To some, members of Generation Y, also known as millennials, are liberal, insanely tech savvy, self-expressive, confident, and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

To others, millennials are overly selfish, narcissistic, lazy, delusional and disloyal to a fault. They are materialistic and care little about civil and political affairs. They are constantly checking their twitter feeds and seeking validation on social media.

Regardless of what older generations think of members of generation Y, the truth is that this generation is here to stay, and will form the major part of the workforce in the near future and even become business leaders. Whether you like it or not, you will have to work with millennials.

Question is, how do you manage them when they are so different from your generation? How do you ensure that their expectations at the workplace are being met?

The key lies in understanding the characteristics that define the generation. Every generation believes it defines the best characteristics and morals, and it is no wonder that older generations generally think negatively about generation Y. But is there anything positive thing about this generation, and better yet, how do you handle members of generation Y while maintaining your organization’s high performance? Let’s find out.

WHO ARE GENERATION Y PROFESSIONALS?

According to the U.S Census Bureau, Generation Y is comprised of people who were born between 1982 and 2000. Generation Y members are also referred to as millennials, echo boomers (since they are children of the baby boomers), the net generation, the iGen, or the boomerang generation.

This generation grew up in a time characterized by a technological explosion and huge societal changes, so they are significantly different from the generations preceding them.

Since they are poised to become the largest segment of the workforce, it would be detrimental for employers to ignore the needs, desires and attitudes of this generation. Below are some of the general characteristics that define this generation.

GENERATION Y IS VERY TECH SAVVY

“I’ll send you an email.”

“I’ve shared a link with you on WhatsApp.”

“Check out my business on Facebook”

These are some of the things you might hear in a business conversation with a member of generation Y, and they show the affinity this generation has for technology. Generation Y members were born into a world where technology was quickly becoming ubiquitous. They are digital natives who grew up surrounded by technology such as the internet, personal computers, smartphones, and so on. Because of this, they are very technology savvy, and technology forms a central part of their lives.

Many of their daily activities are done online – from communication, shopping, learning and entertainment to more intimate activities like checking on friends and dating. This generation also relies on technology to become more efficient at work. They are the generation behind many of today’s innovations – think of companies like Dropbox, Instagram, Facebook, AirBnB, and so on. Technology is so ingrained in their lives that lack of access to a smartphone can lead to a condition known as nomophobia or smartphone separation anxiety. Yes, this generation is addicted to technology.

As an employer, you should take advantage of your millennial employees’ tech-savviness. Many employers go wrong by trying to prevent millennials from using their personal devices at work. Instead of prohibiting their use, encourage them to use these devices for work.

Personally, I use my smartphone for a number of work-related activities, from answering emails, to editing documents on the cloud, organizing their calendars, holding virtual meetings with colleagues, and so on. Allowing your generation Y employees to use their personal devices at work not only helps them increase their productivity, but also shows that you trust them to get their work done without having to constantly monitor them.

While technology is ingrained in the daily lives of Gen Y professionals, don’t let it replace all other forms of interaction. Encourage face-to-face meetings when necessary and create opportunities for them to interact informally with other employees, such as taking the whole team out for out-of-office lunches.

GENERATION Y PREFERS FLEXIBILITY

Jack is a baby boomer. For him, work is a very important thing. He worked hard to provide for his family, even if this meant going for weeks without any meaningful time spent with his family. His kids grew up seeing very little of him because he was always at work. The same is true of many others in baby boomer generation.

Being the kids that grew up with unavailable parents, millennials have a very different attitude to work. They understand that there is life outside work. They are looking for flexible work environments that will allow them to spend more time with their families and to get involved in other activities outside of work. A good work/life balance is so important that 75% of millennials claim it is the key thing they look for in a job, according to a report by the US Chamber of Commerce.

Generation Y employees are not afraid to sacrifice some pay if it means that they will have better balance between work and life, as this research by the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation found out. In other words, they want the option to adjust their work schedule to fit their life, rather than adjusting their life to fit their work schedule. They prefer jobs that give more vacation time and the ability to work outside the office.

To older generations, this is narcissistic and represents laziness and a lack of commitment and drive. To millennials, however, this is simply a different way of doing things that allows them to blend their work and life, instead of working and waiting to enjoy their life after retirement.

So, how do you ensure that the desires of your Gen Y employees are met when they view work as something to do between weekends? First, provide them with a flexible work schedule that allows them to have a good work-life balance. The sixty hour work week that worked for their parents will not cut it out for millennials. To provide a flexible work environment, you can have millennials design their own work schedules by letting them choose the time they come to work and the time they leave the office, provided they work for the requisite number of hours in between. You can also provide paid time off as part of the benefits package.

If possible, come up a flexible work week where each employee is allowed to work remotely for one day each week. You should also create a fun and relaxed workplace that will make it easier for your millennial employees to enjoy their work. Encourage them to take regular breaks and set up a fun and relaxing breakout area.

For instance, at one of the companies I worked for before, we had a break out area with some bean bags, a sofa and a pool table. Having regular day/night outs is another great way to make work fun for millennials.

Better yet, think of incorporating the Google way of motivating employees. Finally, encourage your Gen Y employees to work on their own hobbies. This prevents burn out and makes them feel that they are not sacrificing every part of their lives for work.

GENERATION Y IS AMBITIOUS AND RESULT ORIENTED

Members of generation Y were pampered by their parents and taught that the world is theirs for the taking. They have seen young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg build a fortune from nothing in a few short years. As a result, they are overly ambitious and overdosed on confidence. They believe that there is no limit to what they can achieve. They have high expectations at work. They believe that they don’t need to work for 10 years before being given important roles within the organization.

They aren’t afraid of facing new challenges or questioning authority. They want to know that what they do matters. They don’t hesitate to look for opportunities elsewhere if they feel that their expectations are not being met.

As an employer, you should encourage the Gen Y professionals’ self-confidence and “can-do” attitude. Don’t stifle their expectations. Instead, constantly provide them with challenges and encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas. Give them several projects and put them in situations that require them to apply their problem-solving skills. When appropriate, allow them to work on projects with senior colleagues.

Despite being ambitious and result-oriented, millennials don’t take well to being micromanaged. They want to maintain control over how and when they do their work. Rather than telling them what they should do and what they should not do, describe for them the desired result and leave it to them to figure out how they will achieve it.

Brought up with the internet at their fingertips, they grew up figuring things on their own and will probably come up with a better process of achieving the desired results.

TEAM PLAYERS

Many people from older generations believe that members of Gen Y are individualistic narcissists who will avoid every chance to work with other people if they can. Nothing could be further from the truth. The desire to work in teams is high on their agenda and is something they actually enjoy. Most millennials grew up in environments that foster cooperation and teamwork. Therefore, they are comfortable working as part of a team and prefer the sense of unity and collaboration gained from working as a team.

Despite being independent thinkers, millennials want the input, support, and affirmation that comes from working with others. They also know that teamwork is far more effective that division and competition. Having grown in a multi-cultural world, they also have no problem playing a role in teams with diverse coworkers.

Employers should take advantage of millennials’ affinity for teamwork. Encourage the teamwork spirit and create a work environment that emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Mentor, train and coach them as a team, and you can expect them to achieve more and better, with all of them focused on team success rather than individual success.

GENERATION Y CRAVES ATTENTION

Generation Y professionals grew up in the age of the internet and social media, where the instant-access feedback cycle is the norm. This has translated into their professional lives, where they want to receive quick and consistent feedback and guidance from their superiors. Millennials want feedback more than any other generation. They want to know that what they are doing matters. They want to be given credit for their skills and talents. They want to know that they are doing well at work.

To older generations, this is a characteristic of a self-absorbed generation that wants to receive constant praise for the smallest of things. This is where they go wrong. The need for constant feedback does not mean that millennials want to be pampered at work. It means that they want guidance and the reassurance that they are headed in the right direction. They are looking for ways to get even better at their jobs by having their superiors tell them where they are doing well and where they need to improve.

To members of Generation Y, managers are a little more than bosses; they are coaches too. They expect managers to mentor them and help them develop personally and professionally. Millennials are a generation that wants to achieve their goals quickly; to do so, they need to frequent and effective feedback to ensure that they are always on the correct path.

As a manager, you should understand that your Gen Y employees want to learn from you. They want you to teach and coach them. They are impatient, therefore the traditional yearly feedback sessions won’t cut it. You will need to provide feedback a lot more often. Once every quarter is good. Once every month is even better. Provide them with short term goals and reward them once they achieve certain milestones. Give them a goal they need to meet and then check with them regularly to ascertain that they are on the right path.

Finally, listen to your millennial employees. While they might not have the experience, they are not afraid to think outside the box, and can easily come up with innovative ways of doing business. They want to know they matter to the organization. Ignoring them when they know they have ideas that could improve the business does not sit very well with them.

Even though it might take some time getting used to it, make a habit of asking for the opinions of your Generation Y employees and listen carefully to what they say – they might give you a truly transformative idea.

GENERATION Y IS NOT AFRAID OF CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

Let us for a moment consider a situation where two employees – one from Generation X and the other from generation Y – are called into their boss’s office and given a new project. In most cases, the Generation X employee will find out exactly what needs to be done and then go ahead to start working the project as he has been told.

He won’t question the thinking process behind the project or the suggested approach for the project. He’ll just do what is required and hopefully figure things along the way.

The same cannot be said of the Generation Y employee. There’s a high probability that the millennial will want to understand why the project needs to be done, why it needs to be done that way, why it can’t be done another way, and so on.

In a traditional work environment, this can the Generation Y employee look disrespectful to his boss. However, this is not being disrespectful. Instead, it is a representation of a generation that has grown up constantly challenging traditional approaches. Driven by impact, millennials want to know that what they are doing counts, and the only way to know that is by asking questions. In addition, they have grown up in a different world than the generation before them and therefore look at things from a new perspective that is full of new possibilities.

They know that there are new and better ways of doing things and they are not afraid of letting their bosses know what they think will work and what will not. They are ambitious and want to make an impact, meaning they will not hesitate to challenge the current state of things if they think they will make a positive change.

As a manger, you should not stifle the seemingly crazy ideas from your Generation Y employees. Actually, you should encourage them to share any ideas they feel will improve the way of doing things. Advances to society and business have always been brought about by people who challenged the status quo. Before the introduction of the iPhone, so called experts said mobile computing would never go mainstream. Unfazed, Steve Jobs ignored these “experts” and introduced the iPhone, starting a revolution that has seen mobile computing overtake desktop computing.

The same way, by encouraging your Gen Y employees to voice their opinions and challenge the status quo, you might chance on an idea capable of revolutionizing your way of doing business.

When working with millennials, you should also learn to put your decisions into context. Instead of just saying what needs to be done, explain why it has to be done. Giving them the goal behind the task will encourage millennials to think about the task with the bigger picture in mind and come up with better ways of doing the task.

GENERATION Y CARES ABOUT GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY

In contrast to their reputation of being lazy and narcissistic, millennials are very philanthropic and care a lot about making an impact to the community. They want to feel that their efforts are making the word better for others. Actually, millennials care more about giving back to community than they care about getting a fat paycheck, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Generation Y employees want to work with companies that have a reputation for supporting social causes. If you want to attract and retain Gen Y talent, you need to show them that your company cares about more than just profits. You need to have in place programs through which they can give back to the community.

You can do this through a number of ways. You might opt to hold company-sponsored events for the benefit of the community, come up with a program that matches their donations to charitable organizations of their choice, or give them paid time off to take part in charitable events.

GENERATION Y ARE SERIAL MULTI-TASKERS

Millennials are serial muti-taskers. Having grown up with computers and cell phones, millennials are comfortable with doing several things at the same time. They will listen to podcasts while working out or write an article while chatting on instant messenger.

If you look around your office right now, you will probably notice a Gen Y colleague talking on the office phone while replying to an email on the computer and forwarding something to another colleague on their smartphone.

Millennials are good at multi-tasking because they have been doing it their entire life. Instead of getting stuck doing one thing, they want to make maximum use of their time by doing multiple things simultaneously.

The ability to do multiple activities at the same time makes Gen Y professionals comfortable in the fast-paced environment of today’s workplace. If you have Gen Y professionals in your team, don’t be afraid to give them multiple tasks. They love the challenge of working on several tasks at the same time, and it might even help to prevent them from experiencing boredom at work.

WRAPPING UP

Generation Y professionals have unique characteristics that differentiate them from past generations. At the same time, they will form the majority of the workforce within the course of the next decade, so it important to understand their characteristics so as to be able to effectively work alongside them.

While it might seem like they are excessively self-centered and entitled, they have several positive characteristics that make them easy to work with. They also love their jobs and are willing to give it their all provided they know that what they are doing counts.

However, it is good to note that, even though Gen Y has its common characteristics, this does not mean that each millennial will behave exactly like the next one. If you find yourself working alongside Gen Y professionals, take the time to understand them individually.

Common Characteristics of Generation Y Professionals

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