Why They Act And Think The Way They Do

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“I just don’t understand them.”  I hear that alot when it comes to today’s young people, often called ‘Generation Y’, sometimes ‘digital natives’, and sometimes ‘millennials’. Whatever you want to call them, numerous statistical studies out there state that there are so many of them now in the workforce that they have either surpassed the number of baby boomers or soon will.  Yeah, you heard me right.

I have taught college for over a decade and I can tell you that it has been interesting watching each successive class of freshmen come onto campus.   I have also hired many of them to work in my organization and have a unique perspective in that area as well.  I have lamented previously about how the technology skills of these digital natives is sorely lacking, but what I want to focus on with this post are the things that you need to know about these folks so that you can work with them better and integrate them into your organization to work with others better.

First, let’s look at some of the characteristics about Gen Y…
•  Lead very busy lives by squeezing lots of ‘things’ into their lives, and they are very impatient
•  Prefer directness over subtlety
•  They want information very fast
•  They function best when networked, especially socially, and the highly value the ‘experience’
•  Prefer random access so they control the environment
•  Need instant gratification and frequent rewards
•  They spend a vast amount of time (5-7 hours per day) of ‘screen time’
•  They are committed to causes they believe in and more readily volunteer
•  They highly value relationships and staying in touch with their friends
•  To them money doesn’t equal happiness, but they don’t want to ‘pay their dues’ and do the entry-level work that the baby boomers experienced on their way to the top.
•  They draw a line in the sand to separate their personal life and their business life.

That last bullet point has been an eye-opener for me.  I enjoy what I do, and just because I leave the office at 5pm I don’t stop working… per se.  I will answer emails in the evening for a colleague who needs an answer to something.  I will work on a project on the weekends if I didn’t have time to get it done in the office on Friday.  And outside of the office I will read books and websites and literature that have to do with my profession.  They have a much easier time leaving their work at the office.  When it comes to me, I guess you could say I am my job.  I don’t see a separation between the two.

Not so with most of these digital natives.  I very rarely get responses to weekend work emails from my digital natives.  Those wait till Monday.

So keeping all that in mind, how do you integrate a group of individuals like that into an organization that perhaps has a bunch of baby boomers, who as a whole are completely opposite of those characteristics listed above?  It ain’t easy.  You are dealing with a group of young people who would rather communicate for 20 min. via text messaging rather than settle the whole matter with a 5 min. phone call.  That sounds crazy, right?  But they argue that it allows them to have multiple conversations with multiple people during that 20 min.  Oh. ok.

So what can you do to get the most out of this growing population of digital natives?  Here are some general things to keep in mind:

1.  They like to work on teams and in groups.  That way, they get their social needs met at the same time.
2.  Give them directives if you want to make sure it gets done.  If you send emails with ‘suggestions’ or subtle hints, it probably won’t come across.  Just tell them what they need to know.
3.  They love to be recognized when they do something good, and recognizing them publicly is great motivation for them and encouragement to them.  Pulling them aside to give them a private compliment won’t do nearly as much good as recognizing them in a staff meeting in front of their peers.
4.  They want information fast and they prefer to communicate that way as well, which means that you’ll get a response from them much faster if you text them instead of emailing them.  I hate that, but that is just the plain truth, so get over it and text them.
5.  If you want them to embrace what you are doing in your business, then build social events into your work atmosphere.  Occasionally schedule work events into the evenings and weekends that provide fun and social things to do.  They will be more dedicated to what you are trying to accomplish if they feel that their work has a social aspect to it.

All these tips are great when trying to blend in the younger generation with your existing workforce, but you have to be careful with blowback that you might experience from your older workers.  It is going to be challenging for you for sure, but you’ll be surprised by the benefits you’ll reap by just understanding where they are coming from.

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