Managing Across the Generational Divide: Dealing with Younger Workers

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on June 16, 2011
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If your employees are part of a younger generation, you may find that they have a different outlook on life than you do. More than previous generations, Gen Y workers are demanding flexibility, creativity, and autonomy in the workplace — which many hiring managers are saying is seen as a sense of entitlement. However, if you take the time to understand the unique needs of Millennial workers, you’ll likely find that it’s easy to help them feel comfortable with your workplace environment, and all of your employees will appreciate the added workplace benefits. Here are a few tips to help you relate to younger workers.

If possible, give them the flexibility to perform tasks on their own terms. Younger workers tend to be extremely tech-savvy, and in many cases, they have the tools and resources to perform their work tasks from a remote office. If they ask for permission to telecommute part-time or work flexible hours, consider creating a company-wide telecommuting or flextime policy. However, make it clear to employees that they will be expected to hit work milestones on preset deadlines: If their performance isn’t up to par, you can take away their privileges.

Unless they’re meeting with clients or customers, loosen up the dress code. Younger workers often feel more comfortable when they can express themselves through their clothing choices, and may feel resentful if they’re forced to wear even remotely formal dress every day. For staff members who don’t deal directly with customers or clients, create a casual or “business casual” dress code that allows your employees greater flexibility in their choice of clothing.

Provide access to new opportunities. Younger workers generally appreciate the ability to take on new challenges and learn on the job. Give them the opportunity to explore different tasks within the company, under the supervision of a more experienced mentor. Instead of asking them to shadow the mentor, allow them to take responsibility for the project — but be sure to have a backup plan if things don’t go as well as you’d hoped.

Take advantage of their technological skills. Younger workers have grown up with constant access to the internet, so they have a natural understanding of social media. Make good use of their skills by commissioning them to manage your company’s social media campaigns or do web research to help you find a new product or service.

Treat them like adults. When dealing with someone much younger than you, it can be tough to resist the urge to patronize or lecture, but Generation Y employees hate being treated like children. Give them the respect they crave by asking for their input and listening to their ideas — but don’t be afraid to let them know if you think their ideas are off-base. Likewise, if their outspokenness is offensive to you or any of your other employees, ask them to tone it down a bit to create a more comfortable work environment for everyone.

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