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The Gen Y Conundrum

Blog | Building Culture   |   June 18, 2015

by Grace Chan

Impatient, unrealistic and needy seem to be universally accepted stereotypes that managers use to describe the youngest cohort in the working world. The words “Millennial, Gen Y, Strawberry generation” have negative connotations tagged to them and organizations around the world have issues integrating this generation into the workforce.

Companies have had a hard time retaining Gen Y employees and have often tied this issue to materialistic drive. However, as a member of this “easily-bruised” strawberry generation and one who has moved from one role to another after 2 year stints, I’d like to share what affects my decisions to stay or move, and particularly highlight the importance of coaching, people and feedback.

Most empirical research allude to coaching and mentoring as the most appropriate style to manage this cohort. Nurtured in an environment surrounded by personal coaches, we have been accustomed to the watchful eyes and constant positive push from “helicopter” parents, schoolteachers, tutors, plus music and sports coaches. Personally, I agree that coaching is a win-win for both superiors and my generation. It allows a higher-level mentor to channel and develop the energy, skills and resourcefulness I can bring.  It also provides a challenge, highlights potential by drawing on my strengths, and allows me to acknowledge and understand my weaknesses.

Coaching also strengthens relational bonds. People and relationships are important to Gen Ys, and I have heard my peers say that they are still in their roles mostly because of the people. As such, softer management skills like trust, respect, communication, support and listening are preferred. Trust forms the foundation of a strong relationship and one way to build it is with open communication. Having worked in teams with little communication, I have witnessed the marked difference in openness and trust, which in turn affects the depth of relationships and the workplace culture. Conversely, the honest conversations I have had with colleagues and mentors have allowed me to open up and put my trust in them, fortifying these relationships.

But of course, honesty entails truth telling, and we have all heard the saying that sometimes, the truth hurts. Gen Ys appreciate feedback because we want to improve quickly and move along. However, as previously mentioned, most of us have grown up in a safe environment under the wings of the previous generation, so learning to receive developmental feedback may be a novel experience. In short, when I first entered the workforce and received a not-too-positive feedback, it stung.

In a prior role, I was trapped in a culture that required me to constantly be on guard against work and blame that would be pushed around. This made me feel like I was alone in the midst of a battle, without protection and no one to help me. In this environment, when I was given developmental feedback, it was hard to receive and be driven to work on it. As one would expect, I didn’t stay in that position very long.

Nonetheless, my receptiveness to such feedback changed when I had a good relationship with the person giving the feedback. Wouldn’t you listen to people whom you trust and respect, knowing that they care and have good intentions? Recently, I have had the great opportunity to work with people like that; colleagues and coaches whom I feel genuinely want me to improve to succeed. But will getting developmental feedback from them still sting? Yes. Sometimes.

The developmental feedback initially felt like stitches in a run, but receiving it from superiors and colleagues, whom I know want me to improve, made and still constantly makes me want to push past the sting. Hence, having strong working relationships would not only make work enjoyable but would also encourage me to be more committed and perform better in the company. I think it’s safe to say that I would be working with these people for quite a while.
Questions to ponder on:

  1. As a non Gen Y, what has helped you work better with Gen Ys?
  2. As a Gen Y, how have you reached out to other generations to understand their working style?

Grace is a Senior Consultant at ROHEI who recently jumped off a plane in Africa (skydiving, of course). 

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