The Truth About Younger Workers

Generational diversity in the workplace is a hot topic of conversation throughout our country. Last month, my column began to explore one dimension of this age-based discussion with a focus on uncovering the truth about older workers. This week, I am continuing to explore another dimension by revealing some truths about younger workers.

You may be surprised to know younger workers and their older counterparts face similar workplace discriminatory hurdles. Both ends of our nation’s generational spectrum are slapped with snap judgments about their level of commitment and ability based purely on age.

My column this week is dedicated to telling the true story about “younger” workers. They are hungry for a chance to contribute meaningfully and thirsty for opportunities to gain knowledge. Hopefully, it will motivate you to live your work life in a way that encourages an age-friendly workplace for everyone.

Truth No. 1: YOU may be considered a “younger worker” without even realizing it.

Younger workers can be defined as those born between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. Commonly referred to as Millenials or Generation Y, this group’s total number is similar in size to the baby boomer generation, at approximately 80 million people.

Truth No. 2: Younger workers are not self-centered and spoiled.

As with any generation, there are members of Generation Y who have grown up thinking they are the center of the universe thanks to excessive coddling by their caregivers. However, the majority place a high priority on valuing career and social causes. In fact, according to a 2008 survey by The Families and Work Institute, 79 percent of Generation Y employees who were interviewed said it was important to work for a company who cared about how it contributed to society.

Compared to their older counterparts, members of this generation tend to prefer working in collaborative teams building off of each members’ ideas. The tendency of this generation to place a high value on social causes, and a preference for collaborative work translates to their managers’ having to step up their game as leaders which isn’t a bad thing at all. As opposed to being spoken to only when something is wrong, this generation works best with leaders who frequently give them feedback and can generate enthusiasm for buying into what their organizations are about.

Truth No. 3: Younger workers are loyal to their employers.

There is no doubt that younger workers have a reputation for leaving jobs after only one or two years. Compared to older generations, Generation Y has more freedom to make strategic career moves that their older peers may secretly desire. Why? Because they are delaying marriage and parenting longer than earlier generations tended to, and they have a stronger financial safety net to fall back on.

Unlike earlier generations who often stayed with the same employer for decades and were accustomed to a traditional top-down management style, Generation Y has taught today’s leaders that employee loyalty is not given, but earned. Younger workers will be fiercely loyal and hardworking for an organization that provides opportunities to learn new skills while being a part of something meaningful. The secret to reaping the benefits of keeping a Generation Y employee engaged is to provide meaningful work, feedback and opportunities to be recognized for high performance. These are leadership practices members of any generation will benefit from.

Truth No. 4: Younger workers are not lazy.

Don’t mistake laziness with the high value Generation Y places on maintaining a healthy work-life balance by enjoying leisure time with family and friends. While younger workers are hardworking, they also place a high value on knowing their work is meaningful and linked to bigger organizational goals. Instead of having a seemingly mundane and meaningless task thrown at them, they want to know why they are doing it and how it contributes to the bigger picture.

Another hallmark tendency of younger workers is a constant desire to find a more productive solution to existing practices. In fact, if you don’t try and lock them into a mindless mentality of “do it this way because that’s how we’ve always done it,” they will eagerly offer suggestions on how to do something better. As a leader of a younger worker, the secret to keeping them engaged and motivated is to take a moment to explain the bigger picture, and listen to their suggestions. Allow them to try the untried and offer new challenges.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at www.jlnick.com.