The Key To Managing Gen Y

The new generation may require a new brand of management. Here's how to keep your young hires engaged on the job.
Co-Founder, Brazen Careerist
August 01, 2011

What's the real key to managing Gen Y? Knowing more about them than they know about themselves.

After all, you know Gen Y loves the attention of being managed closely. You know Gen Y wants great mentoring. But the way to stand out in a crowd of employers is to understand Gen Y in a way they don’t yet understand themselves. Then you can add the kind of value that makes these young employees stay.

Here are things you need to know in order to do that:

1. They’re fundamentally conservative

Gen Y follows rules. You won't find Gen Y protesting in the streets because they make themselves heard within the confines of institutionalized permission.

Gen Y can’t stand conflict. When Gen Y doesn’t like something, you probably won’t hear about it. They just won’t show up.

Gen Y is inherently conservative. You might think Gen Y is asking for revolutionary stuff at work—like flextime, fair-wage salaries and good mentoring. But really, Gen Y is simply demanding what their parents told them they should expect from the world: Work that  matters and that complements a life that matters. Those revolutionary expectations come from the parents—baby boomers. Gen Y is just doing what they are told.

2. They are slow moving

The helicopter parent has been a guidepost of Gen Y development. Gen Y is slow and methodical when it comes to making decisions. The idea of the helicopter parent emerged as Gen Y was receiving the most attentive self-esteem-focused parenting in history. Which means Gen Y is used to having their parents make their decisions, or at least steer them. So when they are left, on their own, to make a decision that no one can really help them with, Gen Y often gets stuck.

3. They are not entrepreneurs

Most Gen Y-ers say they want to own their own business. But what they really mean is they want to have a career that is not as tumultuous as their parents’ careers. Baby boomers relied on corporate America and they were let down. Gen Y is hoping to avoid that by relying on themselves. So to Gen Y, entrepreneurship is a safety net.

The problem, though, is that Gen Y loves being part of a team, and Gen Y loves having a manager paying close attention to them. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are lonely, crazy, anxious people. So Gen Y tries entrepreneurship, loses resolve, and goes back to the safety of working for someone else.

4. Appearences matter more to them than what’s real.

Dan Schawbel is a world-renowned personal branding expert and it is no coincidence that he’s also from Gen Y—Gen Y manages themselves like they’re celebrities. Which makes sense since online, everyone is searchable, knowable, trackable and vulnerable to faulty first-impressions. Dan Schawbel, and his army of personal branding experts have shown the world that what you look like online is actually what is real.

The result of this trend, though, is that Gen Y is more concerned with how they appear online than what’s actually going on in their lives. The best illustration of this trend is that they don’t make enough money for a huge, lavish wedding, but they still want their wedding pictures to be gorgeous, fun and exotic. So they elope, with a photographer, and post all the photos of a great wedding on Facebook.

5. They are followers

Gen Y is very team-oriented; they did book reports in teams, they went to prom in teams and they were the first generation to learn the playground rule: “you can’t say you can’t play.” The result of this way of seeing the world is that Gen Y is very, very non-competitive. Gen Y-ers are avid users of collaborative software that inadvertently flattens office hierarchy, and they have little interest in leading in the classic, hierarchical way. So beware: Gen Y’s leadership will look like non-leadership to everyone else.

6. They need to feel special

Most Gen Y-ers you know will say this does not apply to them. They don’t like to feel typical. Gen Y was raised to feel special. Treat them like they are special even if you know they are typical of their millions of peers.

Anyway, all generations have strengths and weaknesses. And just because Gen Y’s weakness is that they complain about being grouped as Gen Y, the bottom line is that they want personal attention from management so they can have more personal insight about themselves. This is a fair thing to want from work, and from life. In fact, if there is anything we can learn from Gen Y it is that everyone, no matter how old, should want this from their work life.