Managing and leading Generation Y


With more generation Y’ers, or millenniums, entering the work place, managers are increasingly confronted with the differences between generations. This may be especially true in high tech industries where knowledge and experience is valued over creativity or imagination. Many millenniums will feel out of place in these environments and if not properly addressed, what initially started as a generation gap becomes a talent gap. This article shares some competencies that managers and leaders require to start the needed cultural transformation.

A recent study under 2,500 millenniums in Singapore by Kelly Services, showed that ‘corporate culture’ (29%) followed by ‘market presence and leadership’ (28%) were the most desired attributes for a company. Millenniums are consciously deciding which company and boss they want to work for and despite the differences between individuals, geographical areas and cultures; the similarities between individuals that grew up on opposite sides of the globe are surprising.

What molded the millenniums

The two main factors that molded generation Y’s values and behaviors are parents and technology. In the workplace, we sometimes forget that it is our generation, which nurtured these values and behaviors and that we have fed them so much technology that they fully depend on it. It has made it possible to instantly connect, make friends across the globe and get instant information about virtually every topic or event. Whilst many would describe them as technology savvy, the fact is, that they are not. They know how to use technology, but the majority has no idea how the technology actually works.

Consequently, millenniums behave and value things differently from the older generations. Here are some examples of how that affects the workplace:
  • Millenniums expect interactions and engagements. If the boss does not provide feedback, then probably something is wrong. This is unlike previous generations where if the boss does not provide feedback, you probably do a good job.
  • Millenniums are used to instantly connect, therefore the need and effort of setting up large meetings or conference calls feels very inefficient and alien for them. 
  • Texting is their default way of communication: short, straightforward, seemingly almost rude. 
  • Millenniums are ambitious, but not necessarily follow the path set out for them. Job-hopping is no problem and there is a good chance that they are not interested at all in their bosses job or pay. 
  • Millenniums have grown up with a continuous stream of positive encouragement, which is what they expect in the workplace as well. 
  • Instant feedback and support of their parents at every turn of their life and who gave meaning to every activity they did, millenniums do not deal well with ambiguity and will not be very productive if the task at hand is not meaningful. 
Some managers may be of the opinion that millenniums have to change to be part of their team. However, as in a few years, millenniums are in the majority, it is their job to make the team function. This requires a change in behaviors of today’s managers and a shift in their competencies in the interest of the organization and (future) business.

Four core competencies to manage and lead millenniums

Managing and leading people is more than a few competencies. There are four competencies though that are essential and which possibly require the behavior of the manager to change:
  • The ability to engage effectively. This is the first challenge should not be considered lightly as it is key to managing millenniums. For one, there is likely little in common. Secondly, millenniums are used to getting attention and conversations typically pivot around them. To connect, the manager needs to show genuine interest in what they do and who they are as a person in both workplace and private life, which can be contrary to instinct or interest. 
  • The ability to motivate. The second challenge is the indifferent attitude and the need for instant gratification of millenniums. Managers need to ensure that every activity is meaningful and effort needs to be done to show how that activity fits into and contributes to a bigger picture. Unfortunately, few managers are effective coaches and this competency may need development. 
  • The ability to incentive. Often companies have set standard incentive schemes across the organization to ensure that employees are treated equally and fairly. The long term nature, e.g. annual, of these schemes and the inability or incapability of managers to personalize them, make them less suitable for the millenniums. Managers need to develop the ability and get the authority to fit incentives with what the millennium values, being it additional days off, concert tickets or even a skateboard. 
  • The ability to nourish and encourage. Millenniums may be lacking in areas of experience and knowledge, they do not lack in creativity and imagination. A focus on developing knowledge and growing experience without paying attention to the creative side is counterproductive and can result in talent leaving the company. Hence, the ability to nourish and encourage creativity is important for future company and team successes. 

Final words


In a few years, millenniums will be the majority in many companies. The task of managers and leaders today is to create a company culture in which millenniums will flourish. They themselves are the starting point of this transformation. It takes more effort than one may think, so better start today.

Jack van Mook (c) 2012 EnFeat

Note: if you are interested in keynote speeches or workshops regarding leading generation Y, then do not hesitate to contact the momenta group. Alternatively drop us a note on the contact page and we will make sure follow up is given.