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Generation “whY” – chance or threat?

I decided to write an article about the changes in management strategies faced by the managers of the Y generation, because this topic comes up more and more often in the discussions during the development programs and meetings. But before I go into discussing my observations, I would like to clarify some basic definitions.

According to different sources, generation Y are people, who were born after 1982-1985. Their managers are usually the X generation, ie people born between 1965 and 1982/5. Interestingly enough, the highest level of management in companies consists – quite often – of so-called „baby boomers”, which are people born between 1945 and 1965. Of course, these frames are evolving.

To emphasize the specific characteristics and dependences, I decided to operate at the level of generalizations and stereotypes. This means that the tendencies analyzed may differ from the specific cases that would not confirm the rule. However, the discussion will explain general trends and present solutions, based on the conclusions drawn. In English Y generation (Generation Y or Why) has a double meaning – it is either an indigenous name or an indication of what is particularly important for the Y generation.

But let’s start with a context that is as crucial as it usually is to understand the concrete dynamics of the labor market today.

Genesis of the generation Y

People born in the eighties and nineties were growing up in the context of a free market economy that had a great impact on their structure of perceiving and functioning in the world.

In times of economic transformation in Poland, most of the twenty- and thirty- something were busy providing for their families and finding themselves in the realm of free market economy. After a very economically and socially unstable 1980s, when a chance came to normalize their lives, a large part of society decided to use it and fell into a whirl of fast careers and entrepreneurship. This resulted in endless workdays, fatigue and shifting focus from the family relationship to the economic situation of the household. Spending time with the family, deepening the relationship between its members gave way to success, improvement of the material situation and career development.

Parents often sacrificed all of the other values to ensure that their families lived according to new standards, but they forgot the most important thing – that their children did not have them by their side when they were growing up.

The children of people, who were building a new Poland at that time, were brought up by their grandparents who remembered and lived in the realities of the former Poland. It was not without significance that the model of life passed on by the elders. Children on the one hand were raised in the sense of unconditional love of grandparents and absent parents who had been trying their best to compensate their absence with the various substitutes of love, such as gifts or trips to attractive resorts for short vacations, resulted in generation Y shaping a worldview different from what was driving their parents. Observing frustration, disintegration of relationships, and the deepening emptiness of their parents’ value system for years, Generation Y decided that their lives would not be like that.

One must not forget about the impact of technology, which was of great significance to the cognitive-behavioral factors of the Y generation.

Growing up in an online environment, instant messaging, social media, and instant access to information, they have developed a high level of mobility in the complex world of data and the knowledge they need. Unfortunately, just like everything, this too had its limiting consequences. It weakened the persistence and need for exploration of a particular subject. This results in the fact that the Y generation is quite bored with the task if it is already mastered, repetitive or difficult. It has been observed that one of the basic mechanisms for reducing these stressful stimuli is substitution – that is, the replacement of unreachable targets with easier targets, the change of the object to which the drive is directed. There are two main forms of substitution: sublimation and compensation.

Sublimation is one of the defensive mechanisms of personality, which consists in shifting motives (needs, motives) from a goal that can not be fulfilled due to nonconformity with the accepted rules, to a substitute object or action.

Compensation is rewarding yourself for shortcomings or defects. It gives a momentary pleasure, but repeating can cause the subconscious association of a given defect to pleasure and make it difficult to fix it or remove it.

The use of each of these mechanisms is often unconscious and often leads to difficulties in delivering concrete results not only in the workplace but also in personal life. Consequences are far-reaching as they can result in difficulties in building long-term relationships, engaging in a project despite the difficulties, frequent changes in interests, working and discovering new areas and abandoning those old ones. The reluctance to uncritically accept external authority manifesting itself in questioning the decision and losing interest is also significant.

For a manager of the X generation, such behavior can produce many distorted interpretations that can limit the effectiveness of management and build a sense of helplessness in intergenerational contact. So how can we use the opportunities that are created in intergenerational synergy and will result in significant competitive advantage for both the team and the entire organization.

The meaning of what I do vs this is the task that needs to be completed

When in the 90’s we were learning capitalism, everything was new to us, and often uncritically and unreflectively we adopted western patterns. Over time, it turned out that some of them were rejected by Polish reality and replaced by native models, which are not only well-reasoned but also fit for our society. Interestingly, the flexibility to change models did not follow behavioral patterns. Generation Y, having access to innumerable information, is taught to filter them so that from the noise of arising information they find what is important for them. That is why they frequently ask: Why should I care about it or what is the deeper meaning of what I do?

Generation X was raised on different questions. With limited access to information and lack of native practices, such questions were rare. Much more often they asked: What is there to do and how to do it?

That is why today’s managerial staff is facing the challenge of giving the right meaning to the actions performed by their subordinates. I recently read an article in which the author describes the case of a telephone seller who refused to sell a credit product, which by using several product tricks costed several times more than the limit allowed in the antitrust law. Deloitte has conducted a survey The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, showing that employees of the Y generation rely on their personal values to resonate with their careers so the values of the company they work for. If there is a dissonance millennials change work. This is a tremendous change in employee attitudes and a major challenge for the organization, which should care about consistency between the values that it proclaims in all marketing communications and those that they implement on a daily basis.

Authority vs hierarchy

“My manager wants me to respect him. Why should I respect him if he hasn’t gained my respect yet? Respect is acquired through skills and not through some hierarchy,” the millennials say. With business everyday reality more and more often there comes a model of a boss, who has to become the leader who coherently implements the declared and proclaimed values in everyday work life. For many years, we have heard similar statements at conferences, congresses, or trainings, but business reality often goes in a different direction, and the practices mentioned above are actually rare.

Generation Y begins to verify them. They expect their supervisor to be a real leader in the practices and standards he/she requires from them. Only in this way can he earn the authority of the boss. Organizational hierarchy means little to them unless it’s backed by concrete experience and results.

Engagement vs delegating

The Millennials also expect changes in the way tasks are being delegated to them. They perceive the leader’s position more as a teacher than the critic, evaluator and the task distributor. They require a full commitment to introduce them into their new responsibilities, and assess them through prism of practical utility and communicativeness. They expect the manager to push them out of the current comfort zone, but when faced with difficulties, he has to be ready to provide them with help and support. If their expectations are met with a lack of understanding, they immediately redirect their attention to activities that are not difficult. Hence often the boss feels that the Y generation is not persistent and is quickly bored. This interpretation, though catchy and extremely comfortable for the boss, often exposes his low personal commitment to the development of young subordinates.

Diversity vs exploring the subject

Another area is the ability of the Millenials to engage in multiple activities simultaneously, the so-called „multi-tasking” – a skill that is a challenge for many previous generations. It is worth mentioning here that it is not a manifestation of lack of concentration, but rather a consequence of the conditions in which the generation was raised.

Many bosses still can not fully utilize this potential. It turns out that instead of linearly deploying a new employee to a particular activity, this process can be implemented in a multi-level manner. Start with a few aspects of work and step into each of them. This will ensure a great variety of duties and maintain a high level of commitment.

Unfortunately, in this case, the current management practices need adaptation, because instead of adjusting the environment to himself, the boss should adapt to changing circumstances. Leadership should be accompanied by a motto to: Teach proper behaviors, not your own. What works for the boss, might not work for a subordinate, because we talk about a completely different personal design.

Summary

When I read articles about Generation Y and confront them with personal experience, I get the impression that most negative opinions come from a certain natural tendency to stop what is inevitable and unwillingness to change personal patterns of functioning in a professional environment.

We have to deal with structural change in the work environment. What was once a standard will never come back, so adapting management styles to the new generation is not just a challenge, but a necessity that management is facing.

Of course, this involves discomfort, like any change. However, escaping into rationalization and finding new and higher explanatory interpretations of high rotation can become one of the stronger brakes that hold back the organization. So instead of concentrating on the limitations of Generation Y, it is worthwhile to use all the development opportunities that this generation change brings with it. And instead of defying it, adapt the way of functioning to changing social conditions.

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