There are quite a few myths about Gen Y. I’m excited to debunk some of these myths and provide Gen Y clarification at next month’s NYC event CRM Evolution. I will join up with Jon Blum–former Director, Sales Development of Multi-Channel Sales at Best Buy, current Chief Illuminator for customer service consultancy Infinite Green–to lead a session on how to manage Gen Y.
To gear up for NYC I recently read Gen Y researcher Bruce Tulgan‘s book Not Everyone Gets A Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y. Tulgan has done years of research interviewing thousands of millennials. He knows his stuff.
Tulgan is an authority on the topic and while he appears to poke fun at Gen Y, he has done his due diligence. He understands how to create happier more productive workplaces where Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers can peacefully co-exist in harmony, or something like it.
Below I have recapped 14 myths from Tulgan’s book Everyone Gets A Trophy. Below you will read the myth, and then the “reality.” I also riff off of his comments with some of my own thoughts.
*Note: I use first person here because I am a millennial. The first person should represent my generation, not me personally.Also note there are around 80 million millennials, born between 1980 and about 1995.
Myth #1 Gen Yers are disloyal and unwilling to make real commitments to employers.
Tulgan argues that Gen Y’ers are indeed loyal, but our breed of loyalty can be described as “just in time loyalty.” Tulgan clarifies this loyalty as different than “kingdom loyalty.” Gen Y loyalty is “transactional loyalty” you get in a free market. The truth is millennials don’t feel limited and just like your best customers, we will come back again and again if you, the employer, make yourself interesting. Granted the “talent war” is not in full swing considering the economy is still struggling, these rules do still apply for high performers.
Myth#2 We won’t do the grunt work.
Millennials will do grunt work, but not in exchange for vague long-term promises of rewards that vest in the deep distant future. Gen Yers’ career paths will be erratic and eclectic, but as Tulgan points out–that doesn’t mean our career paths won’t be progressive and developmental. We grew up playing video games. If we are told the rules of the game before we dive in, we are more likely to continue playing. For example-if you want A you have to do B. If you want C you have to do D and so on and so forth.
Myth #3: We don’t know much and have short attention spans.
We do know stuff. We just don’t value the same knowledge as our elders. That being said, we certainly have much more info at our fingertips. Granted it is possible all this time in social media has ruined our attention spans–if you make something relevant and interesting for us, we will pay attention. Tell us a story. Teach through narrative. Make us understand how our contributions are critical to the greater good of the company. Most leaders don’t do this enough. Once a week is good. Once a day is ideal.
Myth#4 We want the top job from day one.
Ok this might be true, but give us some time. When we were kids we dressed up in our parents suits/ doctors uniform/ fire fighter hats. Perhaps you did this too but when you reached a certain age your active imagination was tamed. Ours wasn’t. It could be the proliferation of media is to blame for our notion that we can be an overnight success–a popular theme on many TV shows. This is simply not true, and all millennials eventually learn this. It is said we want to hit ground running from day one. We want to make an impact. We want to identify problems that nobody else has identified and solve problems that nobody else has solved. We want to make existing things better–we want to invent new things.
Myth #5 We need work to be fun.
Gen y’ers want to be taken seriously. We want work to be engaging. We want to learn, to be challenged and to understand the relationship between our work and the overall mission of the organization. We want to work with good people and have flexibility in where when and how we work.
Myth#6 We want to be left alone.
This is quite the opposite. Tulgan argues that if we care “one bit about the job, “ we want managers to know who we are, what we are doing, and engage with us, provide guidance and help us solve problems and keep track of our successes.
Myth#7 We want our managers to do our work for us.
We want managers who will spend time teaching us how to do our work very well and very fast. If you care about quality, I suggest you stress the focus on quality and not quantity. Organizations make much too many unforced errors due to unrealistic productivity demands. They end up having to do damage control later. Let’s stop making ourselves crazy and product quality work the first time around.
Myth #8 We don’t care about climbing the proverbial career ladder.
According to Tulgan’s research our career paths will be erratic and eclectic. However that doesn’t mean our career paths won’t be progressive and developmental. Gen Y career paths will be self-building path made up of learning, relationships, proof of their ability to add value, and lifestyle flexibility. Not a ladder but a tapestry.
Myth#9 Money and traditional benefits don’t matter to us.
We are savvy about offers, money and benefits, but these are only a threshold issue. Considering we saw our parents lose their 401K plans and the disaster the last few years have brought, we are very conscious of taking care of our future. Unfortunately many millennials are in debt from school–and thanks to so much news in the media about how toxic debt is–we are very self-aware and resourceful when it comes to getting rid of debt. We want to make sure we have a steady stream of income to help us do that.
Myth#10 Money is the only thing that matters to us.
This myth is a contrast to myth #9, but still a prevalent one. Money is a threshold issue. If we are asking for more what we’re really asking is “what do I need to do to earn more?” Once you meet the threshold of competitive money and benefits, Gen Yers care interested in five other things: schedule, relationships, task choice, learning opportunities, and location. For more on money, see myth #13.
Myth#11 We don’t respect their elders.
We do respect elders. We are closer to our parents than any other generation has ever been. But we want respect too. Perhaps Baby Boomers were so used to disrespect due to elders who had suffered through WWII induced post-traumatic stress disorders–and succumbed to adopting an attitude of “thank you may I have another.” Gen Y was raised by parents who fought in Vietnam–a controversial war that divided the country and changed the relationship of the press to the presidential administration. Our mothers were the first to attempt the “do it all attitude.” Raise the kids, put food on the table, go to work and get a divorce if they wanted one. I do not have an answer regarding how these socio-economic things shaped the child-rearing of millennials, I am just recognizing it did. An as a result if we feel we are being treated unfairly we will say so, or leave. I think this is a healthy attribute. Too many people put up with too much abuse from superiors.
Myth#12 We want to learn only from computers.
Tulgan argues that “from computers we want to learn stuff that is easy. But we need the human element to do our best learning.” We don’t want to be left in a cubicle all day to do the same task over and over and over. If you actually care about your “bottom line” you will recognize that happy worker bees make better products. Human beings were not build to sit stationary at desks all day doing the same thing day in day out. We want to get out of our seats. We want walking meetings. We crave variety, surprise and engagement. Perhaps our parents were too afraid to ask for more. Perhaps we have too much chutzpah, but we feel life should offer us more. According to Tulgan we “learn best from a combination of the human element – coaching, direction, guidance, support, shared wisdom–and the powerful capacity of menu-driven information systems to guide us through the tidal wave of info available at our fingertips.“ I would agree with that statement.
Myth #13: It’s impossible to turn us into long-term employees.
You can turn us into long-term employees. You’ll just have to do it one day at a time. Remember we don’t trust anyone, considering what we’ve seen unfold in corporate America in the last ten years. The last two years–Wall St., Madoff, and the decline of Main Street–make the Enron scandal look like small potatoes. We will be loyal, but you have to earn our trust through consistent “trustworthy” behavior. We crave this feeling of “safety” so to those organizations who can create this atmosphere based on trust, you will find the most loyal, committed and hard-working millennial employees.
Myth #14: We will never make good managers because we are so self-focused.
Of course, we can be good managers. We are not aliens. We crave human connection. We are nurturing and enjoy this aspect of work relationships. We meet friends, spouses, and mentors at work. If you find your people appear self-focused, I think you are hiring the wrong kind of talent. Also beware of the look-alike syndrome. Organizations tend to hire people who are like them. If you want to prevent this than you will need to work harder to diversify your sourcing pool and create a thorough screening process. Also, as a sidenote, if you hire the millennial with the gleaming resume-Ivy League-and all that, you might be missing some great people who have just as much to offer particularly in the realm of street smarts, something you aren’t told you will need in business. These millennials who don’t have a cookie cutter resume are more worldly, mature and intuitive, skills relevant to a management position.