that entrance creates in a workplace already comprised of three generations.
This paper is stimulated by findings of, and reactions to, articles I have presented at peer-reviewed conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals in recent years regarding Gen Y. Sensing some changes as Gen Y entered our business school classes, I conducted a stream of research which found that those changes might be linked to a shift in student generations. That research focused largely on pedagogical challenges of teaching Gen Y business school college students, and strategies to enhance their learning. It has received “Best Paper Awards ,” and generated queries from business educators in disparate geographic locations seeking collectively to better understand this new generation. From a management perspective, those conversations were a catalyst for this paper. That is, Gen Y business students appear to present generational challenges for many educators, and are entering the full-time workforce. A question arose: Will Gen Y’s presence in the workplace present strategic challenges for managers?
As I began exploring answers to that question through existing literature, I also began surveying our students regarding their workplace perceptions and satisfaction levels based on their experience as Gen Y workers. Consistent with North American demographics, most of our students have worked part-time for years (Loughlin and Barling, 2001). I have conducted and analyzed the results of those surveys in fourteen academic sessions beginning with Summer 2000. Along with a review of the existing secondary literature, this paper presents the findings of that original survey research.
RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODOLOGY
This paper, then, seeks to present winning strategies for managing intergenerational implications of Gen Y’s entrance to the contemporary workplace. In reviewing the existing literature, some 100 articles were located on-line through academic databases including ProQuest and LexisNexis using Managing Gen Y, Gen Y at Work, and Managing Generations among the search locators. Practitioner websites were also sampled using Managing Gen Y as the main search locator. Survey data conducted by the Gallup Organization was accessed through the Gallup Brain database.
From that research, it became clear that managerial implications of Gen Y’s entry to the workplace are complex, and should be investigated within the multi-generational context that contemporary managers are experiencing. That is, managing Gen Y does not occur in a vacuum; workers of other generations are likely to also be part of the manager’s workforce. As a result, several core questions emerge: 1) What are the relevant core characteristics of each of the four generations that comprise today’s workforce? 2) What are Gen Y’s perceptions and satisfaction levels toward work? 3) What challenges and opportunities are presented by the entry of Gen Y to the workplace? and 4) What management strategies are likely to be most effective for achieving high performance in today’s intergenerational workplace? Those research questions are addressed in this paper.
FOUR GENERATIONS AT WORK
The literature is remarkably consistent in its descriptions of the four generations that now comprise today’s workforce. On the whole, it describes the coexistence of age-diverse workers in a transitioning workplace once characterized by long-term, mutually loyal, employer-employee relations that produced work through command and control management. Together, that workforce is moving toward a 21st century workplace characterized by free agency. There, workers no longer expect long-term rewards, but instead negotiate each new job seeking the best overall working environment including opportunities for training and work-life balance (Connelly, 2003; Tulgan, 2004).
The most senior generation at work today is most frequently termed Traditionalists (75 million born before 1945). Children of Depression and World Wars, Traditionalists were socialized through scarcity and hardship. They tend to value family and patriotism, have had a parent at home to raise children, prefer consistency, and use a top-down management style. They are inclined to inform on a need-to-know basis, be satisfied by a job well done, remain with one company over time, and have amassed wisdom and experience (Allen, 2004). Traditionalists are likely to be loyal and self-sacrificing employees who prefer a traditional, hierarchical management structure (Francis-Smith, 2004). When in command, they tend to take charge. When in doubt, they tend to do what is right (Martin and Tulgan, 2004)
The Traditionalists’ children were socialized in the 1950s and 1960s feeling prosperous, safe, and anything is possible. The largest generation in history, these Baby Boomers (80 million born 1945-1964) believe in growth, change, and expansion. Their numbers alone made them competitive. Baby Boomers tend to want it all and seek it by working long hours, showing loyalty, and being ruthless if necessary; many do not plan to retire. They are likely to respect authority, but want to be viewed and treated as equals (Allen, 2004). Baby Boomers tended to be the center of their parent’s attention and redefined many social norms, especially family, in which their generation increased divorce rates. They tend to be driven to succeed, and to measure that success materially. Like their parents, they are inclined to lack technological skills but to be social beings; networking works well for them in career building (Johns, 2003). Baby Boomers tend to be optimistic and confident, and to value free expression and social reform (Francis-Smith, 2004).
In the workplace, Baby Boomers tend to seek consensus, dislike authoritarianism and laziness, and micro-manage others (Francis-Smith, 2004). They have paid their dues and proactively climbed the corporate ladder making new rules along the way. But now they tend to find themselves reactive in an era of downsizing and reengineering. The sink or swim survival mode they are accustomed to becomes more difficult as they reach a life stage in which keeping up a non-stop pace becomes an ever-greater challenge (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).
Gen X (46 million born 1965-1980) is the child of the workaholic Baby Boomers. Socialized as latchkey kids in a downsizing work world where technology was booming, Gen X tends to lack the social skills of its parents but to have strong technical ability (Johns, 2003). It is likely to be self-reliant, individualistic, distrustful of corporations, lacking in loyalty, and intent on balancing work and personal life. Independent, entrepreneurial Gen X lives on the edge and embraces change; it produced the 1990’s dot-com stars. Gen X tends to be outcome-focused, and seeks specific and constructive feedback (Allen, 2004). It is skeptical, but loves freedom and room to grow (Francis-Smith, 2004).
At work, Gen X is not likely to prioritize long-term employment with a single company or value long hours. It tends to respond well to competent leadership, and to be educated and technically skilled enough to move into management more quickly (Francis-Smith, 2004). Gen X is likely to value developing skills more than gaining in job title, and to not take well to micro - managing. Reflecting its lack of social skills, Gen X tends to be reluctant to network and is attracted more by ads and recruitment (Johns, 2003). It pioneered the free-agent workforce, and believes security comes with keeping skills current. This generation is likely to find a way to get things done smart, fast, and best even if it means bending the rules. It tends to respond well to a coaching management style that provides prompt feedback and credit for results achieved (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).
Gen Y (76 million born after 1980) is the most recent cohort to enter the workforce. Far larger than the generation before it, much of Gen Y was raised in a time of economic expansion and prosperity. But Gen Y is coming to age in an era of economic uncertainty and violence. Though it is the most affluent generation (Allen, 2004), some 16 percent of Gen Y grew up or is growing up in poverty (Raines, 2002). In its post-Columbine, post-9/11, 24-hour media world, this latest generation has seen more at an earlier age than prior generations have seen (Sujansky, 2004). It is not surprising that Gen Y reflects some values held by Traditionalists. Like that “Greatest Generation,” Gen Y tends to have a strong sense of morality, be patriotic, be willing to fight for freedom, be sociable, and value home and family. But Gen Y’s large size, level of education, and technical skill poise it to echo the Baby Boomers’ impact on business and society (Allen, 2004).
Having worked throughout high school while continuing to live with parents in a 24/7 digitally connected and globalizing world, Gen Y is the most technically literate, educated, and ethnically diverse generation in history, and tends to have more discretionary income. It tends to want intellectual challenge, need to succeed, seek those who will further its professional development, strive to make a difference, and measure its own success. Meeting personal goals is likely to matter to Gen Y, as is performing meaningful work that betters the world, and working with committed co-workers with shared values. Making a lot of money tends to be less important to Gen Y than contributing to society, parenting well, and enjoying a full and balanced life (Allen, 2004).
Gen Y was socialized in a digital world. It is more than technically literate; it is continually wired, plugged in, and connected to digitally streaming information, entertainment, and contacts. It has so mastered technology that multi-tasking has become a habit it takes into the workplace, where it tends to instant message its contacts while doing work (Lewis, 2003). A recent study found Gen Y consuming 31 hours of media within a 24-hour period. Gen Y tends to consume more hours of media, through multi-tasking, than there are hours in the day (Weiss, 2003)
Gen Y has been told it can do anything, and tends to believe it (Martin, 2004). It has lived with strong social stressors ranging from pressure to excel in school, to parental divorce and being raised by one parent. It is accustomed to being active in family decisions, and is likely to expect to contribute to decisions in organizations by which it is employed (Johns, 2003). Overall, Gen Y is inclined to be positive, polite, curious, energetic, and respectful of its parents and grandparents (Francis-Smith, 2004).
In the workplace, Gen Y tends to favor an inclusive style of management, dislike slowness, and desire immediate feedback about performance (Francis-Smith, 2004). It is a truly global generation, socially conscious and volunteer-minded, and positioned to be the most demanding generation. If treated professionally, it is likely to act professionally. Gen Y is likely to perform best when its abilities are identified and matched with challenging work that pushes it fully. Speed, customization, and interactivity – two-way non-passive engagement – are likely to help keep Gen Y focused (Martin and Tulgan, 2004). Technically able, highly informed and confident, but lacking direction, Gen Y is more likely to “rock the boat” than any prior generation (Johns, 2003).
SURVEY RESULTS: GEN Y'S PERCEPTIONS AND SATISFACTION LEVELS TOWARD WORK
Against this backdrop, a key question emerges: What is Gen Y’s perception of and satisfaction level toward work? To explore this, I constructed a questionnaire that incorporated management criteria from leading textbooks. The survey has been administered in the 300-level Organizational Theory and Behavior course at Ramapo College of New Jersey in every academic session taught beginning with Summer 2000. Ramapo College is a four-year public college in the New Jersey state system of higher education, located in suburban Bergen County about 35 miles from New York City. The Organizational Theory and Behavior course is part of the required core at Ramapo College’s School of Administration and Business, which is the largest of the college’s five schools. As characterizes their generation, most of our increasingly Gen Y students have worked part-time for years. An average of 25 students completed the survey in each of the fourteen academic sessions, resulting in 350 completed questionnaires.
The survey asks student respondents to reflect upon their workplace experience, indicate the level of their managers’ competence in each of 18 characteristics, and specify the level of their own overall satisfaction with work using a whole number response scale of one/low to four/high. Surveys are distributed at the start of the term, following an introductory lecture presenting an overview of the contemporary workplace in descriptive, not prescriptive, terms. For most students, that introduction is a review of concepts learned in prior courses. The characteristics included in the questionnaire are among those described in the course introduction, assuring that all respondents understand the characteristics they are assessing. The four-point response scale coincides with the four point grading scale used at Ramapo College, to provide an assessment tool students are familiar with.
Respondent perceptions of their managers’ competence are reported in the following tables. Tables 1 details, and table 2 summarizes, that although Gen Y perceives managers to be more competent in some areas than others, it perceives competence in all areas to be in the 2.52 (C+) to 2.99 (B-) range. When tallied results are presented to the student respondents, they repeatedly describe that 2.52 to 2.99 managerial performance level of managers to be average at most, below a desirable level, and below a level they would find acceptable for their own performance.
TABLE 1: SURVEY RESULTS - PERCEPTIONS OF MANAGERIAL COMPETENCE
CHARACTERISTIC RATING (1LOW TO 4HIGH)
Managerial functions (what managers are responsible for)
1. Plan: what (set goals, scan environment, make decisions) 2.80
2. Organize: how (design structure and assign tasks) 2.78
3. Lead: why (move/convince others to accept and carry out decision/plan) 2.61
4. Control: what if (take corrective action if needed) 2.78
Managerial skills (what managers can do)
5. Communication: reach common understanding 2.81
6. Interpersonal/attitude/team: make positive contribution to/with others 2.71
7. Critical/creative thinking: ask original questions; generate new alternatives 2.53
8. Analytic/quantitative: answer questions solidly, collecting and using data 2.78
9. Technological: facile with implements of production 2.67
Managerial qualities (what managers are like)
10. Ethical: know, model, promote, and reward moral behavior and decisions 2.95
11. Competent: can do the job 2.97
12. Respected: show valued qualities (likability) and believability (credibility) 2.88
13. Fair: make rules known and play by them, provide chances, be impartial 2.81
14. Accessible: be approachable and available 2.99
Managerial effectiveness (what managers do to achieve through/with others)
15. Lead proactively: envision/initiate opportunities, and motivate others to seize them enthusiastically 2.79
16. Create positive work environment: deliver high performance workplace where employee needs/interests/goals are met re: performance and satisfaction 2.81
17. Provide incentive to achieve high performance: offer meaningful rewards for attaining goals 2.52
18. Present opportunity to achieve high performance: make it possible to attain goals and rewards 2.62
As summarized in Table 2, below, our mostly Gen Y students rank their managers most highly overall on the qualities (accessible, competent, ethical, respected, and fair) they possess. They rank their managers relatively similarly on the remaining four categories, in this order: 1) functional competence (plan, organize, control, and lead), 2) managerial skills possessed (communicate, analytical/
quantitative, interpersonal, technological, and critical/creative thinking), and 3) managers’ effectiveness at achieving goals through and with others (create positive work environment, lead proactively, present opportunity to achieve high performance, and provide incentive to achieve high performance). This result is interesting in that the most highly ranked category, qualities, contains attributes that tend to be expected of managers in both traditional command/control and contemporary flat/empowered workplaces, and would be most likely to be possessed by Traditionalists and Baby Boomers maintaining management jobs in the changing workplace.
The five attributes our students perceive managers to be most lacking are also interesting, as they confirm generational descriptors identified earlier in this paper. Given their different skill sets, work style, and values, it is an expected result that Gen Y would find managers from prior generations lacking in ability to use technology, present opportunity to achieve high performance, lead, think critically/creatively, and provide incentive to achieve high performance.
Survey responses are consistent with the expected result. Most notable, though, is that final attribute, manager’s effectiveness at providing incentive to achieve high performance – ranked lowest by our student respondents. Does Gen Y find that attribute lacking due to intergenerational variances in preferred management style? Or do they find it lacking due to intergenerational variances in meaningful incentives? That is, would managers appear to be more effective to Gen Y if incentives were a greater part of the employer-employee transaction? Or is it the nature of the incentives offered by managers that need to be more meaningful to Gen Y? Or is it both? This is an area suggested by results of the survey that future research might well target.
TABLE 2: SURVEY RESULTS - PERCEPTIONS OF MANAGERIAL COMPETENCE; OVERALL AREAS RANKED
CHARACTERISTIC RATING (1LOW TO 4HIGH)
Managerial qualities (average of Table 1: #10-14) 2.92
Managerial functions (average of Table 1: #1-4) 2.74
Managerial skill (average of Table 1: #5-9) 2.70
Managerial effectiveness (average of Table 1: #15-18) 2.69
A particularly interesting result is reported in Table 3, below. When Gen Y respondents’ ratings for all 18 assessed managerial characteristics are averaged, and the resulting perception of overall managerial competence is compared with the respondents’ reported workplace satisfaction, the two ratings are almost identical. The relationship between Gen Y workplace satisfaction and perceived managerial competence appears to be strong, and both factors are in a range that student respondents continually describe as less than desirable. This result is especially notable given Gen Y’s affinity for those who will further its professional development. Would increasing managerial competence increase Gen Y’s workplace satisfaction? Or would increasing Gen Y’s workplace satisfaction increase its perception of managerial competence? Or both? This is another area suggested by results of the survey that future research might well examine.
TABLE 3: SURVEY RESULTS - WORKER SATISFACTION AND PERCEPTIONS OF MANAGERIAL COMPETENCE
CHARACTERISTIC RATING (1LOW TO 4HIGH)
Overall managerial competence (average of Tables 1 and 2: #1-18) 2.76
Overall worker respondent satisfaction 2.75
GEN Y: OPPORTUNITY AND CHALLENGE
Gen Y has been deeply affected by several trends of the 1990’s and 2000’s. A renewed focus on children, family, scheduled and structured lives, multiculturalism, terrorism, heroism, patriotism, parent advocacy, and globalization seems to have been imprinted. Coincidentally, Gen Y has been socialized with several core messages: be smart – you are special, leave no one behind, connect 24/7, achieve now, and serve your community (Raines, 2002). It tends to ignore traditional media and advertising channels, play video games, and watch DVDs rather than listed TV programming. Those in Gen Y tend to live with their parents before college and plan to return to their parents’ home after college, and to be less at home in the real world than in the virtual world – in which they spend more than six hours a day online. One-third of 21-year olds are not Caucasian. A similar number are being raised by single parents, and three-quarters have working mothers. After 9/11/01, Gen Y tends to want to connect with its parents rather than rebel. As consumers, Gen Y is likely to be independent and not brand loyal. Traditional at home, it tends to be non-traditional and sophisticated in the marketplace (Weiss, 2003).
Gen Y’s entrance to the workplace would seem to present many opportunities in today’s ever-more competitive organizations in which high performing workers are an asset, and demographic shifts point to impending labor shortages. Gen Y workers would seem to be a timely addition. They tend to be goal-oriented (Southard and Lewis, 2004), and interested in self-development and improvement (Dealing With Your New Generational Mix, 2004). They are likely to have high expectations of personal and financial success, feel that hard work pays off, and have a get-it-done result-producing attitude (Breaux, 2003). They are inclined to plunge into work they find interesting and important even when they know little about it (Lewis, 2003).
Some of Gen Y’s characteristics may make it easier to manage than Gen X. Gen Y tends to value teamwork and fairness, and is likely to be more positive than Gen X on a range of workplace issues including work-life balance, performance reviews, and availability of supervisors (What You Need to Know, 2003). Moreover, Gen Y descriptors include attributes predictive of high performance. Gen Y workers are inclined to be sociable, hopeful, talented, collaborative, inclusive, and civic-minded. In addition to being well educated and technically savvy, they tend to be open-minded, achievement-oriented, and able to work on parallel tasks (Raines, 2002). Cautiously optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, Gen Y is likely to have a solid work ethic and entrepreneurial bent. At the same time, it tends to acknowledge and admire authority, especially Traditionalists. Strength, cooperation, energy, conformity, virtue, and duty tend to be among Gen Y’s values (Pekala, 2001).
A recent Work and Education survey by the Gallup Organization also suggests that Gen Y will not be harder to manage than workers from prior generations. Like workers in the 30-49 and 50+ age groups, Gen Y has a strong sense of company loyalty, is at least as satisfied with supervisors as are older workers, is as content as the others with the amount of praise received, and is as satisfied as the others with amount of vacation time and work flexibility/hours required. Additionally, Gen Y feels no more workplace stress than the other workers, and is as satisfied as the others with retirement and health benefits (Saad, 2003).
At the same time, Gen Y’s entrance to the workforce would seem to present some challenges. Although Gen Y workers tend to be more positive than Gen X about working in general, Gen Y tends to be less satisfied than Gen X with their jobs and employers. The survey described earlier in this paper pinpoints several dimensions of that dissatisfaction. Further, Gen Y is more open than Gen X to leaving for something better (What You Need to Know, 2003).
Gen Y is likely to equate job satisfaction with a positive work climate, flexibility, and the opportunity to learn and grow more than any prior generation. Compared with other generations, Gen Y tends to have less respect for rank and more respect for ability and accomplishment. It is likely to turn down more pay in order to do work it feels is meaningful at a company where it feels appreciated (Alati, 2004). Gen Y tends to value respect, and want to earn it. Acknowledgement and freedom to perform as it finds best tend to matter to Gen Y, too (Dealing With Your New Generational Mix, 2004).
Additionally, Gen Y workers are likely to have a distaste for menial work, lack skills for dealing with difficult people, and be impatient (Raines, 2002). Less than half of this youngest generation describe themselves as confident or prepared to enter the workforce. Their strong technical skills are not matched by strong soft skills such as listening, communicating, independent thinking, being a team player, and managing time (Pekala, 2001). Mercer Human Resource Consultant’s 2002 People at Work Survey found Gen Y rating employers lower than other employees do on being treated fairly, getting necessary cooperation from others, and having opportunity to do interesting and meaningful work (The Next Generation, 2003).
Moreover, Gen Y workers tend to look for instant gratification rather than long-term investments of time and effort (Southard and Lewis, 2004). In addition to demanding immediate rewards, they are likely to prefer special projects rather than “dues-paying chores.” They often prefer being given time off to receiving money; putting in face time tends to puts them off. Accustomed to coming, going, and staying as needed, and being involved when present, Gen Y workers tend to be constant negotiators and questioners. As one author describes it, “The forty hour workweek doesn’t apply … (and) ’how’ meetings become ‘why’ meetings” (Lewis, 2003).
Intergenerational management expert Bruce Tulgan describes the resulting challenges of Gen Y workers this way: “Gen Y’ers are like X’ers on steroids … They are the most high-maintenance generation to ever enter the work force” (Breaux, 2003).
RECOMMENDATIONS: MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
Presenting both challenges and opportunities, Gen Y is entering the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. What management strategies are likely to be most effective for achieving high performance in today’s intergenerational workplace? Experts suggest that managers apply messages and strategies deliberately tailored to the characteristics of each of the four generations. They recommend identifying and addressing the motivational needs of each generation, and training each generation mindful of its learning styles. Age stereotypes should be avoided, and age differences should be built into diversity training. Team building should include intergenerational pairing based on complimentary strengths. Open and ongoing discussions for discussing intergenerational needs should become corporate culture norms (Piktialis, 2004).
What strategies should resonate with Traditionalists? Members of this longest working generation should respond well to being told that their experience is respected and important to the rest of the company, and that their perseverance is valued and will be rewarded. They should be encouraged to share their knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past. They are likely to welcome training that is offered in formats consistent with their more traditional learning style (Kogan, 2001). Also, Traditionalists should be encouraged to respectfully assert their authority and demonstrate their track records. Engaging them as teachers is recommended. Re-hiring them as part-time team leaders and coaches when they retire is also suggested (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).
On the other hand, Baby Boomers should respond well to being told that they are important to the organization’s success, are valued for their unique and important contributions, and are needed. They should be provided feedback with sensitivity. Change should be presented to them in a way that minimizes conflict (Kogan, 2001). What’s more, Baby Boomers should be encouraged to become facilitating coaches, rather than authoritarian figures dictating expectations and methods. They should be offered flexibility, authority, and respect. Additionally, Baby Boomers should be challenged to keep on growing (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).
For its part, independent Gen X should respond well to being told to do things its own way, and that there are minimal rules and bureaucracy. This first techno-savvy generation should be provided with current hardware and software (Kogan, 2001). Its growth-oriented nature should be managed with a coaching style. At the same time, this outcome-focused generation should be asked to learn just-in-time for each new assignment (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).
The newest entrants to the workplace, the Gen Y group focal to this paper, are largely uncharted territory for many managers. Gen Y workers tend to have unbridled energy, endless enthusiasm, and the skills and experience of those much older. They too, then, should be managed with a coaching style (Sujansky, 2002). Gen Y should respond well to being told that it will be working with other bright and creative people, and that the boss is over 60. Hearing that together with peers they can turn the company around, and that they can be heroes at the company, should also resonate with Gen Y workers (Kogan, 2001). Flexibility and voice, access to co-workers and company information through technology, and project-centered work are recommended (Allen, 2004). Expectations should be explained to Gen Y from the outset, including the big picture and how they fit into it. Gen Y should be given a sense of belonging (Hansford, 2002).
Leaders would do well to model expected behavior for Gen Y workers, and interact with them creating a sense of enjoyment and challenge. Candid talk, without hype, and with a sense of humor should help reach Gen Y. Movement toward cultural openness and transparency is recommended, as is investment in programs encouraging teamwork and flexibility. At the same time, roles and responsibilities should be defined and written for Gen Y. Task lists and timelines should suggest how and when to reach the goals (Dealing With Your New Generation Mix, 2004).
Job conditions that cannot be attained should not be promised, as doing so will leave Gen Y feeling disappointed and betrayed. Instead, Gen Y workers should be given the chance to contribute to a greater good, and to work for a socially responsible company (Loughlin and Barling, 2001).
Spaces, processes, and practices tailored to Gen Y should be well worth the cost. Office spaces set up to facilitate Gen Y workers physically exchanging ideas with others are recommended. Goal accomplishment in Gen Y team projects should be evaluated as a whole. Reverse mentor programs in which Gen Y’s technical skills can be recognized and shared are also suggested (Raines, 2002).
Furthermore, it is advisable to meet the high expectations of Gen Y workers with respect and positivism (Raines, 2002). Digital-based training programs should resonate with Gen Y, for whom work and play are blended and achievement and winning matter. Training for Gen Y workers should focus on strategic areas and not be trivial. Optimally, it will engage them experientially, allow for practice, and provide a valued pay-off at the end (Salopek, 2003).
Some companies are tackling the challenges of recruiting and retaining Gen Y using innovative strategies tailored to Gen Y characteristics. These techniques include providing on-site leadership academies, creating formal mentor programs to maximize Gen Y access, and giving early chances to do meaningful work. To better reach Gen Y, some are streamlining the recruitment process, and providing longer vacations after shorter service. For similar reasons, some are building comprehensive intranet sites, allowing conversion of unused administrative leave into cash, and permitting conversion of health benefits into deferred compensation accounts (Southard and Lewis, 2004).
Some companies are literally going where Gen Y workers are to find them. These companies are connecting with Gen Y through the media and locations it frequents ranging from Internet cafes to video game stories. Or they recruit Gen Y through on-site career-day seminars in which ranking personnel share their own success stories. Some companies are using their Gen Y employees as first out-reachers to peer Gen Y candidates in an effort to quicken the pace of recruitment. In this way, the companies aim to both engage their Gen Y employee more fully, and to create a workplace ally for the Gen Y candidate (Employing Generation Why, 2004).
A 2001 article by Loughlin and Barling provides solid foundation for understanding the context within which today’s intergenerational workforce operates. They report almost 80% of North American high school students as working part-time for pay before graduating from high school. Coinciding with this unprecedented rate of younger worker employment is the conclusions Gen Y has drawn from what work seems to have done to its parents. Gen Y workers tend to distrust long-term job security, and seek immediate payoffs from employers as a result. Many have developed a work to live rather than live to work mindset that spills over into valuing quality of work environment as well as work-life balance. Moreover, an increasing number of jobs awaiting Gen Y are “non-standard;” 30% of North American and European jobs are temporary, part-time, or contract. Under-employment is an additional reality. Some 75% of the labor force in most industrial countries is doing little more than simple, repetitive tasks. The level of skilled jobs available is far less than the skill levels of the employable population (Loughlin and Barling, 2001).
In 2003, intergenerational expert Bruce Tulgan reported the results of a comprehensive 10-year study that interviewed more than 10,000 people and studied management practices of more than 700 companies to explore the contemporary U.S. workplace. The study found generational shifts amounting to significant and lasting workplace changes. Tulgan states, “Between 1993 and 2003, a profound revolution has taken place in the values and norms of the U.S. workforce; the impact has been felt throughout the world ... the new economy is a far cry from dot-coms with magical business models, and rather has created a very challenging environment for most workers today” (Tulgan, 2004).
In that study, Tulgan identified several core dimensions of the workplace transformation. First, work has become more demanding on employees. Second, the employer-employee relationship has become less hierarchical and more transactional. Third, employers have moved away from long-term employment relationships. Fourth, employees have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectations for short-term rewards. Fifth, immediate supervisors have become the most important people in the workplace. Sixth, supervising employees now requires more time and skill of managers at the very time that there are fewer managers (Tulgan, 2004).
Tulgan’s study depicts a 21st century workplace in which traditional career paths and management techniques, long-term employment, and cookie cutter approaches to employee relations are disappearing. What replaces them? Employees take responsibility for their own success and failure. Employees make their own way by attaining and marketing cutting edge skills that they leverage through networking into career opportunity. Managers are pressured to hire the best person for every opening. Managers aggressively push each person to unleash the highest productivity (Tulgan, 2004).
The result? Tulgan’s study projects an inevitable push-pull between the employer’s need to squeeze the employee, and the employee’s need for quality of work life. To resolve this, the employee is likely to become more assertive about exacting short-term transactions in return for meeting the employer’s goals. Tulgan describes that transforming 21st century workplace this way: “Managers will have to discard traditional authority, rules, and red tape, and become highly engaged in one-on-one negotiation and coaching with employees to drive productivity, quality, and innovation” (Tulgan, 2004).
To older workers, that description may seem like a brave new world in which the culture shock is unpalatable and even incomprehensible. But younger workers may have a leg up. The following summary of this paper shows that, to Gen Y, the workplace Tulgan describes seems very much like the one it is expecting to enter.
TABLE 4: SUMMARY - CONTEMPORARY MANAGEMENT CHALLENGE: FOUR GENERATIONS AT WORK
TRADITIONALISTS: 75 million born pre-1945; 10% of workforce
1. Formative events: Great depression, world war
2. Socialization: Scarcity/hardship, parent at home
3. Imprint made: Greatest generation, dual-income family
4. Pattern: Stay with company
5. Qualities: Loyal, self-sacrificing
6. Value: Family, patriotism
7. Assets: Wisdom, experience, perseverance
8. Lack: Technology skills
9. Prefer: Consistency, traditional training
10. Style: Top-down, traditional, inform as needed, take charge, do what’s right
11. Management strategy for: Respect experience, share past lessons, reward staying, teach to assert, match learning style, use as teachers, rehire to coach/lead
BABY BOOMERS: 80 million born 1945-1964; 45% of workforce
1. Formative events: Post-war prosperity, largest generation
2. Socialization: Prosperous/safe, anything is possible, parent’s focal point
3. Imprint made: Free generation, redefined norms, civil rights
4. Pattern: Loyal, workaholic, sink or swim
5. Qualities: Pro-growth/change, competitive, optimistic/confident, paid dues/climbed, want it all
6. Value: Success/materially, free expression, reform, equity
7. Assets: Social skills
8. Lack: Technology skills
9. Prefer: Consensus, egalitarianism
10. Style: Respect authority, network, micro-manage, proactive, work hard
11. Management strategy for: Give important roles, value contributions, show respect, minimize conflict, sensitize feedback, be flexible, challenge to grow, let coach/facilitate
GENERATION X: 46 million born 1966-1980; 30% of workforce
1. Formative events: Globalization, downsizing, technology boom
2. Socialization: Latchkey kids
3. Imprint made: Me generation, dot.com stars, free agency
4. Pattern: Live on edge, embrace change, devalue long hours, job hop, will find a way
5. Qualities: Independent, individualistic, distrust companies, lack loyalty, entrepreneurial
6. Value: Skills more than title, work-life balance
7. Assets: Independent, individualistic, distrust companies, lack loyalty, entrepreneurial
8. Lack: Social skills
9. Prefer: Freedom, room to grow
10. Style: Skeptical, reluctant to network, outcome-focused, achieve well/fast, bend rules if need
11. Management strategy for: Recruit through ads, manage by coaching, don’t micro-manage, reduce rules/layers, allow innovation, update technology, feedback promptly, specify and help, credit for results, train just-in-time
GENERATION Y: 75 million born 1980-; 15% of workforce
1. Formative events: Prosperity/uncertainty, violence/terrorism, outsourcing/under-employment
2. Socialization: Strong social pressure, structured life/live at home, non-traditional families, active role in family, fallout from parents’ work, non-standard work, multiculturalism
3. Imprint made: We generation, wired/switch/populist, work at early age/worldly
4. Pattern: Expect to make decisions, need to achieve/self-reliant, curious/energetic/question, distrust job security, dislike face time/menial work
5. Qualities: Large size/diverse/loyal, skilled/energetic, polite/positive/leave none out, socially conscious/hopeful, sophisticated/demanding
6. Value: Heroism/patriotism/virtue/duty, elderly/family/home/time, service/respect more than money, work to live, shared norms
7. Assets: Education/experience, sociable/technical/perform, work ethic/multi-task
8. Lack: Direction/focus/confidence, interpersonal/soft skills
9. Prefer: Self-improvement, candor, immediate payoff/win/fun
10. Style: Get-it-done/produce/negotiate, plunge right in/fast-paced, open and civic-minded, blend work and play, measure own success
11. Management strategy for: Treat fairly/professionally, give new/meaningful/fun work, challenge intellectually, meet growth/personal goals, model expected behavior, manage inclusively/belong, have positive/open environment, provide importance/voice, assign projects/teams/tasks, allow freedom to try/access, focus by speed/target/win, clarify big picture/timeline/roles, use to reverse mentor, train strategically/digitally, streamline/target recruiting
CONCLUSION: UNCHARTERED TERRITORY
Research is rich in providing relevant generational profiles and suggesting attendant managerial strategies. Conversations with students, educators, and practitioners underscore the timeliness of investigating the implications of Gen Y’s entrance to the workplace, and the extent to which research-based conclusions are just beginning to be formed. At the recent Society for Advancement of Management International Business Conference, for instance, several sessions stimulated lively discussion regarding intergenerational impacts. Many qualified their remarks by establishing that this was their first exposure to Gen Y intergenerational workplace issues, and so their initial reactions would be largely perception-based. Most noted that divergent perceptions expressed tended to correspond with generational profiles suggested by the research (e.g. those of “Traditionalist” age were more likely to question the impact of intergenerational differences at work, while those of “Gen Y” age were more likely to affirm the impact of intergenerational differences at work). Few, if any, were disinterested.
Because the managerial implication of Gen Y’s entrance to the contemporary workplace is still largely uncharted territory, it may be helpful to present some recurring comments that such discussions stimulate. First, some say that generational labels tend to be determined by marketers for marketing purposes, and should not be allowed to create differences between people that might otherwise not exist. A second point some raise is that managers should be careful not to oversimplify workplace differences, but should see intergenerational differences as one of several operative aspects of diversity. A third set of comments contemplate the consequences of management failure to manage intergenerational realities, and project the resulting possibility of further erosion of psychological contract between manager and employee.
This is a particularly interesting line of thought given the free agent, quality of work life, and inclusive mindset of newer entrants to the workplace. If these workers are alienated by managerial strategies that do not resonate with them, will managers be able to retain them, let alone be able to unleash their potential? The relevance of that question is underscored by a final line of comment, expressed repeatedly by those of Gen Y: Will managers recognize intergenerational workplace factors, and begin to use responsive strategies that optimize this aspect of diversity?
This paper began with what appeared to be an obvious, but simple question: Will Gen Y’s presence in the workplace present strategic challenges for managers? An extensive literature review and primary research reveal that, however obvious, the question is anything but simple. Rather, seeking to answer it opens the door to largely uncharted territory. Application of findings presented in this paper, then, would appear to be timely. Moreover, future research, such as that suggested throughout this paper, would appear to be compelling.
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