Being a Gen-Y in a Gen-X/Boomer World
In today’s world, the majority of communication is done either electronically or over the phone. While this makes sharing information faster than ever, it limits how much you know about who you are talking to. This is especially true for me as neither my age nor my height come across! Generally, this works to my advantage as no perceptions can be made other than I respond-quickly and always strive to deliver. However, once people see me they realize I’m young with piercings and I need to be aware of the perceptions of my generation and expectations of the Gen-X’s & Boomers I work with. In fact, without this awareness I suspect I would not have been as successful in my career as I am.
In this article, I share some tips on how to manage my generation for the Gen-X/Boomer leaders. Not wanting to leave Gen-Y’s and Millennials out to dry, I share some tips I’ve learned along the way on how to be successful in a Gen-X/Boomer world.
Characteristics of My Best Bosses and the Lessons They Share
Through the years I have had over a dozen jobs in a variety of roles and industries. However, there are three bosses who stand out and I believe are the “perfect boss”. The first was the director at Seneca College King Day Camp, where I spent many summers as a camper before spending 3 years on staff. The second was the Director of Alumni Relations and House Parent at Bishop’s College School where I spent two years as his Assistant House Parent. Finally, the last boss is my current one, Greg Witz.
After giving it some thought, they all shared certain characteristics that made them great at managing younger generations. I share these characteristics and lessons that can be learned.
1) Communication as a means to collaborate
All three of these bosses understood the importance of communicating their ideas and explaining the thought process behind their decisions. This process resonates with Gen-Y’s as they want to feel as though they are a valued member of the team. By explaining the decisions, the perception is that the Gen-Y’s are part of the decision and are part of the team. An important part of this, however, is that the boss also take the time to answer questions and be open to suggestions. If this communication is simply a one-way street, it returns to feeling like an order and Gen-Y’s will find a boss who wants them to give their input.
I left a company where the owner made marketing decisions without explaining and, when I offered a suggestion, yelled at me for stepping out of line. Clearly not a great boss! Effective communication and active listening are hot words that managers like to use, but very few people actually understand what is involved. Learning the skills and techniques for this are covered in SmartMANAGER, which I recommend all leaders, regardless of generation, take!
2) Encourage independence and creativity
All the research on Gen-Y show that we thrive in an environment where we are challenged and required to be creative, as highlighted in Lionel Wijesiri’s article on recruiting Gen-Y (Read it here). For this to happen, bosses need to be willing to step back and let Gen-Y’s run with their ideas. By this I do not mean let them have complete free reign, but rather allow them to explore opportunities within a loose framework. Google does an excellent job of this, allowing employees to spend a percentage of their time working on projects that interest them.
Similarly, all three of my bosses allowed me to explore difference product offerings or marketing ideas. At the camp, I was working with 10-year-olds and at the time they were not allowed to kayak. After having several groups beg me to go, I brought the idea to the director. While there was initial hesitation and concerns, we worked together to figure out the logistics and now kayaking is a standard option for that age group. My colleague Olga put it perfectly “Gen-Y’s will rise up to conquer any challenge you throw at them and are willing to take risks if they know they have the support”. Restricting Gen-Y’s to the same routine will lead to them becoming unmotivated and they will leave.
3) Knowing their employees
Gen-Y’s have grown up having been rewarded for everything and expect their employers to do the same. I disagree with this as I believe rewards and praise should be reserved for actual good work. However, having a boss who knows them and checks-in (which is not the same as checking up) makes them feel as though they are doing good work, that the boss cares about them, and they are an active member of the team. As I mentioned in the intro, we all rely heavily on electronic communication and many Gen-Y’s feel disconnected, so taking the time to check-in helps build rapport and gives them an emotional connection to their colleagues and boss.
I want to emphasize checking in versus checking up. Greg Witz is the king at checking in. When he drops by my office, there is usually some small talk followed by a statements like: “How are things going today?”, “I know you have a lot going on, is there anything I can help with?”, or “I’ve been busy so, when you have a second, can we review the upcoming event and the logistics?” In each case, there is a sense of collaboration and support. If Greg was to check up on me, the questions would be: “What is going on with the project?”, “Why is this taking so long?”, or “Where are we at with the event?”.
To borrow from a great article in the Harvard Business Review: “If you are constantly monitoring how people achieve their goals, then you are checking up. This is classic micromanagement, which makes people feel that their judgment, talents, and skills are not valued; it also constrains experimentation. As a result, it kills both motivation and creativity.” To read the whole article, click here.
Recommendations for Gen-Y’s and Millennials Who Want to Succeed
While Gen-X and Boomer leaders need to understand the younger generation, Gen-Y and Millennials also need to understand how to be successful when dealing with the older generations. While I would love to say I got to where I am simply by being myself and my own raw talent, in reality I learned a number of lessons early on that helped me along the way. Here are three tips for my fellow Gen-Y’s and Millenials.
Make your expectations realistic
Since we were young, we have been rewarded for every accomplishment, no matter how small. Add to that the promise that completing school and getting a degree will get you a job, and I would argue we are the most self-entitled generation yet. We expect to get a high-paid position where success is easily obtained and that we are the best at whatever we do. I hate to break it to you, but life does not work that way, especially in the current market.
I have worked in all sorts of jobs, from landscaping to telemarketing to being a barista at Starbucks. They were not all glamorous (when tree planting I only showered once a week!) and many were at minimum wage but I took them. Why? Because every opportunity teaches you something new and gives you a depth of skills you can only learn while on the job. I know many Gen-Y’s who are unable to find work because they refuse to take an entry level position. Be realistic when looking for employment and recognize that you may need to start in a lower position that you really want. Most companies promote from within and, even if they don’t, understanding every aspect of a company helps in getting that promotion. In every job I have had I started at the bottom and worked my way up to a management position. Start low, put in the time, and rise to success.
Be willing to learn and understand there is always someone better than you
Similar to the above, many Gen-Y’s think that their schooling has given them everything they need to be successful and there is nothing left to learn. This “know-it-all” attitude is perceived as arrogance by the older generations, which limits work opportunities and lowers the likelihood of lasting in a position. It also rubs people from all generations the wrong way when they attempt to offer advice and all they receive in return is “yes, I know” or something similar.This is particularly true for Boomers, who grew up in an environment where youth should respect their elders and not talk back.
Youth of today, you do not know everything! There will always be someone better than you and there is always room for improvement. This was a very tough pill for me to swallow and even now I find myself getting defensive when someone corrects me or shows me how to do something I think I know. However, if you stop yourself from giving a snippy or sarcastic remark, I guarantee you will learn something that makes your job easier. When you realize that, make sure you go by and thank the person for sharing the knowledge. While you might be able to learn somethings on your own, think of the time you’ll save if someone shows you how to do it right the first time or gives you tips to do it more effectively. While I was already active on social media when I joined Witz, I had to step back and learn how to use it for business purposes. In fact, I have had to go through several lessons as things keep changing and each time I have to recognize that I need to learn from the experts and every day I learn something new. That being said, I am now helping my entrepreneurial friends use social media to promote their businesses, which is a great feeling!
Understand the expectations and perceptions of the older generations
Each generation looks at the workplace in a different way: for Boomer and Gen-X it’s a job and career while Gen-Y’s look at it more as a means to fund their lifestyle. Not surprisingly, what motivates each generations and the perception of what is expected in a role is different as well (read more about this in Greg’s article: Dealing with the Generational Divide).
As a Gen-Y, you need to understand the expectations of the older generations. They expect you to work a full day and will be surprised if you complain about having to work extra hours. They view piercings and tattoos as signs of rebellion and disrespect. They grew up with parents who wore suits and had a very structured hierarchy and may not understand our collaborative styles. Finally, many are still just figuring out how to use technology or are not as fast at it as we are. How does this affect you?
If I am meeting with someone in a senior role, I take out all my piercings and dress in a suit or at the very least slacks and a shirt. In fact, when I started at Witz, I kept my piercings out for a week at a time as we had a lot of older Gen-X’s and Boomers coming through the office and I had to look the part. I put in the extra time in the morning and end of day because the older generations still have the mentality of “if the boss sees me at the office before him and still here when he leaves, he’ll think I’m working hard and it will get me a promotion”. Now I’m on salary so I do it because I recognize what needs to get done, but even before that I would hang around to make sure that I was not needed. Essentially, put in the time, learn the business, know how your bosses think, and act accordingly.
Finally, treat them with the respect they deserve. They may not be the fastest at typing an email or finding something in Google, but they have at least a decade of experience that they will share with you if you let them. Help them with technology without being patronizing, get them to see the benefits of a collaborative environment, and they will not only start to change but will also become your support and aid.
In the today’s workplace, every generation is responsible for taking steps to ensure they know how to interact with each other. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of pressure on the older generations to adapt to the younger generations. Along with this, youth of today feel like society owes them a perfect job and will not put up with what they perceive to be “bad management”. I believe that the youth is also responsible for understanding the perceptions and expectations of the older generations and that adopting some if their qualities, such as pride in your work/job, would benefit them greatly. If they were to take the time to start at the bottom, learn the culture, and build the support of their older colleagues, there is a wealth of knowledge that each generation can learn from each other.