Managing the Gen Y workforce

Generation Y

They’ve been labeled as self-assured, disloyal and non-committal workers, but leading demographers believe that Generation Y may be the answer to the problems caused by the public sector’s ageing workforce. Angela Dorizas spoke with Bruce Tulgan, author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y, for his advice on recruiting and retaining Gen Y.

GN: Generation Y employees are often labeled as disloyal job-hoppers. Is that an accurate description?

Bruce Tulgan: Well, there are always truths underneath the myths, so I think each of these
‘labels’ is a double-edged sword. I believe that Generation Y has been much analysed but largely misunderstood. Most ‘experts’ are simply reinforcing prevailing misconceptions about Generation Y.

In my book, I spend some time refuting what I call the fourteen biggest myths about Generation Y in the workplace. For example:

Myth: Gen Yers are disloyal. Reality: They offer the kind of loyalty you get in a free market—that is, transactional loyalty (whatever you can negotiate).

Myth: They want the top job on day one. Reality: They have no interest in taking their time to “get a feel for the place.” They want to hit the ground running on day one. They want to make an impact.

Myth: It’s impossible to turn them into long-term employees.  Reality: You can turn them into long-term employees. You’ll just have to do it one day at a time.

Myth: They will never make good managers because they are too self-focused.   Reality: They make perfectly good managers if you help them learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice.

GN: What qualities can Gen Yers bring to the public sector in a time of great uncertainty?

BT: During the life span of Generation Y, globalization and technology have undergone a qualitative change.

World institutions—nations, states, cities, neighborhoods, families, corporations, churches, charities, and schools—remain in a state of constant flux just to survive.

Gen Yers are comfortable in this highly interconnected rapidly changing web of variables. They’ve never known the world any other way. Uncertainty is their natural habitat.

Globalization does not make Gen Yers feel small. Rather, it makes them feel worldly. Technological change does not make them feel as if they are racing to keep up. Rather, it makes them feel connected and powerful.

Institutions may be in a state of constant flux, but that’s no problem. Gen Yers are just passing through anyway, trying to squeeze out as much experience and as many resources as they can.

GN: Why are Gen Yers so confident, even in the midst of economic crisis?

BT: One reason is surely that they grew up in the Decade of the Child. Generation Y was the great over-supervised generation. In the short time between the childhood of Generation X and that of Generation Y, making children feel great about themselves and building up their self-esteem became the dominant theme in parenting, teaching, and counseling. 

Throughout their childhood, Gen Yers were told over and over, “Whatever you think, say or do, that’s okay. Your feelings are true. Don’t worry about how the other kids play. That’s their style. You have your style. Their style is valid and your style is valid.”

This is what child psychologists called “positive tolerance,” and it was only one small step to the damaging cultural lies that somehow “we are all winners” and “everyone gets a trophy.” In fact, as children, most Gen Yers simply showed up and participated—and actually did get a trophy.

GN: How can local government managers attract quality Gen Y candidates?

BT: First, you have to think about what a job “means” to your GenY applicant pool.  What a job means to Gen Yers depends on what’s going on in their lives at any given time.  There are seven job types for Generation Y.

Sometimes they just want to hide out and collect a paycheck. I call this a ‘safe harbor job’. There are no upsides for the employer.

Sometimes Gen Yers take a job while they are still taking stock and trying to figure out what they really want to do next. I call this a ;weigh station job’.

When they take a job in order to spend time with friends, I call that a ‘peer group job’. At least they may look forward to coming to work. The downside is that social relations will be their primary focus.

When Gen Yers find work that aligns with their deep interests and priorities, I call it a ‘passion job’. The upside for the employers is that they will bring energy and enthusiasm to the work. The potential downside arises when the work part of work makes the passion seem more like a grind.

When Gen Yers see a job as an opportunity to work like crazy for some time with the chance of a giant payoff, I call it a ‘big gamble job’.

Sometimes Gen Yers take a job to meet some idiosyncratic and hard to fulfill desire—maybe it’s working the night-shift or working with books or working on a boat. I call this a ‘needle-in-a-haystack job’. As long as you can provide what they really want, you can be pretty sure they won’t leave.

The best case is when Gen Yers are looking at the job as a chance to make an impact at work while building themselves up with your resources. I call this a ‘self-building job’. This is most likely to bring out their best for a sustained period.  When Gen Yers see the chance to make an impact at work while building themselves up with your resources, they are most likely to deliver their best efforts for a sustained period. Continued…

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