Generation Y is the generation just now beginning to enter the workforce. Born between 1980 and 1994, they range from ages 14 to 28 and numbering approximately 70 million strong stand to alter current workplace standards; though whether for good or for bad remains to be determined…

Unlike earlier generations, computers are not a disruptive technology that required adaptation. In fact, members of Generation Y have been able to fully integrate them into their lives offering a unique perspective and affording an unprecedented ability to multi-task. Some have even called the Millenials (another term for Generation Y) the most productive generation in history. This is a group simultaneously able to text message, listen to a podcast, write a memo, build a website and read blogs all while downloading copyrighted content (legally, of course…).

Many companies are looking to harness the energy and skills of Generation Y and even altering management structures to receive the full benefit. Since the Millenials don’t have much loyalty to a specific company or job, firms are seeking to get as much from their young employees while they are available.

However, growing up under the hand of the Baby Boomer generation, they have questioned authority their entire lives and now this skepticism of the “correct way” has pushed its way into their work lives as well. This, obviously, causes frustration among older managers more comfortable working within the standard command-and-control structure.

In the working world, current young professionals are the tip of the sword for the Millenials and already tension is beginning to form with young employees flippant over the skills of older employees and vice versa. In trying to manage this potential conflict, the question boils down to: what is a reasonable middle ground?

What can employers do?

  • Be more lenient regarding working hours – These young professionals place a lot of utility on social time and so unless a specific business requires operations during a specific time (e.g. a retail store), providing your younger workforce the freedom to vary their work schedules according to their personal schedules will help maintain morale.
  • Foster a more social, creative working environment – Through social networks, cell phones and instant messaging, Millenials have never been very far from their peers and thus, are very social and collaborative. By mimicking the environment in which they work on their own personal projects at the business and allowing this generation to take on their workload their way, you can coax the greatest level of productivity.
  • Don’t worry about the blogs and MP3 players – Allowing your younger employees to surf the net, listen to music or possibly text while working just allows them to take advantage of the multitasking skills they have been honing since kindergarten. Of course, certain sites are likely to generally be detrimental when used incorrectly such as YouTube, Facebook and Myspace to name a few and it is probably good practice to be monitored for abuse.
  • Communicate regularly with your employees – Millenials have grown up receiving constant feedback from teachers, parents and peers. If placed into a situation where it is not provided by a supervisor, they will begin to resent their environment.
  • Rest assured, your younger employees are more capable than you might think – Armed with a viewpoint that anything is possible, impressive computer abilities and an almost freakish comfort level with the internet, Generation Y is capable of accomplishing tasks outside their immediate skill set and can function as a sort of “Swiss Army Knife of the workplace” when needed.

I would like make a note here to any employers reading this blog. While implementing these changes would be great to help retain your Millenial employees, certain business models are not conducive to these changes and understandably so; imagine walking into a retail store and not being able to talk to a sales person because they are listening to music and surfing the net on their iPhone… It just doesn’t work and these suggestions would most likely be detrimental to your business. Take them on at your own risk.

This is certainly a two-way street much to the dismay of some members of this cohort; so, what can members of Generation Y do?

  • Be respectful of current management structures – Despite being labeled as incredibly productive, you are still working in a system run by people who are comfortable with this type of structure and over the years, this system has proven extremely effective considering the US economy’s place in history.
  • Pick up the phone – email and IM (when available) are quick and easy and you are most likely comfortable with these mediums but older generations often prefer a phone call. Granted, this depends on the person but try to avoid sending an email at least every once in a while when a phone call will serve equally well.
  • Be considerate of the skills of your older colleagues – our generation has a habit (nasty or not…) of being somewhat… dismissive… of those that we believe are not up to the level we feel we are. Relax and learn. Those with seniority have at least one valuable skill you do not: experience. You may think you know how something is going to turn out but those older peers most likely have been through it and know what to do. Take a back seat the first time and be better prepared the next time.

Before ending this installment, a point to think about: despite the size of Generation Y (keep in mind, the size rivals the baby boomers and is roughly three times that of Generation X), are the benefits placed on the workplace to accommodate this high maintenance/high performance group beneficial through increased productivity and a unique world view or detrimental from the disruption to a economic system that has proven to be one of the best in recorded history?