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Motivating Gen X, Gen Y Workers

A primer on how to get the most out of younger employees
May 10, 2010
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/206502

Traditional approaches to motivating employees have hit a snag; they don't seem to apply to the contemporary generation of employees, called Generation X and Generation Y (or Millenials).

Who Are the Generation Xers?
Most writers agree that these approximately 50 million people were born between the mid 1960s and 1980--the offspring of the famous baby boomers. Many grew up as "latch key" kids, home alone after school while both of their parents worked, and/or they were raised by a single parent.

They saw their parents married to the workplace, often devoting long hours to factories, the office or on the road. Their parents sacrificed time at home with their families. In the economic downturn of the 1980s, many of these hard workers lost their jobs.

The result? The Gen X or Y kids learned to become more pragmatic and were often disillusioned with the lack of work/life balance in their home. In addition, they often looked askance at the lack of loyalty by employers to their employees.

Motivating Gen Xers
So how does this information translate into working with and motivating this group of employees? Smart employers will need to recognize those characteristics mentioned above and provide some of the following:

  1. Room to grow. Offer Gen X employees clear statements of goals, but allow them reasonable latitude on how to achieve those goals. Build on their interest in gaining new skills and knowledge by providing opportunities to grow on the job. Gen Xers tend to have a "work hard, play hard" mentality.
  2. Opportunities to make choices. Since this generation has become accustomed to "fending for themselves," provide options--options for task selection, options for challenges, options to formulate new processes, and options to develop creative yet appropriate conclusions. You also want to allow them the freedom to use their own resourcefulness and creativity to achieve success.
  3. Mentoring. Strong, relationship-oriented mentorships are a great value for young employees. Be careful not to micro-manage them or suggest rigid guidelines for completing projects. Spend time with them and offer clear and frequent feedback on their progress.

Who Are the Generation Yers or Millenials?
The approximately 70 million Gen Yers came next, born in the mid to late 1970s through the late 1990s. They have often been called the "Trophy Kids" because on sports teams and in school, each child, regardless of capability, when provided a chance to contribute and perform, was often given some kind of a certificate or award just for having participated. (Recall, in contrast, how previous generations received credit only when they won.)

These kids were praised lavishly by their parents and teachers, who had high levels of hope and expectations for positive outcomes. Often Gen Yers were involved in many activities concurrently with school: lessons, sports, social events, playgroups and teams. They can also be thought of as the "over-scheduled" generation.

Motivating Gen Yers
There is a direct relationship between their experiences growing up and methods to motivate this group of Gen Y employees. To attain success with this population, you should consider these approaches:

  1. Multitasking. Provide more than one task to accomplish at a time, but without overwhelming them. They are accustomed to multitasking and can most likely sort out what has to be done and when. What's more, they look forward to the challenges of having several tasks to perform at once.
  2. Collaboration. Create work teams or partners to work with, where appropriate. They are accustomed to working in tandem with others.
  3. Structure. Provide structure and clear guidelines, and at times, specific processes or approaches for achieving goals. While they appear confident, they still need input from management.
  4. Technology. Encourage and allow them to use the latest technology in the work setting.
  5. Challenges. Positively challenge their interests, abilities and achievements.
  6. Relationship building. Create a bonding relationship with them so that they feel comfortable asking for input and direction and know they can rely on you as the authority figure when the need arises.
  7. Positive reinforcement. Reward them frequently with positive feedback and citations for successful accomplishments and milestones on the road to longer-term achievements.
  8. Engaged leadership. Set up specific and regular times to meet with and supervise them. Demonstrate your sincere interest in their professional growth and success.
  9. Communication. Understand that they prefer using electronic means to communicate with you as opposed to face-to-face meetings. This generation is far more fluent and comfortable with technology than any other group.