Why should you seriously consider recruiting overconfident, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents, variously dubbed ‘Generation Y’ or the ‘New Millennials’?. This is the generation of teens and twenty-somethings who have lived with new media from the start and have no fear of creating a near-celebrity persona online using YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. What possible use could a professional business have for such people?
Here’s something to think about – this new generation is raised to have high self-esteem (hence the link to narcissism), and tends not to respect the traditional approach to hierarchy, either in general society or in particular, the workplace. How do you employ and manage this generation? And, given your other employees with varying ages and expectations of their colleagues, how do you manage the multiple generations’ different and potentially conflicting needs, wants and expectations and get the best performance from all of them?
Let’s examine expectations. If we think about our young narcissists, then with high self-esteem come high expectations. The question is – can today’s workplace live up to these high expectations? “This generation has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations with respect to their careers and the lowest levels of satisfaction with their careers at the stage that they’re at. It is a sort of crisis of unmet expectations.” says Sean Lyons, co-editor of Managing the New Workforce: International Perspectives on the Millennial Generation, cited in Time Magazine. A friend working in professional services told me recently that when he is recruiting new graduates, he has noticed that the candidates in fact seem to think that they are interviewing him, grilling him about flexible working, the type of projects they can expect to work on, etc. All take, take, take – a recipe for rapid mutual disenchantment, one would think, especially given the risk of the generations making factually accurate but nonetheless derogatory and unlawful remarks about each other (see our 14 June post).
Now let’s consider communication. Generation Y interacts everyday with its peers and the wider world through mobile phone and screen. How will its members get on with other employees and managers who prefer more formal and/or traditional face-to-face interaction or when they are tasked with running a project that requires more intimate and complex communication to motivate a team? Will they respect boundaries and not share too much information about work or what they really think about their boss? Freedom of expression is one thing, professional incontinence quite another. One look at employer-review site glassdoor.com suggests a new level of transparency is growing around us, and we can’t control it.
The danger in all this is that we may see and accentuate only the negatives, coming across like Squadron Leader Disgusted DFC (retd.) of Tunbridge Wells, rather than search for and develop the positives about Generation Y and its shift in expectations.
On the plus side, we all need renewal, new ideas, a fresh perspective on things and innovation to improve on what we have today. And then there’s the established business case for diversity in the workforce. Not only fresh thinking but reflecting the customer base is important, particularly if a company wants to hold onto or grow its market. On the other hand we also need experience, knowledge and skills so that inexperienced employees can be trained and developed. Otherwise they may be in danger of repeating avoidable mistakes or breaching some critical compliance regulation through sheer lack of thought, imagination or learning.
Like good coffee or whisky, the key is all in the blend – the alchemy of producing a diverse workforce to maximum effect and performance rather than something bitter, tasteless or actively toxic. The answer is the same as it ever was – management and leadership.
Excellent leadership can draw out the positives. For example, Generation Y types are more likely to get frustrated if they feel they won’t be able to meet their expectations in the workplace. What if the frustration is actually a symptom of drive, to achieve more, maybe to set up new businesses and ideas, particularly online? Their challenging (or challenged, depending on your perspective) work ethic and confident pushiness may mask not a troublesome employee but a creative genius, and you know what differentiates a genius from talent – “Talent hits a target no one else can hit, but genius hits a target no one else can see” (Arthur Schopenhauer). Therein lies the risk – just because we can’t always immediately see an opportunity does not mean it’s not there. A good leader will see the opportunity presented by a careful mix of ages in the workforce and not just the potential problems.
To sum up, and regrettable though it may be, the new generation is the next step in the evolution and adaption of the species to the workplace. It won’t go away and you can’t escape it. If it cannot thrive or survive in your workplace it will do it somewhere else or just set up its own. Any organisation that needs drive and innovation needs a diverse and blended workforce supported by sensible policies and reward and behaviour frameworks that encourage performance regardless of age or generation.