The hullabaloo around generational workplace dynamics seems to have intensified of late. TIME magazine ran a provocative and controversial article at the end of May calling Millenials “lazy, entitled narcissists.” Last year, The New York Times published a gem called “The Go-Nowhere Generation.” And scores of other outlets and bloggers have encouraged organizations with the latest let-them-text-each-other-in-meetings or let's-give-everyone-a-trophy strategy. After all, the 85 million strong Gen-Y workforce revolution is in full swing (hello, me!), and employers are taking notice.
Though millions of us born between 1982 and 2000 are seeping our way into the global workforce, there's something about many of these articles that hasn't connected quite right. Many Gen-Yers, myself included, read articles about us and find ourselves saying things like "Well, maybe," or "That doesn't really fit." It's a weird feeling. It's as if these media voices are telling us the face we see in the mirror isn't the face we're supposed to see (they're also insisting that as Gen-Yers, we should be obsessively staring at the mirror for much, much longer).
Many I've spoken to—including Gen-Y friends, Boomers, Gen-Xers, and myself (it's always awkward when I get caught doing that)—prefer a more nuanced approach to the generational workplace conundrum—something like a recent LinkedIn article by the author of Give and Take, Adam Grant, suggests. In it, Grant highlights the difficulty of making sound conclusions about any generational group, saying, "Frankly, it's hard to make any valid, reliable statements about what millions of people who happened to be born in the same two decades have in common." Throughout the article, Grant offers conflicting findings on generational characteristics and comes to the conclusion that "when it comes to generations, we might want to stop making mountains out of molehills."
Interestingly, though Grant questions the validity of sweeping generational conclusions, he does acknowledge that experts agree on the importance of age-based workplace differences. Younger people tend to be more narcissistic than their older colleagues. And as their adjective would suggest, young workers also tend to be more uncertain and raw. This, Grant says, is true of any generation.
It's with this age framing in mind that I dug into my employee engagement knowledge base, discussed with clients, and polled Gen-Y friends and colleagues on what really matters to them in the workplace. Specifically, I asked them: What are three simple and actionable things managers of Gen-Y (read: young) employees can do tomorrow that would make the most difference to our sense of motivation? As I had hoped, the results are surprisingly simple.
1. Start Your Next Meeting with a Non-Work-Related Check-In
For example, say, "Before we begin today, I want to go around the room and quickly hear everyone's most memorable moment from this weekend." Many young people want to be seen as more than just a cog in a wheel (this isn't unique to young employees, by the way). They love being acknowledged as human beings, as well as seeing you, their boss, as a human, too. Doing something like this breeds openness and loyalty.
2. Challenge Them to Stretch Themselves on a Project They're Working On
Tell them that you know they can add additional value. Young employees have energy and are often looking for an opportunity to push themselves and grow. Give them permission to do so—in fact, show them that you expect them to.
3. Express Genuine Appreciation for Something Simple and Obvious They've Accomplished
This transcends age as well, but it certainly can carry extra weight with young employees searching to confirm that they're making a meaningful and noticed contribution to their team. As managers, we often pride ourselves on being critical analysts, and we slip into the trap of constantly pointing out our employees' problem areas while failing to acknowledge the progress they're making. There is copious research about the positive benefits of appreciative teams—don't miss this opportunity to seize them and to make your young employees feel like they matter.
To all of you managers, allow me to supportively challenge you to try to apply these simple actions to your team tomorrow. Your Gen-Y employees will certainly appreciate it, and I have a hunch some of your older employees will, too.
Michael is the Managing Partner of the Terrell Leadership Group—a Silicon Valley firm dedicated to helping Gen-Y managers and entrepreneurs build effective companies and overcome their leadership challenges. He also works with senior executives on organizational and leadership issues regarding their younger workforces and teams. Michael is a group facilitator for the Stanford Business School’s transformative Interpersonal Dynamics course and is the co-author of the new book on leadership development, The Inside-Out Effect.More from this Author