Lessons we can learn from Generation Y

16 Jul 2014 by Sarah Leembruggen.

It’s safe to say that Generation Y — loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 1999 — also known as millennials, get a bad rap.

Regarded as pampered and over-praised, this relentlessly self-confident generation is flooding the workplace. They’ll make up 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025 — and they’re trying to change everything.

They don’t think twice about sending a text during meetings. They think “business casual” includes skinny jeans. And they are of course full of “brilliant ideas” that need to go straight to the executive board.

Older generations are left wondering when they will adapt. The answer to this is easy: never. Instead, through their sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem, they’ll make the modern workplace adapt to them.

This may not actually be such a bad thing. There are several lessons we can learn from the unconventional millennial work style.

1.Be selfish—but in a good way!

A common criticism of Generation Y workers is that they’re self-centred, but this isn’t necessarily a negative trait when it comes to productivity. Millennials focus on their specific roles and responsibilities, execute them, and move on to the next task. Whereas their colleagues might aspire to be the “go-to” person in the office ready to dispense advice, many millennials prefer to be recognised as the top performer. They want to get the job done and move up the ranks.

Channelling your focus on self over others when managing your priorities and workload can be a good productivity tool. Evaluate how taking on additional projects or delegating tasks influences your happiness and career advancement. But be careful not to be so self-centred that you lose sight of what needs to be done collaboratively.

2. Get what you want from your job

Generation Y have been encouraged to show their creativity and to take their extracurricular interests seriously. Raised by parents who wanted to be friends with their kids, they’re used to seeing their elders as peers rather than authority figures. When they want something, they’re not afraid to say so.

Millennials entering the workforce want engaging, meaningful, flexible work that doesn’t take over their lives. The years of recession and lack of job opportunities that they’ve lived through don’t seem to be adjusting their expectations downward much, either.

In a recent survey of about 500 millennials, 81 per cent of respondents said they should be able to set their own hours and 70 per cent said they need “me time” on the job (compared with 39 per cent of baby boomers). 90 per cent think they deserve their “dream job.” They expect to be listened to when they have an idea, even when they’re the youngest person in the room.

With a bit of careful navigation, this sense of entitlement that millennials bring to the table can be played to an employer’s advantage. There could be worse issues to deal with than having a team of people who are intrinsically motivated to be part of every process and feel responsible for the success of the company. If the team is passionate about what they want and the role they carry out, the better they do and the more they enjoy it. The pay off is increased success for the company. Not such a bad thing after all!

3. Learn from failure

Video games teach children that failure presents an opportunity to learn and try new techniques; combine that habit with the fearlessness of youth, and it’s no surprise that millennials aren’t as apprehensive of failure as their older colleagues might be. They are okay about breaking with convention in the name of learning a new skill, they are willing to push themselves to the max to come up with bold, innovative ideas and solutions and they don’t flinch if these unorthodox moves fail. They don’t always flop after all; they may turn out to be brilliant and nobody ever got anywhere without taking a leap of faith or two.

While not everyone will be able to shake their fear of failure, they can learn to recognise it as a chance to improve, learn and ultimately succeed in future ventures.

4. Believe that you’re worth it!

Generation Y are becoming more aware of their rising worth. Coupling their ability to learn quickly with their insistence on having a say, they pack a powerful punch. But rather than complaining about their tenacity, maybe we should instead focus more on what this generation can offer and how their skills can be most effectively married with those of the older generations they work alongside.

In a more fragile economic environment, their energy, insight and high-tech know-how is — and will continue to be – essential for all high-performing organisations. Throw in experience from older workers and watch innovation explode!

5. Make feedback a must

Generation Y have grown up with the Internet, which offers instant gratification and quick feedback, and they expect that in other aspects of their lives.

At work, they thrive on continuous feedback and mentorship. Remember that millennials are new to the professional workplace. No matter how smart and confident they are, they need mentoring. It’s easy to dismiss this as needy or lazy, but positive mentors and team-oriented leaders give younger workers three essential things they need to stay engaged at the workplace: context, collaboration and communicated expectations.

While older employers might find it difficult to adapt to the amount of attention they need to pay to their younger employees, once the habit of regular feedback has been formed, both parties will see the benefits. Checking in with employees on a regular basis may allow an employer to unearth any conflict, concerns and ideas in a timelier manner and hold on to their talented Generation Y workers.

So we could continue to roll our eyes at Generation Y, accuse them of being spoiled and entitled and wish that they’d get taken down a peg or two. But if we’re smart, we’ll cheer them on.

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