Managing Generation Y'ers

Harnessing the Talent of a New Generation

Managing Generation Y'ers - Harnessing the Talent of a New Generation

© Veer

Discover how to manage your highly connected Generation Y team members.

Valeria is an experienced manager, and she has been leading high-performing teams for more than 20 years. Recently, however, she's taken on some young professionals, and she's not having as much success with them as she's had in the past.

One reason for this is that she's always specified exactly how she wants work to be completed. But many of the people on her new team aren't responding well to this approach. What could she do differently?

In general, people born in the late 1970s and onward have had a different upbringing from their older colleagues. This means that you may have to take a slightly different approach to managing people from this group, if you want to get the best from them.

In this article, we'll look at the challenges and rewards of managing "Generation Y'ers." We'll also review strategies that you can use to manage and motivate this group more effectively.


This article is a general guide only. Use it to think about how to manage your people more effectively, but remember that people are individuals, and need to be treated as such.

About Generation Y

Generation Y (also known as the Millennial Generation) usually refers to people born in the late-1970s, '80s, and '90s. Generally, people in their teens, 20s, or early 30s fall into this "Gen Y" group.

While everyone is different, many Gen Y'ers have several things in common. For example:

  • They consume information and media more than any generation before them.
  • They're likely to have had nurturing, supportive parents, who gave them freedom to make their own decisions. As a result, they tend to be optimistic and enthusiastic, they often have high confidence, they have high expectations, and they want to have control over what they do.
  • They're comfortable working with people from different cultures and backgrounds; they have open minds, and they're willing to explore new, challenging ideas.
  • They're likely to be interested in social responsibility and the environment, and they like organizations that care about the "greater good." They also want to do meaningful work, that contributes something positive to the world.
  • They're less concerned about authority and hierarchy than previous generations. They want and need good leadership, but they also want autonomy, flexibility, and the freedom to work how they choose.
  • They value life outside of work, and they like to have benefits like sabbaticals and flexible working.
  • They value training and development, and they'll likely be more loyal to an employer that helps them build their knowledge and skills.
  • They need feedback from others. But they expect this feedback to be friendly, honest, and constructive. They also like recognition from their company and their boss.

Research also shows that Gen Y'ers find working in a high-quality team just as rewarding as receiving a fair salary.

Strategies for Managing Gen Y

There are two schools of thought when it comes to managing Gen Y'ers. Some believe that you should adapt your management style to fit the wants and needs of Gen Y. Others believe that Gen Y'ers should adapt themselves to the disciplines of the workplace. The best approach involves finding a balance between these approaches.

We've highlighted some management strategies that will help you get best from your Gen Y team members below. But, as we've already mentioned, it's important to treat people as individuals, and to use your best judgment when managing and motivating your people.

You'll also likely find that these strategies will be effective with other team members – not just younger professionals.

Your Role

As with many management situations, it's best to "walk the walk" with your Gen Y team members. That is, you need to be a good role model, and show the type of behavior and work ethic that you want to see in your team.

Also, don't overuse your authority: Statements such as "I am the boss" or "Do as I say" won't come across well with many Gen Y'ers. Nor will they trust you if you try to prove that you know more than they do. You'll be more successful at gaining buy-in by using empathy, being friendly but professional, showing integrity, and being authentic.

You might find that some people new to the workplace don't meet "unspoken expectations," such as arriving no later than 9 a.m., dressing professionally, or taking only an hour-long lunch break. It's your responsibility to communicate these expectations and basic rules up front.

Also, listen to your Gen Y employees and be willing to learn from them, and allow them to help you make decisions where appropriate. They have a lot to offer!


Unemployment rates for younger people are currently high. As a result, some Gen Y'ers may not have been in the workforce for long. If this is the case with your people, be patient, show empathy, and, if necessary, help them build their basic skills and self-confidence.

Setting Goals

Many Gen Y professionals want and need goals and direction. However, they also need clarity about what those goals are. Set SMART goals, so that they understand exactly what you expect of them.

Next, link these goals to the goals of the team and organization with an approach like Management by Objectives. You'll get more engagement and better performance if you highlight how people's actions are contributing to your organization's overall goals.

Start out setting small goals, especially when Gen Y professionals come on board. Give them the opportunity to achieve some quick wins, so that they know they're on the right track.

While it's important to set goals for Gen Y'ers, allow them to decide how they'll achieve these goals. This will give them a sense of autonomy and ownership of their work.

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Career Satisfaction

Most people want to know that their work makes a real difference, and this is especially true of Gen Y'ers. The more you can illustrate how their work benefits their team, the organization, or society, the more fulfilled they'll be.

Start by identifying how they're making a positive difference to others, and make sure that they know about this.

You can also show how people are making a meaningful difference by using personal, specific feedback. For instance, you could let a team member know that the report she finished early helped lighten your workload for the end of the week, or that her thorough research meant you had an easier time explaining the report to your boss.

Also, do what you can to offer flexible work hours or telecommuting options, if this is practical. You can use these perks as rewards for excellent work.

Training and Development

One of the best ways to motivate, connect with, and retain Gen Y professionals is to offer continuous development opportunities.

Make sure that team members have a Training Needs Assessment to see what kind of training they need. Then, try to provide training opportunities whenever you can. This can come in form of on-the-job training, cross-training, visits to industry trade conferences, or certification classes. You can also offer people tasks and projects that will aid their development, and give them new challenges.

Mentoring is also very effective for Gen Y'ers, and this can work both ways; your Gen Y professionals will have knowledge and skills that can benefit older workers in your organization.

Feedback and Recognition

Gen Y'ers are usually more than willing to work hard for a team or project that they believe in. However, they also want to know that you're aware of their hard work. Pay attention to their efforts, and often give praise, as well as timely and constructive feedback.

If people make mistakes, don't focus on the failure. Instead, ask them what they need to do to avoid those mistakes in the future. When you ask this question, it forces them to figure out the answer. This helps them make their own decisions, and helps them avoid making the same mistakes again.

Key Points

Generation Y usually refers to people born in the late-1970s, '80s, and '90s. Gen Y'ers like having goals, they like to make their own decisions, and they're committed to doing work that has a deeper meaning.

To manage Gen Y'ers effectively, start by being a good role model. It's also important to keep an open mind with this group and listen to their ideas.

Other strategies that will keep them motivated and engaged include offering continuous training and development, recognizing their good work, and assigning projects that will help them develop.

Also, remember that everyone is different, and while these strategies will likely be effective with Gen Y'ers, treat everyone on your team as individuals.

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Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Zuni,
    Thanks for that additional information about Generation Y'ers.

    It's interesting that the parents are stepping in on behalf of their children to deal with work situations, and it must be challenging to deal with the parent in a diplomatic way. A way that clearly spells out that they will deal with the adult child, rather than the parent!

    It must be even more challenging in a unionized environment and I agree that many things such as dress code and behaviors need to be spelled out so everyone knows what they mean!

    Thanks for sharing.
  • Over a month ago zuni wrote
    Hi everyone,

    Our company is rapidly rejuvenating our front line employees with a 50% turnover in the next three years (impacts five thousand employees). Our front line employees are unionized, so the influx of Gen Y is creating some special challenges.

    What is absent from this article is a description of what sets this generation apart form other generations in terms of influences. These influences have had a dramatic impact on the attributes of this generation which pose huge challenges in a unionized environment.

    Gen Y'ers, generally speaking, come from a home environment where they were cherished, received continuous recognition and resources/opportunities. If you do any reading in this area, you will come across the terms "trophy kids", helicopter parents, etc. While we need to be careful not to overgeneralize, there is truth behind the terms.

    Gen Y'ers typically come from environments (speaking from a North American perspective) where parents scheduled all of their activities and introduced them to a variety of experiences to promote their growth and development including sports, music, art. Gen Y parents are very active in their children's lives, so much so, that this has given rise to the terms "helicopter parents".

    In a unionized environment, the protectiveness of parents comes through in interesting ways. For, example, we have had instances of mothers calling in to the supervisor when the "child" is ill and parents calling in to challenge the shift their "child" has been assigned (they didn't like the shift because it interfered with the parents' work schedule). Recently, we had to terminate a Gen Y due to performance. The father called in to challenge the dismissal!

    Yolande points out the need to be specific about dress code. Absolutely required. Our front line employees are issued a uniform. The letter of offer indicates business casual. To some Gen Y's this means wearing the uniform shirt not tucked into to their pants and shoe laces untied. Being clear about expectations - dress, behaviour, and performance is very important. Frequently recognizing good performance is essential, as is providing flexibility and development.

  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    In my own experience I found two issues particularly pertinent with Generation Y-ers. Firstly they seemed to need a lot more guidance with regards to professional dress code. As they grew up with more casual ways of dressing and because individualistic styles were acceptable, they aren't always aware that their dress might not be quite right for the workplace. Laying down clear boundaries and guiding them in kindness worked for me.
    Secondly I found them to be extremely observant and perceptive regarding the behaviour of those in leadership roles. You CAN'T not walk your talk when leading Gen Y-ers - if they don't experience you as credible they won't care for your 'leadership'. They won't feel compelled to pay you respect either.