Gen Y Myths Debunked

Getting the Most from Gen Y Employees

According to Tulgan, employers are less likely to award status, prestige, authority, flexibility and rewards on the basis of seniority. Instead, things that were once earned through years of "paying your dues" are more likely to be rewarded on the basis of short-term measurable goals.

"For today's young workers, if you tell them to 'climb the ladder, keep your mouth shut and wait for us to notice you,' it sounds to them like you're trying to sell them a bridge." They'll do the grunt work, says Tulgan, as long as they understand the relationship between their work and the overall mission. "They're not about to do anything in exchange for vague, long-term promises about rewards that vest in the deep, distant future."

Threats from within the company are compounded even more by outside threats, such as globalization and outsourcing. "The millennials are very aware of what the Gen Xers learned too late," says Howe. "You don't want to be in a job market where your kind of labor is considered a commodity. You won't get anything out of it."

Michael Mirando, 30, who is on the cusp between Generation X and Y, couldn't agree more. After nearly seven years with a leading microprocessor company, he's become disillusioned with corporate America. Each year he faces company-wide layoffs and internal reorganization. "I used to be really excited about my job; I'd do anything they wanted, go anywhere they asked me to," he says. "But every year it's the same thing: just sitting there, waiting for the axe to fall, wondering if it's going to be you. It takes a toll on you."

Mirando says he's glad that he's realized that now. "I'm not going to be the guy, like my co-workers, who are 45 years old, have two kids and are practically having heart attacks every year because they might not be able to support their family."

Myth #3: They need constant praise.
Generation Y has, without a doubt, grown up in a culture of praise, where just about every effort--no matter how small--is rewarded. The media, however, would have you believe these workers need a gold star simply for finding the right parking space. A recent Wall Street Journal article, for example, says employers have to dish out kudos to workers for "little more than showing up."

"That's absurd," argues Tulgan. "It's true they may have grown up needing a pat on the back every five minutes, but that doesn't mean the way you deal with that is by then pretending like that expectation is realistic."

If employers are finding themselves falling prey to such behavior, the only people they should blame are themselves. If you let an employee get away with not meeting expectations, they'll continue to do it--no matter how old they are. "If you think your young employees want a weak leader, you're missing the point," Tulgan adds.

Megan Gaines, 25, admits she's received a lot of praise throughout her career as a banquet chef, but she knows it's well deserved. "I've been praised not because I need it, but because I did a good job. I know I'm a hard worker."

Of course, it doesn't hurt to hear a little praise from the boss when that's your only barometer for measuring your worth. A lot has been said about companies going to great lengths to show their appreciation through such things as e-mail, prizes and public celebration. But is that really a bad thing? Gen Yers are now, more than any generation before, entering a massive, corporate workforce. When you're one of 4,000 employees spread across the country--and sometimes even the world--receiving a cookie-cutter "thank you" e-mail every now and then is hardly pushing the praise envelope.

The bottom line is: No matter where your employees fall on the spectrum--from needing a lot of recognition to not needing any at all--the rules of the game are changing to reflect the changing economy and workforce. You can keep playing by the old rules, or you can get the most from your employees by learning to master the new game.

"This is going to be the most high-maintenance workforce in history--but I think they're also going to be the most high-performing workforce in history," says Tulgan.

And Howe reminds managers that this generation isn't going anywhere. "Each year they're going to fill in this age bracket more and more," he says. "And before these managers and employers start gloating about how much these kids are going to have to change, I think these employers should start asking the question: How much are we going to have to change?"

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