In their new book, “Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation,” by Nicole Lipkin and April Perrymore explore the psychological influences that shape Gen Y’s attitude and approach toward work, and give companies insight and advice on how to coach, manage and retain Gen Y workers. Lipkin and Perrymore recently spoke with SmartBrief’s Akoto Ofori-Atta about the character of Generation Y, and what employers can do to harness their potential.

What characteristics of Gen Y do employers of other generations find most problematic?
PERRYMORE: Our research revealed that the biggest complaint was a false sense of entitlement. Generation Y has an immediate need for getting rewards, praise, and promotion not based on tenure, but based on performance.

What are the psychological causes for this difference in attitude toward work?

LIPKIN: This generation was raised by Baby Boomers, who were influenced by the hippie movement of the 70s, which resulted in a revolt against traditional parenting practices. Boomers taught their children to do the exact opposite of what their parents taught them: Question authority, speak up, and to be a part of major decisions. Those are not necessarily bad things, but the disservice is that parents didn’t help build accountability and responsibility.

In addition, there was a huge focus on self-esteem in the education system when millennials were growing up. Awards were not merit-based and students received accolades simply for showing up to school. So now, they enter the workforce, and they want to be rewarded for just showing up and doing their work.

PERRYMORE: Parents of Gen Y are friends with their children, so they really focused on defending them instead of punishing them and enforcing consequences, which is contributing to the millennials’ difficulty with coping.

What positive qualities do they bring to the workforce?

LIPKIN: Something that I adore about this generation is that they are incredibly socially and globally conscious. This generation won’t work for organizations that don’t support their values — environmentally, socially and globally. They’re forcing organizations to become more globally aware and the impact has been noticeable.

What are the best tactics companies can employ to manage this generation properly?

LIPKIN: A specific tactic for organizations is to provide incremental responsibility as a reward as opposed to incremental promotion. That way, Gen Y employees feel like there efforts are being recognized and not ignored. In addition, allowing them to work in other departments for a certain percentage of their time will keep them from getting bored, which also happens very often.

PERRYMORE: Finally, managers need to be patient and consistent and want to learn about this generation. This generation is as large as the Boomers, so ignoring the needs and characteristics of Gen Y will be perilous for organizations, as millennials will one day run the workforce.

Image credit, webphotographeer, via iStock

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10 responses to “Understanding your Gen Y workers”

  1. I think this is an especially insightful look at Gen Y. The first question is right on target. While the sense of entitlement can be negative, I also think Gen Y has a point. Someone shouldn't necessarily be rewarded JUST for sticking around, and it's disheartening to new workers to see that tenure is rewarded instead of performance. It discourages us and makes our work ethic go down.

  2. Jim Jackson says:

    Where does the accountability factor come into play for Gen Y? How do you coach Gen Y to work with baby boomers?

  3. Rob says:

    I am sorry, but there is nothing insightful or fresh at all here. It is, yet another, regurgitated bundle of cliches about a group that consists of millions of people. "They want to be rewarded for just showing up." Please! For one, that statement has been repeated ad nauseum by every single article ever written about Generation Y. Did these two authors actually do any work, or did they simply steal lines from others? The sad fact is that we have come to believe all of the conventional wisdom about Generation Y, and people like Lipkin and Parrymore contiue to make money off of rolling out the same "research" over and over again. When will one of these supposed experts on Generation Y tell us something new? Even more importantly, when will they tell us something that is not based upon media hype? Here is a hint: Managing Generation Y is just like managing anyone else–manage the individual. If you go into the relationship with preconceived notions based upon age/generation, you are, by defintion, a bigot. You are, in my book, also a complete failure as a manager.

  4. Tom says:

    Take responsibiity for yourself ("discourages us") and quit playing the victim (makes our work ethic go down. Your work ethic is developed at a young age. If your are blaming a co-worker for a work ethic that goes down, then that is what you developed earlier…flighty, not steadfast, easily manipulated work ethic, or lack of one. I suggest you take control of your life and your career and pay your dues. Then you will be entitled to what is due you.

  5. […] Understanding the Y worker [SmartBlog on Workforce] […]

  6. Ellie and Tom,
    This argument is at the core of the “intergenerational wars” causing significant frustration and generational impasses in the workplace. The frustration from both sides is warranted because promotion should be based on talent and performance but should also be based on other important skills such as leadership potential, responsibility taking, interpersonal functioning, et cetera. Part of the challenge for Gen Y will be to use that sense of entitlement to fuel hard work and great performance to earn recognition and promotion, just like other generations before.

  7. Rob,
    one of the reasons why these statements have been repeated “ad nauseum” is because these are traits and characteristics of the generation that people keep seeing over and over. We definitely didn’t invent the wheel with describing the generation; however, we agree that managing Gen Y is just like managing anyone else-in the sense that it is important to manage individual strengths and weaknesses. Our book, Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation, looks at the strengths of this generation, as well as the weaknesses, and provides applicable coaching solutions with the overall recommendation to individualize the solutions based on the culture of your company and the individual you are working with. So we agree with your comment about the importance of managing the individual but also recognize that there are general strengths and weaknesses of the generation, just like every generation before and every generation that will come, that keep on showing up with this group.

  8. Great question Jim.
    The lack of accountability and responsibility taking seems to be a consequence of the upbringing of this generation. We have repeatedly heard (and experienced as psychologists, business coaches and professors) that many Gen Ys have trouble taking feedback, accepting blame, and taking responsibility for their actions in the workplace, which directly negatively impacts the development of good leadership skills and saps the patience of everyone else around. There are a few things we recommend to help your Gen Y employee develop accountability:
    1. Sweet and simple: set expectations and don’t let them get away with anything.-In other words, don’t accept excuses or explanations.
    2. Process the pain: when a Gen Y employee messes up, rather than just say “hey you messed up, go fix it” it will be worth your time to use it as a teachable moment. Sit down with your Gen Y employee and go over the problem, brain storm what they could have done differently and help them come up with solutions to fix the problem. Although this may sound annoying and time consuming, it is these coachable/teachable moments that will help develop accountability and responsibility when future problems occur.
    As for your question about coaching Gen Y to work more effectively with boomers, helping them see the enormous wisdom that boomer co-workers and managers have to offer is key. Encouraging them to find boomers they want to learn from in order to develop a mentor relationship is something that Gen Y tends to be open to and also aids in easing intergenerational conflict.

  9. Millennial says:

    Stereotyping an entire generation only serves to create another hiring bias that can be used against individuals in that group. Boomers have legal protection against this, but where is the protection for hardworking individuals under 30 who can take criticism and bring maturity to their roles despite what the "experts" have "repeatedly heard"? I will agree that the majority of Gen Y-ers I know fit these generalizations, but saying that these are purely generational issues is inaccurate. I work in a management position with Traditionals through Gen Y, and find that the most difficult people to manage don’t fall into any specific age group. I have millennials who take criticism well and work hard in everything they do, and I have Boomers who feel that they are in a hostile environment when they have to use the same chairs two years in a row. I don’t see an age correlation, at least in my field.

  10. Millennial says:

    (cont'd) I do see a correlation between entitlement and upbringing, and I feel that it is unfair to Boomers to typecast them as permissive parents who have no idea how to discipline their children. Propagating the idea that Gen Y is full of irresponsible children who throw temper tantrums when coached will keep many employers from examining qualifications, excluding candidates from Gen Y who may have the perfect qualities for the position. Until it is also illegal to discriminate based on an age under 30, it is irresponsible to cast these wide generalizations.