Generation Y, born mid-1980’s – late 1990’s are the youngest part of our workforce but are not a monolithic group, any more than all women, or all Chinese, or all Jews, are alike. Yet, you will find countless websites, blogs and books, pundits on the radio and TV opining about how to coach Generation Y workforce members. If you follow their advice, you will not only be guilty of falsely generalizing along with these advisers, but you will fail in your coaching.
What are the 7 biggest mistakes that managers make when coaching Generation Y?
#1: Take the Bait. Too many leaders believe in the monolithic “they’re all alike” philosophy. They use biting humor and sarcasm to remind the youngsters that they have not “paid their dues” and that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Even worse, they go on to explain these clichés to them, since the manager is sure the subordinate knows nothing about the “real world” and need a guide.
#2: Disregard common ground. When leaders behave as if they’re much older, wiser, and more experienced than they are, young employees feel patronized. Leaders make the mistake of droning on about how things were different in “the day,” and how much easier (or harder) these twenty-somethings have it at work. Ignoring and disparaging their music, fashion, hairstyles and general taste as “young” and “immature,” if not by labeling, than by actions and tone sets a relationship up for failure.
#3: Think about what they can’t do. We all can fall into the expectation trap: expect nothing creative, positive, or intelligent from younger workers; unless they’re in the tech fields, then expect miracles. Continuing with the assumptions that these employees can’t possibly know more than a seasoned employee, unless their knowledge is based on their extensive experience playing video games since they were toddlers, is a dangerous stereotype. Ask yourself, for tech projects, are you giving them impossible-to-meet deadlines and then deriding them when these deadlines are missed? For all other projects and tasks, do you micro-manage and undermine them in the guise of mentoring them?
#4: Believe your way is the only way. Do you continue to impose your workplace culture on them as a group and as individuals, regardless of anyone’s preferences, needs, and earned privileges. Do you allow them to bring culture-changing ideas to you or do you block their innovative ideas in every way? Do you shun their self-expression (make a snide remark about a tattoo, forbid them to display facial piercings, etc)? Do you expect these employees to be disrespectful, not punctual, lazy, and unprepared? In short, you may be creating the very reality you’re actually trying to avoid.
#5: Use seniority instead of respect. This is a big one. Constantly referencing the “chain of command” and imposing strict sanctions when they step outside of the system causes needless frustration. Never rewarding initiative-taking, ambition, or healthy competition; penalizing constantly for raising new ideas or concerns; and labeling them the “squeaky wheel” comes across as a way to justify pounding them down.
#6: Don’t change your mind. Do you know any of them as individuals? Do you continue to make assumptions and generalizations or mix up their names and confuse them with one another? Are you attributing to them characteristics and work tasks that are not theirs, and frequently showing them you view them as interchangeable and expendable? If you treat these newer employees as the cheapest part of your workforce and keep reminding them of how many people want their jobs and imply that they can be replaced in an instant, you won’t have to replace them – they will leave.
#7: Avoid transparency. Too many leaders are not open and honest with their younger employees. They blend praise with blame, credit with criticism, and gratitude with “yeah, but,” so the employees do not ever know exactly where they stand or what is expected. It’s a dangerous risk to bei inconsistent with rewards or sanctions, berate them when they can’t seem to “follow the rules” or don’t know how to “play the game” with the belief that this “keeps them on their toes.”
If you are savvy enough to do the exact opposite of these mistakes, your workplace will thrive, with its multi-generational workforce of unique individuals.
Oh, and by the way, take a trip down memory lane and remember what it was like to be young. Remember what your parents or grandparents would say about how you approached life and how you did things. You may have loved or hated their opinion but it was still an opinion from a different point of view. The mistakes above are mistakes because they take for granted the point of view of the younger generation. Be accepting of all viewpoints and everyone will feel valued.