My interest in how best to help people interact with one another at work has recently led me to explore the potential impact of Generation Y on the workplace.
Depending on what you read, Gen Y consists of those individuals born late 1970s/early '80s through to mid/late 1990s.
Although my specific interest is how people relate to one another, my research opened up a range of different paths about the impact this group (and it’s a big group – there are a lot of Gen Y-ers) will have on the workplace generally.
Here are some of the key themes that emerged. Compared to previous generations, Y-ers are predicted to bring a whirlwind of change with their energy, creativity and intimate relationship with technology. Apparently born with thumbs specially shaped for texting, and used to constant interaction with their friends as a result, they will demand a lot of communication with bosses and work colleagues too – they just won’t care if that’s face-to-face or not.
They're described as selfish – the 'me, me, me' generation – with short attention spans and used to having their specific needs met (no such thing as ordering a standard coffee nowadays – skinny hazelnut latte anyone?). Their lack of loyalty to employers will mean that, if they don't get their needs met, they will quickly jump ship. They're not willing to put up with the 'office slog' they've seen their parents go through. So the workplace will have to be far more immediate, exciting and tailored to them personally.
Wow! So does this mean we need to shake up the workplace if we are to meet the needs of this exciting but spoiled generation? Observing Gen Y members of my own and my friends' families, and those Gen Y-ers who are already in the workplace, none of this seemed to ring true with me.
Yes, they are more likely to have a gap year than members of my generation – Generation X(!) – and they are far more clued up about technology than we were at a similar age. But then again, I'm more clued up about technology now than I was when I was 18 – that's simply because there's more of it around; I haven't suddenly slipped back a generation. Are they really so different?
To get away from my own immediate experiences and pool of contacts, I've been discussing this (face-to-face) with groups of business managers across a range of industries, and with some Gen Y-ers themselves. Here are the conclusions we've reached:
♦ Separating generations into discrete and labelled groups is not helpful. It segments people artificially, leading to broad descriptions of each generation that don't add add value for organisations or business leaders.
♦ Each generation tends to bring exuberance and new ideas as it enters the workplace – this is not unique to Gen Y. We've all done it in our time.
♦ People across all generations are looking for more flexibility in terms of working hours; this has more to do with the opportunities that technology affords us than with generational differences.
♦ All generations value face-to-face interaction with other human beings, and even those individuals at the younger end of Gen Y did not feel that online interaction as the main way to be in touch with work colleagues would be satisfying.
♦ Although Gen Y is not in itself expected to be the driving force for change, there was a general view that we need to be preparing for a more flexible way of working and that there is more that can be done to benefit everyone in the workforce. Action is required.
What's different about Gen Y?
♦ They may be better prepared for teamwork than previous generations because the education system seems to put more emphasis on groups working together than on individuals achieving in isolation.
♦ They have more access to work placements and international opportunities for study than previous generations. The former may prepare them to have more realistic expectations of the workplace, while the latter is likely to create more understanding of cultural differences.
So, those are our conclusions. What are your experiences of Gen Y? A different species entering the workplace or human beings much the same as has gone before?
If you're interested in checking into this more, these are some of the shorter articles that I've found bring interesting – and differing – perspectives:
[Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]