HOW MANAGERS CAN INTEGRATE THIS NEW EMPLOYEE BASE'S UNIQUE SKILLS AND WORK BEHAVIOR INTO THEIR ORGANIZATION
They have been called the I-Generation, Generation Y, Millennials, Speeders and Generation Next. Regardless of the label, the population of the new employee base (born since 1979) is upon us and truly needs to be managed differently than their predecessors. Although generational data is essentially stereotyping, there are some key characteristics of the newest generation that every manager and supervisor should keep in mind when recruiting and managing new players on their team.
First, the facts. The I-Generation is the largest generation since the baby boomers. Numbering 79 million in total, 30 million are teenagers and more than 14 million are currently 18 to 21 years old. This may be the most informed and knowledgeable generation of our time. They also are technologically savvy and could be the key to many organizations’ success at making the Internet profitable.
In addition, the I-Generation has a demographic makeup that is different from previous generations. One in three is not Caucasian, one in four has lived in a single-parent household and three in four have had working mothers. Plus, they are the most mobile and explorative generation that has ever existed.
What makes them so different from the previous generation, which was referred to as "Generation X"? The typical Generation Xer grew up as a "latchkey kid" with double shift-working recession-plagued parents, went to college suspicious of large corporations and was told to "Just Say No." In contrast, the I-Generation attended all-day kindergarten, had large weekly allowances, was offered school internships and was told to "Just Do It."
In short, the I-Generation may be the most optimistic and industrious generation since the early baby boomers of the post-World War II era. Their optimism and global perspective can be attributed to their growing up in a more prosperous economy and never knowing the world without the Internet. Another factor is their parents, who finally got it right by focusing on the safety and welfare of their children. (Remember the "Baby on Board" signs?)
A GENERATION OF SELF – YET STRONG TEAM PLAYERS
To fully understand this generation and how its members can contribute to an organization, you must first understand their perspective in terms of lifestyle. I-Generation members have been brought up in the fastest and most complex era of communication. They have been encouraged to be active leaders and doers. They have been trained right from the start to be involved. They have learned to do it all - including sports, homework, projects, family activities and social life.
This new generation has learned to deal with formal, busy seven-day-per-week schedules. And they’ve always been on-the-go participants in every aspect of life.
This also has led them to adopt short attention spans and live with a very stressed and tiring lifestyle. Group activities are very important to them, but they also value "isolation time" when they can recharge their batteries and do their best thinking.
As with the previous generation, I-Generation members are strong team players, but they also understand the value of their personal contributions vs. simply team contributions. To contrast, when a typical Generation X member receives an assignment, his or her first reaction is to "call a meeting," craft a team schedule and divide up the work. An I-Generation member will first go off and research the issue so he or she will be prepared to make contributions to a team. This is a major difference in behavior that can be identified in the work force.
Managers must understand these key I-Generation characteristics:
• They prefer physical isolation in social and learning activities.
• They are highly socialized in the digital world, yet they are isolated in the physical world.
• Their focus is on individual style within team orientations.
• They are open about feelings and seek personal touch.
• Their time, space and social bonds are very different.
This is the first generation that is truly confident and unafraid of technology. They saw the Internet breaking down the old age hierarchy system, and they utilize technology to analyze information based on thoughts and ideas. This generation relies on the Internet for the majority of free-time activities as well.
Being Internet savvy allows this generation to be extremely efficient at finding information and sifting through it quickly, while also being critical of information sources. This allows them to be self-reliant within a team environment, be able to verify information for accuracy and rely on their ability to solve their own problems through Internet research.
Along with their fast-paced lifestyle and keen utility of technology, the members of this newest generation also are financially responsible because they have been given accountability at a very young age. One in nine high school students have credit ca†ds and have been involved in family purchase decision making. More than 40 percent of all teens (ages 16-18) work full or part time.
Take into consideration their resourcefulness, the value of the dollar and their personal independence but team focus, and you have the perfect makeup for potentially strong business managers who have the capacity to manage today vs. later in their career as they move up the organization ladder. They not only are open to this responsibility today as new employees, but they also seek it in their job searches.
MANAGING THE I-GENERATION
Although management is still about managing individuals as opposed to generations, managers should understand several insights when supervising I-Generation employees.
1. They are lifelong learners. Continued personal improvement and education are essential to them. Recruiters who can offer formalized continuous education packages will have an advantage with this generation.
2. The work environment should be team oriented as well as focused on individual performance. Make sure individuals understand that they will be evaluated on their personal achievements and contributions to teams vs. solely on team accomplishments.
3. Ensure that they are properly linked with technology. They can become extremely frustrated if the work environment does not keep pace with technology and communication advances.
4. Allow them to be independent. Provide them the opportunity to work in isolation, when needed, as well as team environments. This will nurture their natural curiosity and pure abilities to research and fact find.
5. Promote self-reliance and decision making. Provide them with financial and task responsibilities.
6. Show them where they fit in the organization and where advancement opportunities reside. You will find them very focused on specific career goals and will contribute highly if those goals are visualized for them.
7. Keep the workload fast-paced to match the speed of their behavior. Don’t criticize their short attention span, but utilize it to accomplish tasks with more frequency.
8. Provide individual praise and encouragement frequently. They need support of their self-esteem, and it must come in a timely fashion based on task accomplishments.
9.Be open to new ideas and ideals. Understand that this new work force has a passion for activism and overall environment issues. They understand and embrace environmental and human rights issues.
10. Be open-minded to process formation. They may understand technology better than you do. Let them bring the positive value of the use of technology to your organization.
MANAGEMENT STYLE IS KEY
Just knowing and understanding this new generation will not solely assist you in managing them. The key for every manager is to integrate this generation’s unique skills and work behavior into your organization along with the remaining baby boomers and Generation Xers. You must find a working balance among all gen’rations. Understand the key contributions of each, draw on each generation’s members for their abilities and nurture the team effort among them.
In addition, a good manager also will be a lifelong learner as well as teacher. Continuous learning can’t just be bottom-up if an organization is to succeed. If you can understand the new generation’s members, their perspective and their way of thinking, you will be amazed at how much they can contribute to your organization.
And, most importantly, accept $enerational differences. Understanding each generation’s members and what has contributed to their behavior and mind-set will allow managers to best utilize their employees’ talents and skills and lead to the success of the individual as well as the organization.
Mark Vogel is executive vice president for Osborn & Barr Communications Inc., Clayton, Mo.