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Baby Boomers’ Guide to Working with Generation Y

Baby Boomers can learn to develop and mentor Generation Y talent with a little extra care and flexibility. The Public Speaker shows how respect and mentorship can bring out the best in Generation Y and benefit your workplace.

By
Lisa B. Marshall
February 21, 2013
Episode #192

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In my previous episodes, I talked about the perceptions and misperceptions of Generation Y employees in the workplace. What I haven’t yet addressed is what my generation (aka, the Baby Boomers) can do to develop and mentor Gen Y. So that’s what I’ll cover in today’s episode. 

Generation Y workers are bright, creative, and well-rounded. They probably know a lot more about technology than you do, and they’re better at using social media for communication and influence. It’s time to get past your perceptions or bias against Generation Y and learn how to work with them and help them succeed. Your workplace depends on it.

Jennifer’s Story: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

I once worked with a talented, thoughtful, bright young woman from Generation Y—let’s call her Jennifer. She recently shared an interesting story with me. 

Jennifer is a 24-year-old who has had several paid and unpaid internships in addition to one full-time paid job. She’s also got a master's degree under her belt. A few months ago, she was hired at a small 30-person company as a Communications Coordinator. Her background and experience made her a clear choice for the job.  

In the first 3 weeks, every email she wrote had to be reviewed and approved (as well all of her other tasks) by a manager.  Sometimes the reviews took a few days and hindered her ability to efficiently do her job. Jennifer quickly became frustrated. It made her feel as if they didn't trust her or her ideas and she wondered why they hired her.

So at the end of the first 3 weeks, she confronted her Baby Boomer manager, as diplomatically as possible, about the situation and requested that the review process be stopped or at least modified. Although her manager listened, she told Jennifer that because of her young age, Jennifer’s daily email and work tasks would need to continue to be closely reviewed and monitored. That very evening, Jennifer called her parents for advice. The next morning she gave her notice. No one tried to stop her. 

Jennifer left the company after just 5 weeks…and this was a job she moved across the country for!

“Good Riddance”

Maybe you’re thinking Jennifer sounds entitled and dependent on her parents. Maybe you’re thinking you would have let her go too. But I’ve worked with Jennifer and I know what she’s capable of. She is incredibly talented, smart, and motivated. The company that let her leave without a fight missed out on someone who is bright, hard-working, and capable of highly creative and original work.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t unique to Jennifer. Many companies are unclear about how to retain talented Gen Y employees.  Here are 4 things you can do to attract and keep the Generation Y talent you absolutely need to keep your business growing and relevant:

Tip #1: Treat Gen Y with Respect

Don’t micromanage their work. Provide challenging work and offer autonomous projects where they can grow and flourish. Listen to their ideas and let them be creative.  You’ve probably heard of Google’s 20% rule, which allows their employees to spend 20% of their normal work time on innovative side projects.  Recently, Apple started a similar program. Giving Generation Y time to innovate and learn new skills will help you retain your best and strongest talent. If Jennifer’s employers had respected her experience and intelligence, it’s highly likely she would brought about some very innovative changes to the company.

Tip #2: Recognize Talent and Hard Work

I mentioned in both of the earlier episodes on Generation Y that this age group is used to hearing lots of praise from their parents, teachers, and coaches. Without the verbal praise, they may feel anxious and preoccupied with their performance. Recognition and praise are big motivators for this generation. Regular consistent feedback is very important for everyone, but especially for Gen Y.

In my new book Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation, I discuss Gottman’s Magic 5:1 ratio. It’s the concept of making 5 positive statements for every 1 negative statement.  John Gottman originally came up with this ratio predicting the success of marriages, but it has been shown to apply to the workplace too.

When you give feedback, make sure it’s restorative—that is, provide more positive feedback than negative feedback and follow a process that is planned and systematic. (Check out much more on the techniques for providing restorative feedback in my book, Smart Talk.) In addition, if you don’t already have a formal public recognition program, consider implementing one. Generation Y often prefers public recognition, time, and technology over cash.

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