Don’t be too quick to generalise generations

SmartCompany‘s own Aunty B recently received the following question from one of her readers: “How do I deal with my cocky Generation Y employees?”

This perception and negative generalisation of Gen Y isn’t anything new, we’ve all heard it before.

The generation typically known as the ‘what’s in it for me’ generation has built quite a reputation for themselves amongst their peers; perceived as being lazy, unprofessional and indulging in over-ambitious pursuits to fill management’s shoes overnight.

In our experience however, perception is far from reality. Employing and working with younger members of the workforce can bring a number of benefits to your business that you may never have realised otherwise.

Sure, there are the occasional Gen Ys who prescribe to the stereotypical definitions of being arrogant, lazy and over-ambitious but these types of employees can be found across all generations and let’s be honest, the cockiness trait is hardly limited to one generation!

The newest generation of employees are the most educated, diverse and IT-savvy generation in history. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm. They’re fast learners and pick up new skills easily, which means that hiring them can often provide more immediate financial returns.

They’re engaged from the get-go and keen to get involved and contribute, so contrary to common belief, rather than being lazy, they can be incredibly productive because they are so highly engaged, willing to learn and take on challenges.

What’s more is that they tend to bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to the table which can create new revenue streams, better ways of working and efficiencies that you may never have thought of before.

Gen Y’s out-of-the-box thinking and approach to trying to do things faster and more efficiently often sees them being accused of cutting corners and not knowing the true meaning of hard work. However, in our opinion, it makes a whole lot of sense to work smarter rather than harder.

Truth be told (or #TBT in Gen Y speak), the landscape of our work environments are rapidly changing. Hierarchies are being replaced by much flatter structures; formal processes that come with a lot of red tape and bureaucracy are making way for a more casual work environment that’s all about productivity and collaboration; and innovation is sought as a key competitive advantage where employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo rather than doing what has always been done before them.

It’s no secret that in order to not only survive but flourish in our current social and economic environment, adapting to and embracing change is essential. Gen Y probably does this better than any other generation. For them, it’s their way of life.

Like with any employee, the trick to managing Gen Y employees is to manage their expectations. As Aunty B highlighted in her response to the question, communication is the key. If you clearly articulate and reinforce to them what is expected of them and what they can expect from you as an employer from the very beginning, then it’s much more unlikely that they’ll live up to their negative stereotype. Feedback is crucial; if they’re not meeting expectations then let them know.

Also, try not to jump onto the generation bandwagon, it’s easy to do but isn’t always an accurate representation of reality. It’s much more effective to manage your employees on an individual basis rather than a generational one because what you’re likely to find is that certain traits are more representative of a particular individual and not necessarily an entire generation.

Janelle McKenzie and Abiramie Sathiamoorthy are the co-founders of E&I People Solutions. Janelle has a hands-on background in HR, her philosophy is all about providing practical solutions that offer businesses real value. Abiramie has worked with a range of different businesses to set up or enhance their people processes with an end goal to help create high-performing teams.


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