The Why Behind Gen Y: Explaining 3 Gen Y Behaviours

Image: The Why Behind Gen Y: Explaining 3 Gen Y Behaviours

Why do Gen Ys give input, when I didn’t even ask for it?

Generation Y (1980-2000) or “Gen Y” are being raised mainly by Baby Boomer parents, who have encouraged this generation to share their opinions since they could speak. Baby Boomers decided to raise their children differently. Rather than following the Traditionalist paradigm of command and control and paternalistic child-rearing, Baby Boomers tend to want their children to experience more abundant formative years. They want their children’s voices to be heard, their opinions to matter and their suggestions to count. The result is many Gen Ys having had their opinion solicited, listened to and acted upon from family members at a very early age.

This type of childhood experience translates into behaviours in the workplace. A manager in one of our workshops shared that she was shocked when a Gen Y employee interrupted a meeting she was holding with someone else, because the Gen Y was curious as to what they were talking about. We’ve heard countless stories of Gen Ys, shortly upon beginning to work with an organization, e-mailing senior leaders or sending company-wide e-mails with suggestions on how the organization can improve. Managers often view this type of behaviour as disrespectful, brash and a threat to the manager’s authority, while the intent of the Gen Ys is a helpful one.

The positive aspect of this behaviour is that Gen Ys are looking to contribute, and to be a valuable member of your team, right away. They are showing drive, commitment and a desire to add value. However, leaders are often not well prepared to harness the creativity, innovative thinking and enthusiasm of Gen Ys. The key is to leverage Gen Y’s input to improve your operations, while managing expectations on how quickly or how often new ideas can be implemented.

Why are Gen Ys always checking their Facebook and Tweeting?

For Gen Ys, technology is life. Many Gen Ys booted up a computer before even having attended kindergarten. Friendships are forged through the latest video game. Connections around the world are made through social media and social networking sites. Even cell phone usage has changed – Gen Ys would rather text than talk.

In the workplace, every organization is facing the decision of what to do about the use social media at work. Ban it? Embrace it? Control its use? Questions being asked are should we monitor the amount of usage? Should we block access to non-work related sites? Should we discipline those who access these sites? Your organization’s response to these questions will significantly impact engagement levels of your Gen Y employees. Leaving technical security issues aside (as they can be managed by an IT department), the key is not to blame the use of technology as necessarily the culprit for performance issues. Rather, there are many opportunities to turn social media into an organizational advantage – to connect with customers, to allow teams around the world to collaborate virtually, to act as temperature gauge as to assess employee engagement levels and to leverage tools internally for greater efficiencies and team performance.

Why do Gen Ys want to connect with me all the time?

We have many managers tell us that they are amazed at the amount of feedback and attention Gen Ys appear to want. To understand this behaviour, we have to recognize the highly structured nature of both school and home environments which Gen Ys experienced. In the school system, Gen Ys are used to receiving constant feedback and to being guided through a process step-by-step. At home, they grew up in highly structured, highly chaperoned, home environments, where everything is scheduled for them. This type of parenting style attempts to keep children from failing, as parents often worry about the negative effects to a child’s self-esteem that might be caused by failure.

In the workplace, many managers tell us that they perceive this constant need for feedback as a lack of confidence, despite high level of confidence in their opinions. In particular Gen X managers are frustrated at the apparent lack of independence GenYs exhibit. This characterization isn’t necessarily accurate, if we think about how Gen Ys view themselves. They view this behaviour as being hyper-collaborative and engaged. The desire for greater feedback and step-by-step instructions is a habit to which they have become accustomed. Managers may need to recognize that Gen Ys will require a formalized orientation program, and a longer learning curve to gain the skills and behaviours that organizations and leaders expects of them.

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