Forget Balance! Gen Y Wants Work-Life Integration

May 2
By Lauren Lee Anderson / 2
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As Baby Boomers make their exit from the workforce, offices around the world are finding themselves challenged by the next generation of employees: Gen Y (AKA Millennials). It’s no secret that some managers are running scared of these supposedly entitled and technology-addicted cohorts, but studies have shown that their bad wrap might not be all that accurate.

Stereotypes aside, there is no question that this often-misunderstood group of employees are challenging conventional thinking about what a modern career looks like. The real question is — are you ready for them?

They Won’t Be Slaves to the Clock, Or Chained to a Desk

While their parents and grandparents craved security and structure, study after study has demonstrated that Milliennials value autonomy and independence in the workplace quite highly, which often translates to a desire to work outside the confines of a 9-5 work schedule. That being said, don’t mistake their desire for alternative scheduling with laziness. When properly motivated and engaged in their work, Gen Y are known to work 50-60 hour work weeks, including evenings and weekends.

“When Millennials say they want ‘balance’, they don’t mean work less. They mean work differently and more flexibly. There’s a big difference”, mentioned Cali Williams Yost in a piece for FastCo. The problem with our understanding of millennials (and I say ‘our’ even though I am one of them), is that the traditional language around describing work-life balance favors the old. ‘Balance’ to them (me) is flex hours and, perhaps, working from home. They want a “workplace where the programs and culture are more flexible,” not the need to work harder or smarter.

Gen Y’s penchant for technology has earned them the name ‘digital natives’. As Marie Puybaraud explains, “Technology has been integrated into the lives of Digital Natives since early childhood, providing them with the skills to naturally adapt to it from a young age. They have developed an innate understanding of digital and computer technologies, which have evolved into essential parts of their daily lives.”

A 2011 global workforce study into the professional lives of digital natives revealed that they typically spend between two to six hours a day online. These habits have resulted in a generation of multi-taskers who seek out connection and opportunities to use technology to improve their professional lives. This means that managers will need to adapt processes and culture in order to attract and retain star Gen Y talent. From flexible social media policies based on trust to the use of online chat tools that allow staff to work remotely, companies need to be prepared to adapt to meet the needs of the digital generation.

They are a Generation of Passion-Seekers

While Gen Y shares some of the financial motivation of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, they are largely driven by a quest for passion and meaningful work. Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ credo has never been more important or relevant than when it comes to recruiting and retaining Millennial talent. These young people are driven by passion and the desire to do meaningful work with tangible outcomes. This makes it all the more important for companies to keep their WHY alive and at the centre of all their activities.

But a truly purposeful job can’t be conjured up out of thin air. As Nathaniel Koloc writes in the Harvard Business Review, there are a variety of strategies that managers can draw on to keep passion-seekers satisfied and productive. “Once you know the mission you’re trying to accomplish, tell the world”, Koloc explains. “Call it marketing or communications or storytelling or design, but make sure you’re getting across how much you care about your vision and how you’re working towards it. If you do so correctly, you’ll have their hearts beating before they’ve even heard the details. Things like start dates, vacation days, and even salaries and bonuses are then far less likely to be deal-breakers.”

They Need Feedback, Regularly

If there is anyone that truly understands the needs and desires of Gen Y in the workplace, it is Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg, a site dedicated to launching the careers of new graduates. Friese explained in a recent news piece, “One of the most prominent stereotypes about Gen Y is that they like receiving a lot of feedback, and that is true. Immediate, effective feedback allows millennials to produce better results more quickly, making their work flow even more efficient”.

Regular, open communication — both praise and critique — is an essential component of job satisfaction for the Gen Y set. The key to providing feedback to young workers is to offer opportunities for both formal and informal feedback. While annual reviews can be valuable, it is important that managers make the effort to check in with their staff on a weekly basis (try team communication software) and take the opportunity to provide acknowledgement and encouragement when appropriate. As Kelly Grigorio explains, “commenting on their progress makes the greater-good serving Millennial feel they are working with a purpose.”

Just like our grandparents had to adapt when our parents entered the workforce, so too must we be willing to adapt to the changes that Gen Y is bringing to offices around the world.

I believe that if we open our minds to new ways of thinking and doing, instead of desperately clinging to old ways of being and thinking, Millennials can have a lasting positive impact on the way we live, work and play. So instead of resisting, try listening.

You might just be surprised by what you hear!

How do you lead the millennials in your organization? Any tips or tricks worth sharing?

next post: Are You Harnessing the Power of Introverts?

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Comments (2)

  1. Matt

    Our organization is about 90% Gen Y so I totally agree with this article! As a Gen Y myself, I think it’s so important to acknowledge these things right from the get go. We have these conversations with potential new staff in the recruiting process and our week long on-boarding program is designed with a Gen Y focus. We spend the first day focused on history, culture & The Why (we actually watch Simon’s video as part of training) and on really helping our new staff feel as though they made the right choice (because we know they make that decision on their first day anyway).

    May 7, 2013 at 2:46 PM Reply
  2. Mason Fuller

    We have been extremely flexible with our employees. As we grew we found that everyone had a different idea about how “flexible” their schedules should be. I encourage people to take care of their personal lives in tandem with work, if the position allows. Here is our new Flexible Workplace policy:

    It is important to Atlas Resell Management that employees have work life balance. As a result, the company offers flexibility in hours worked. The following expectations have been established to ensure consistency within the workplace:

    • Employees need to work 40 hours per week.
    • The duties of the position must be completed accurately and on time.
    • Certain positions require attendance during normal work hours and flexibility is limited. These positions are identified as jobs that relate to customer service & sales hours, shipping & receiving schedules, and times that our customers or vendors require set appointments during specific times of day.

    Flexible schedules need to be arranged with your supervisor to ensure proper coverage.

    June 20, 2013 at 6:43 PM Reply

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