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How NOT to manage the X and Y Generation

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 @ 04:17 PM

Generational speakerLeading people isn’t easy, even math is easier… because once you figure out how to solve a math problem, that problem remains solved forever… whereas people are dynamic, ever-changing, and stubborn. All generations qualify.

How NOT to manage x and y Generation

As a Leadership expert and generational speaker I often illustrate that times have changed, to see how simply turn on the TV.

In the 70’s and 80’s we tuned into shows like Leave it to Beaver, the Happy Days and the Love Boat. The values that came through were family, friendships, hard work and character. Now we tune into Desperate Housewives, Who wants to Marry a Millionaire and American Idol.  These shows tend to involve lies, deceit and quick, easy routes to fame and fortune. Not an inspiration for our x and y generation. Even leadership expert and motivational speaker Donald Trump encourages competition and corrupt behaviour.

It’s no wonder different x and y generation in our workplaces clash, our values and work ethics don’t mesh. The key to getting along in a multi generational workplace is to understand and bring out the best in each generation.  Our discussion today will be around what to avoid when leading the Generation Y, usually ages 15- 25. This is the group with the highest level of turnover, lowest level of loyalty and for many the hardest generation to lead. Yet they can be the most innovative, techno savvy, productive employees if you understand and manage them well.

Do it because I told you to….

This generation grew up with lots of information and the technology to find it, so they know that there is no one right way to do things. Add to this that for a Gen Y respect isn’t yours by virtue of your position (i.e. according to media influences, marrying a millionaire can get you ahead too)even for a leadership expert. Job titles don’t have the same bearing. Wary of fancy titles and get rich quick schemes, you garner respect with this group by what you do, not who you are.

You get this generations attention by modeling behavior – don’t expect one thing out of them that you won’t deliver yourself, be the example. Generation Y wants to be heard and wants autonomy in their work.

Don’t breathe down their throat to get things done, instead give them an objective, and a timeline and let them figure out how to get it done. Creativity and technology drives this generation.

Does this, Do that, and don’t ask questions…

Simply following instructions for this generation will lead to immediate turnover.

Because their earliest influences have been TV, games, and the internet they are stimulus junkies, and get easily bored. Their attention span is 30 seconds or less so routine work just doesn’t jive. Delegate projects to the generation Y and give them increasing responsibility and lots of input.

They are very good at multitasking, technology, fast and creative thinking.

Overemphasis on Appearance

Dress is what helps define this generation. To be told what they can or can’t wear may be restricting and demoralizing.

That said dress codes are important so remind employees what impact their choice of clothing has (i.e.-showing off your belly button ring doesn’t inspire confidence).

If possible loosen up the dress code or better yet let employees have input into appropriate dress.

 Lack of Appreciation

This generation craves attention and needs to know what they do matters. Many Gen Y’s have been coddled, looked after and given a lot of attention by their well to do hard working parents (our average standard of living adjusted for inflation has increased by over 40% sense 1972). Many baby boomers were overly involved in their children’s lives with everything from calling to wake kids up for class and arguing with teachers about their grades. The generation Y brings this expectation and need for attention into the workplace and it often clashes with other generations.

Let them add value to their work and praise them publicly for it

Recognition to this generation needs to have clout, keep it specific, immediate, genuine, spontaneous and personalized.

Set small objectives so you can provide specific and regular feedback along the way.


With so much exposure to technology often riddled with get rich quick schemes and falsified claims, the Generation Y is skeptical. Desensitized to the media and hype, Gen Y’s prefers leadership to be blunt and expressive. Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. Under promise and over deliver, instead of the reverse to build respect.

 No Pain No Gain… Work Hard, play Hard

Younger generations demand their work be fun and meaningful and serious work attitudes turn them off. They don’t have the mindset work and play are opposites.

It is critical for leadership to keep the workplace light and informal. Excessive rules, serious or threatening overtures and closed minded bosses will send this young generation running. Humor and Fun will be the key way to connect with this crowd. Even small gestures of fun and play lessen formality, decrease tension and create an open environment.

As a Generational Speaker I like to encourage a fun and informal environment increases creativity input and builds rapport between generations.

Tags: x and y generation, leadership expert, generational speaker

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