Can We Still Discount Gen Ys?
Earlier this week, the province of New Brunswick elected the youngest premier in Canadian history. At 32 years old, premier Brian Gallant falls into the Gen Y cohort. As with any generation, 3-4 years on either side of the age range represents “cuspers” who might be chronologically one generation but demonstrate characteristics of another.
I don’t know Mr. Gallant well enough to be able to gauge whether or not he possess Gen Y or Gen X values, expectations and behaviours, but regardless this is an important event for Gen Ys. For the first time, someone from their generation is a major political leader. A Gen Y will be making decisions that impact an entire province and may have implications across the country.
It remains to be seen if this youngest premier will make decisions that resonate with Gen Y voters, but regardless, he will be able to tap in their motivations and expectations with more easely than his older counterparts. Many senior leaders we work with still believe they can discount Gen Ys’ expectations and perspective, but what if we can’t ignore Gen Ys anymore?
How Gen Ys Want to Get Involved
Gen Ys aren’t just the young graduates entering our workplaces. They are business savvy, experienced and influential employees, customers and citizens. As a generation, this cohort has a strong desire to make an impact wherever they work and live. They want to be engaged, involved and influence outcomes. This generation expects that employers and leaders will:
- Engage them through dialogue
- Involve them in decision making
- Solicit their feedback
- Act on their suggestions
- Leverage their creativity and innovation
Gen Ys don’t view our businesses or the world through the same lens that other generations do. They see more possibilities. They believe technology can facilitate better and faster solutions. They are hyper collaborative and leverage experiences globally to solve current challenges. They ‘think outside the box’, often not even aware that there is a box that limits thoughts.
Many organizations tout that they want greater innovation and creativity from their people and yet they balk when Gen Ys offer up unique and sometimes radically different solutions.
We can no longer discount Gen Ys as young and inexperienced. They have a depth of knowledge and experiences that often far exceed what previous generations had at the same age.
The Gen Y Experience
In general, Gen Ys have had exposure and access to experiences that far exceed what Gen Xers or Baby Boomers had. When I young and wanted to learn about dolphins, my mom took me to the library to take out a book and read about them. If I was lucky, I might be able to see some dolphins at an amusement park or maybe there was an exhibit at the Science Centre to learn more about their habits.
Today, I speak with Gen Ys who instead of spending their summers reading about dolphins, spent their time at special camp in Hawaii where they swam with dolphins! They watched YouTube videos and interviewed top oceanographers to learn more about their favourite animal and were strongly encouraged by their families to full immerse themselves in their passion. This was not my reality, nor most Gen Xers.
Baby Boomers express even more awe at the depth of experiences that Gen Ys have had exposure to early in their lives. We are all just a little bit jealous. So how does this impact the work world? Organizations, leaders and colleagues should:
- Stop associating experience with age. No longer can we assume that just because someone is young that they don’t possess deep experiences or expertise.
- Leverage the experiences of all employees and facilitate greater cross-sharing of knowledge through informal lunch ‘n learn sessions or reverse mentoring.
- Recognize the passion that Gen Ys bring to the work environment and keep it alive through regular discussions, recognition and acknowledgement.
- Seek to understand what Gen Ys value and identify how your work environment can meet those needs
- Empower Gen Ys to take on greater accountability through increased delegation of tasks.
- Be open to team debate / discussion on new ideas and solutions. Challenge the status quo.
- Engage Gen Ys to implement new changes and act as internal ambassadors.
- Ask versus tell. This generation responds best to two-way dialogue.
For all organizations there is a tipping point when younger employees / generations outweigh more experienced generations. For one of our clients, they have identified that this will happen in their organization by 2019. For your business it may be less than 5 years away. It is important to be prepared for this reality.
Creating an environment that capitalizes on Gen Ys strengths and experiences will help you be as high performing as possible. Assuming we can discount what Gen Ys want, think and expect is short sighted. Someday, perhaps not that far off, we will be working for them and they will be making the important business decisions.
As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.