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Generation Y Proves Challenge for Boomer Managers

If the cubicles around you seem to be filling up with folks who look younger and younger, well, they are. Generation Y, those born after 1980, are beginning their march into the workplace, 70 million strong. Not since the baby boomers became of age has there been a generation so large, or so different from their predecessors, and they are shaking up the workplace in any number of ways. “Generation Y, they understand on a real basic level that they walk into a workplace with as much technical and operational skill as the guy running the company,” said Jason Dias, a trainer, historian and consultant whose clients include Telesis Community Credit Union. “They’re wondering what’s the next step. You hired me to be a sales person, when do I become sales manager? Technology has given them a sense of immediacy that things shouldn’t take a long time.” Telesis called on Dias to help with its intergenerational marketing efforts and soon found that its managers, baby boomers and Gen Xers, had their own set of questions and issues about how to manage the new breed of workers. They are not alone. Renaissance Executive Forums, a group that offers leadership and other management training and resources to business owners and CEOs, recently launched a seminar on “Managing and Motivating Generation Y.” And a number of companies are hiring consultants or working through these emerging issues on a case-by-case basis. Although each generation has brought its own set of idiosyncrasies to the workplace and a generation gap of one sort or another has trailed managers for decades, Generation Y presents special challenges, these experts say. Their technological savvy makes them both confident and impatient. Where their baby boomer bosses paid their dues, Gen Y wants their due. If baby boomers understood they had to prove themselves to the company, Gen Y demands the company prove itself to them. They expect continual feedback, even if it’s negative, the freedom to make their own decisions and pay that matches their performance or sometimes just their perceptions of how good they are. “When they come out of school they expect to make 20 bucks an hour and they’re not worth 10 bucks,” said Mark Wilkinson, president of Prompt Machine Products Inc. in Chatsworth of some of the machinists he’s interviewed for his growing company. “I think their expectations are high, and I don’t think they’re patient enough in all instances to work through what they have to work through.” That’s not to say that these newly minted workers are unwilling to adapt to the realities of the workplace, just that they’ve got their eye firmly focused on the goal. Burt Bril, a marketing assistant at Telesis in Chatsworth took his first job out of college just to get some work experience. After a year he moved on to his current position. “After my first job I had experience. I got treated with a lot more respect, and I started taking on a lot more responsibility,” Bril said. “Now it’s not just grunt work. I feel more important.” It doesn’t surprise Bril to learn that the boomer generation was generally resigned to a far longer period of paying dues. “Back in the day I guess as far as what my parents told me, it was a lot harder, and we didn’t have as much technology as we do today,” he said. Other characteristics unique to these young workers are playing out daily in a kind of workplace failure to communicate. “If the boss wants input on a project, this generation would have no problem putting together a spread sheet or an e-mail, and you’ve got a fortysomething baby boomer saying let’s sit around a table and talk about it,” said Joe Jotkowitz, managing partner at The Executive Advisory, a consultancy in Encino. “This generation grew up on video games and as a result they expect constant feedback. The perception around older managers is if you don’t hear from me everything’s okay. And this generation is very visual. Do not leave direction for them on voice mail. Put it in an e-mail and you will get much more resonance.” Adult experiences Baby boomers entered the workplace green and aware of their inexperience, but many Gen Yers, even as new college grads, have already been part of the adult world for years. The children of baby boomers, a generation with a high divorce level, Gen Yers were often raised by single parents who didn’t have the luxury of leaving them at home while they attended to other matters. This generation participated in the grocery shopping, attending to car repairs and handling any number of other chores and responsibilities. Where baby boomers only listened to their parents talk about World War II or the Depression, Gen Yers lived Columbine, the Oklahoma City bombing and Sept. 11. Those life experiences, coupled with a technological know-how that often surpasses their bosses, has given Gen Yers a sense of self-esteem and competence that belies their years, and they are anxious to make it pay off. “The challenges of baby boomers managing Gen Y is a baby boomer who spent five or six years working their way into a management position may be a little irritated when a Gen Yer wants to get there in five months,” said Dias. Richard Cooper, vice president for government and community relations at Telesis and a baby boomer, can remember his first, entry level job at a credit union in the 1970s. “I was highly incented that I had a clean, warm job that I got to use my personality, and back in those days, incentives weren’t something any of us thought about.” Today, Cooper said, Telesis has a financial incentive program that’s been especially effective for its younger workers, many of whom are anxious to progress financially. Providing incentives Other company officials are catching on to the need to provide meaningful incentives to these twentysomethings, even if they themselves had no such opportunities coming up. Wilkinson at Prompt remembers the days when machinists started in an apprenticeship program and were not paid at all, but he is structuring the jobs of the two twentysomething middle managers he’s brought in to accommodate the company’s growth very differently. “I’m willing to bring them along financially,” said Wilkinson. “I’m kind of letting them create their own job.” Autonomy and a system of financial rewards are both very important to managing the Gen Y set, experts say. Yet they caution that managers should not let a twentysomething make the rules. “There are certain things you know based on experience that is more important than what a Gen Yer thinks,” said Dias. “and you have to know when it’s important to assert yourself.” Managing Gen Y, some say, is no different from the intergenerational management that’s come before, only the details have changed. “The problem is that every generational manager doesn’t understand that people have different value systems, and the trick is to find out what they value and reward them for the ego ideal,” said Leo Lunine, a Mission Hills-based consultant for The Employer’s Group, a non-profit association dedicated to human resources management. “Create the circumstances where they can display their values and reward them if possible.”

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