The Downside of Hiring Generation Y

5 Tips for Employers and Coworkers

Colleagues conversing about charts
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For the most part, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Generation Y, the newest, youngest group of employees in your workplace. But Gen Y employees do have a downside as a result of their upbringing that can cause negative consequences in the workplace.

Interested in the downside of hiring and managing Gen Y employees? While they bring significant skills to your workplace, they have characteristics and attitudes that aren't welcome at work.

I've shared the joys of working with Gen Y employees in the past:

Today’s article will focus on the downside and what employers can do about it. I’ll start with two stories that motivated me to write this piece.

Gen Y Stories

Staying at our cottage recently, we were joined by my 22-year-old niece and her three best buddies for four days. So, we listened a lot to dreams and schemes since the current young people are experiencing a seriously unfriendly job market. We marveled at their worldview, their limited knowledge of the world and its events, and at the proficiency with which they managed four days of their lives from their smartphones.

With this environment in mind, the young ladies decided to have a beach fire and spent the evening chatting and renewing friendships. The next day, my husband tried to build a fire for me. He discovered that, rather than schlepping fire logs to the beach, the girls had burned every piece of kindling in the garage – kindling that he had spent two days splitting logs to create.

In my next story, our company employs many Gen Y employees, and we are inclined to emphasize their great characteristics. Every once in awhile, we are reminded of their downside. We held a barbecue to celebrate a product launch for the whole company. Employees ordered one of three entrees in advance.

And, guess what? The first employees through the line, primarily hungry Gen Ys, helped themselves to as many entrees as they wanted – some took all three. The result? The caterer ran out of food before all of our employees could eat. My husband and I, who generally wait until we are sure all of the employees get food, spent the celebration party eating at a local restaurant. So, did many of our employees who missed out on the meal.

Did these Gen Y individuals think about what they were doing and the consequences? In both stories, no. But, the stories do highlight the characteristic of many Gen Y people to be thoughtless and self-centered. These are traits that harm their performance and particularly their relationships with their Generation X and Baby Boomer colleagues.

The Gen Y Downsides

Gen Y employees are different from the employees who are managing them. Once you integrate this information, working with Gen Y, while not easier, is more predictable and you can prepare. These are common situations encountered when you look at the downside of hiring Gen Y employees – and tips about how to work with the downside – from the perspective of the generations at work.

It’s All About Me – Wonderful Me
Gen Y was raised by doting parents in a world that centered around them and their needs. Seriously. Transfer these self-centered individuals to the workplace, and you have scenarios such as the ones I described earlier. Some of the missteps can be resolved if coworkers realize that clear communication can solve some of the problems.

For example, in the party buffet line situation, a sign could have reminded the employees that they were allotted one entre’, the one they pre-ordered. The caterer could have been prompted to either get the committee head or remind the employees that they could only take one entre’ or coworkers would go hungry.

I could have assumed the young ladies either didn’t understand the concept of kindling (yeah, right) or were looking for the lightest wood they could find to traverse 30 stairs. I could have laid out clear expectations since I had the knowledge that the young people would look for the easiest, most self-centered, thoughtless solution - which they did.

And, yes, I don’t like it either, but in a way, we need to re-raise these employees. The workplace does have to teach lessons while taking advantage of their marvelous strengths.

I’m Smart, and I Have the Answer
A Baby Boomer employee reported to her HR office that the Gen Y employees on her team were committing age discrimination. After the HR manager intervened, the conclusion, which the employee agreed with, was that they were having communication problems.

The older employee assumed that her greater knowledge and experience would be respected and acted upon by the younger employees. Instead, they challenged her opinions and wanted to do aspects of the project their own way.

The employee, who was used to automatic respect and trust from people young enough to be her children and grandchildren, had to learn that while treating each other with mutual respect in the workplace is a must, expecting your ideas to be adopted because you know more is not. The Gen Y’s need to understand that they can’t reject an idea, no matter where it came from, without weighing its merits. That idea sucks is not enough – nor is it a polite exchange among coworkers.

Gen Y Employees Lack a Strong Work Ethic
The difference between Gen Y and the older generations at work is that they are unwilling to put in the face time that older generations put in at work - they want work-life balance. I remember working at General Motors; every executive waited until the plant manager left the parking lot for the day, before leaving.

Gen Ys view time as a resource that they can fill with all of their varied interests, projects, hobbies, families, and volunteering. They are willing to work hard at work, but it is only one component of their lives. Time is a limited resource that they don’t want to waste.

Organizations will do well with Gen Y by recognizing their priorities and meeting their needs. Supply flexible work schedules, earn their commitment with work that motivates and inspires them and provide leadership that is willing to listen and teach. With this environment, Gen Y will work hard and demonstrate deep commitment.

Gen Y Has No Respect for Leaders and No Loyalty to Employers.
Gen Y is hungry to learn, but the teaching must be respectful and targeted. Leaders earn the respect that allows Gen Y to learn things they don’t know like how to lead people, plan strategically, manage change, and inspire followers. They don’t recognize authority as was also evident in an earlier example.

A workplace that is meeting Gen Y’s needs for respectful interaction, flexible schedules, deep listening, motivational work, and new challenges so skills keep growing, will retain their Gen Y employees. But leaders must earn their respect which leads us to the next downside.

Gen Y Won’t Take Critical Feedback
They want praise, praise, praise and thank you. Yes, it is difficult to critique Gen Y employees’ work. They do not respond well to authority, and the leaders and managers must prove that they are worth following – or the Gen Ys you most want to keep will network their way right out of your organization.

But, they are hungry for feedback, at the same time. They want to know how they are doing and they want to improve. The key is for the leader or manager to build their relationship first. Gen Y employees are used to adult supervision from people whom they know love them and have their best interests at heart.

If this is where your critical feedback is coming from - their perceived best interests, Gen Y employees are grateful for feedback and suggestions. You can capitalize on their very real strengths, their resourcefulness, doing whatever it takes digitally, and be a fast learner.

As always when I am discussing the generations at work, I am not trying to paint a whole generation with the same brush. For every thoughtless Gen Y, you will find thoughtful, caring people who volunteer, are faithful friends, and who work hard to succeed. And often, it is the same person.