Is Gen Y Driving Your Business or Driving You Nuts?

Make a big deal of induction. Have business cards ready for them before they start and make sure the receptionist knows about them and uses their name when they start. (‘Hi, you must be Jodi’.) Be excited and enthusiastic about having them as part of your team; introduce them to everyone in the office, starting with the people involved in the interview process to give them the sense of familiarity. In other words, indicate to them that their appointment is important to your business.

The average length of tenure for Gen Y is two and a half years. Do you remember when we wouldn’t employ staff if they had an employment history of just two or three years in each job because they had an unsettled work history? Well, I’d take that record now!

The physical environment is also important to Gen Y. If staff want to personalise their workspace, let them. What’s the big deal if they put personal pictures up? They customise the rest of their lives to the point where they dictate who advertises to them through Facebook and so on, so why would work be different? They’re not hurting anyone, are they? If you have a tired, staid workplace, spruce it up.

Unleash as much technology on Gen Y as you possibly can. Remember we are talking about a generation who have never known a world without mobile phones. Rolling out iPads to your workforce might be a big deal for you, but just another day at the office for them. To them, it’s as expected as much as a desk is.

Let’s not forget the Grand Final example we started with. One of the biggest adjustments you might find is satisfying Gen Y’s seemingly endless need for affirmation or recognition. This affirmation is received in their everyday life through social media, which gives them the opportunity to have their opinions heard (whether they are good or not), by their countless ‘friends’. Gone are the days when acknowledgment is expected only if some outstanding work is produced. It is now expected regularly and publicly.

Bear in mind that when a Gen Y-er hits the workforce, they may not have yet experienced failure, risk, disappointment or under-achievement. It may be the first time they have ever been told that they are wrong, that something they have done is simply not good enough, or they are being reprimanded. This is a legacy of both a parenting approach and school system that rewards everyone. Remember when you were at school and students received an award or recognition for outstanding performance? Contrast this to now. I would wager that there is not a primary school child in Australia who would go through each year not having received an award for something.

Be creative and flexible in how you reward your staff. These rewards, incidentally, are not just limited to remuneration packages. Ask them how they prefer to be rewarded. Commissions, salary or a hybrid model? Do some ‘what if’ scenarios and get the numbers right, and don’t do things because ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

Forget the days of ‘salary for property managers and administration staff, commission for sales’. Gen Y expect to be rewarded for effort.

Be spontaneous with rewards. Make them meaningful and genuine. Give rewards when none were expected. A day off, a bunch of flowers, gold class tickets. It’s easy.

Gen Y is great to have around. They are relaxed and easy-going, but also dynamic. As a legacy of growing up in an environment underpinned by the internet and immediate supply of services (‘fast’ food!), they are used to things happening now. As a result they don’t procrastinate, they just get things done.

They are well connected, opinionated and resourceful. They thrive on a challenge and won’t respect you purely because of the title on your business card. They will respect you when you earn it.

Gen Y has been programmed to question authority, so take a breath, count to ten and get used to it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as blind obedience can do much more harm to your agency than someone raising genuine issues. Don’t expect them to be loyal to the company, but foster an environment where they will be loyal to you. Remember, people join companies, but leave bosses.

Listen to them! Consider that our way may no longer be the right way. Don’t expect that all of the genius ideas need to come from you. Facilitate ideas, take a risk, let them make a mistake. There is almost nothing that you will implement that will bring your agency to its knees.

As much as we can give Gen Y latitude to express themselves and allow them workplace flexibility, you have not lost control. In fact, Gen Y wants to be led and wants you to be assertive. They don’t like weakness and even if you make decisions that don’t necessarily work in their favour, they will respect that much more than if no decision is made at all.

While we’re on the subject of respect, you must respect them. Don’t forget they have grown up with a lifestyle in which they are always contactable (this is particularly unhealthy in a number of ways, but that’s another topic), so always get back to them. Return every email, phone call, use their name, ask their opinion.

Have regular one-on-one conversations with them and don’t just get them into your office for negative reasons. Take an interest in what they do. Ask them what they did on the weekend, then remember it.

Be approachable but don’t try to be their best friend. You can relate to Gen Y really well if you understand them, but don’t try to be them. Gen Y can spot a try-hard or someone who is disingenuous a mile off and if you are not sincere, your credibility will take a pounding.

Gen Y needs to be kept busy, stimulated and challenged, so ramp up your training and development and be aware that these are two different things. If you don’t have a structured training program for the year ahead for each staff member, get one. In addition to your training schedule, ramp up your development of staff. Be a mentor, coach, get them to job share, teach them aspects of your business outside of their functional role. Take an active role in their development and you will be rewarded with staff who want to stay with you. Make your training interactive and don’t just teach them what. Teach them why. Gen Y has been conditioned to question everything, so the learning must have some practical meaning.

Be prepared to delegate to your Gen Y-ers, but make sure you establish clear boundaries and expectations. You must delegate meaningful tasks and make their level of decision-making really clear. Don’t make assumptions about maturity or common sense, and get used to stating the obvious. Gen Y may give you the impression they know it all, but of course they don’t, so you will need to be very clear on instructions you give them.

Once you’ve delegated, don’t just set and forget. Establish clear checkpoints for review (this may mean setting specific meeting dates in your diary) and correct or reward progress as appropriate. If you are delegating, make sure it is genuine. Gen Y will spot lip-service immediately.

Stop being a boss. If you have an autocratic management style, change. Barking orders at staff doesn’t work, so start coaching or guiding your staff. If you can’t change, employ someone who can and reduce your functional operational role. If you don’t want to do this, become a recruitment expert, because your churn of staff will be off the charts and you will spend much of your day recruiting.

By now you’re probably thinking that you have lost control. Not so! You do have rights as an employer and every employee has accountabilities and responsibilities. They are being paid, after all. When performance issues arise, you do however need to take a consultative approach in getting them sorted out. The days of sacking someone on the spot for poor performance are long gone and staff must be given a genuine opportunity to improve their performance.

It is important for you to focus on the issue and not the person.

The good news is that we’re not talking about Martians! Look upon the challenges of working with Gen Y as just that: challenges. Situations will be thrown at you that you haven’t dealt with before, so enjoy the ride.

And then, of course, there’s Generation Z…

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Brendan Lawley

Brendan Lawley spent over a decade in the real estate industry as CEO of Brad Teal Real Estate. He is currently the Director and Owner of Thunder Road Fitness