Generation Y

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 12:30

There's little doubt Gen Y has a different view of life and work than other generations. But their way of life may soon be the norm as they graduate to become managers. Leon Gettler reports

There has been a glut of stories written about Gen Y, the mob born from 1982 to about 1993. But few commentators have asked what kind of managers they waill be.

Still, with the oldest of them turning 30 this year, we can expect to see more Gen Y employees becoming managers.

Contemplating what they will be like is a challenge for everyone.

The best known of the new breed run IT start-ups - the outstanding example being 27-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who, according to Forbes, is worth $17.5 billion and whose net worth will be even higher after Facebook's float in the next few months.

There are also some senior managers in the not-for-profit sector. The Gen Y management movement has yet to take off, but one thing is certain - it will be different.

Here is a generation who would not remember a time without mobile phones, laptops and desktops. Cheque books, fax machines, even radios, are from another era. Raised by doting parents who told them they were special, they played in competitions where there were no losers, everyone was a winner and everyone received a trophy.

It's a generation who grew up on the internet. Many of them know how to launch a viable online business. Let's remember, Facebook began in a college dorm room.

There are already signs Gen Y is having an impact in the workplace. Many companies have become used to their Gen Y employees taking time out to travel. These days, it's regarded as all part of their learning experience.

Companies frightened of losing younger employees are offering flexitime and job-sharing options.

Ten years ago, remote working, telecommuting and virtual teams were regarded as oddities. They are now becoming standard.

Fewer younger people are using email. For example, French IT company Atos has just introduced a zero email policy, and staff will instead use instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.

We can expect more of this, says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert, bestselling author and managing partner of the Boston-based Millennial Branding, which advises companies on how to handle Gen Ys. Speaking from New York, Schawbel envisages a completely different workplace.

"Gen Ys will be different managers than other generations because they value flexibility, meaningful work and embrace technology,'' says Schawbel, who is a Gen Y manager.

"They will be much more accepting of employees' use of social media and mobile technology in the workplace.

"They will allow their employees to work from wherever they want, whenever they want, as long as they deliver results.

"They will ensure their employees are doing work that will have an impact, not just busy work, since they would want the same. They will use new tools to foster collaboration within their groups and between groups because they understand the power of teamwork.

"They will eventually change corporate policies and procedures in order to increase transparency and information flow. Instead of typical management, they will see themselves in the same place as their direct reports, all working together on a common mission."

But demographer Bernard Salt is not so sure. No one, he says, knows exactly how this will play out.

"On one hand they have great ideals of what they expect out of being a manager because they had those expectations when they were reporting to a manager; that a manager should be engaging, inspirational, inclusive and collaborative,'' Salt says.

"The interesting thing to see will be whether they execute that. In other words, is it easier said than done? The jury is still out.

"I'm just not sure whether, when these people get into management positions, they won't suddenly see the world differently. This is a generation that has been indulged. What happens when an indulged person gets into a management position and they have employees making demands on them?

"Are they understanding and giving and generous, or does the indulged person say, 'Hang on, this is making my life harder, I want you to do this, this and this'. I just don't know if there will be a back-slip from Generation Y once they move into management.

"I don't know if you will get caring and sharing CEOs in the future or if they'll be weeded out pretty bloody quickly.''

Salt says there is not much difference between Gen X and baby boomer managers. "They [Gen X] are a little more caring, and there's less command and control, but I think that's just the evolution of management technique, it's not attributable to generations."

Still, others believe we will see changes when Gen Y members are in charge of companies.

Mike Carden, CEO of New Zealand company Sonar6, which creates performance review software, believes Gen Y managers will be different.

His company has done extensive research on Gen Y. He says one of the traits of Gen Y is they are much more geared to working in teams.

"Our view is they will be more collaborative as managers than hierarchical,'' Carden says.

"If you have a business that values teamwork and collaboration and those sorts of things, they will do well. But if it's a business where they will have to manage more in a hierarchical style, where everything comes down from the top, they will be less suited to that sort of environment."

He says Gen Y has been raised on instant gratification and feedback.

Facebook and Twitter encapsulate that. He says their management style will reflect that.

"If you look at the way work used to be, you worked hard and you did a good job and at the end of the year, the boss would call you into the office and say we're really pleased with the work you've done, we'll give you a bonus this Christmas,'' he says.

"If you did that now with Gen Y employees, they would disengage. They're used to getting feedback instantly and the feedback has to be public as well. You have to press their like button more frequently. As managers, they'll be pressing the like buttons of employees more frequently."

He says flexitime and remote working will be par for the course with Gen Y managers. He also believes they are more entrepreneurial than the baby boomers and Xers.

"They grew up watching Big Brother or Idol and they say, 'Wow, I can be famous just being myself'. The flip side to that is they are often supremely confident they can be successful just by being who they are. That does lead to more natural entrepreneurialism."

John Somerville, a partner at KPMG's management consulting arm, sees Gen Y managers moving away from email.

Instead of phone conferencing or multiple emails, Gen Y managers might introduce changes such as company-wide briefing sessions on Facebook-type software. "They'll communicate in a way that's effective and meets their needs,'' Somerville says. "These new technologies are part of the answer."

Still, Somerville has reservations.

"I think the biggest challenge these guys will have as managers is the experience they have gained through their careers,'' he says. "Your typical Gen Y is someone who has always wanted new challenges and new things to try. They do something for a while, get bored with it and then hop around. But I don't think you can jump out when the going gets tough and then become a senior manager. There is a danger they will be hollow managers because they have bounced around and have not seen some of the roles through thick and thin.

"They won't have had the depth of experience in one spot the Xers and boomers had, and in a crisis, you would want to know you have the right experience to draw on to make the right decisions."

On the other hand, they are more likely to make lateral decisions as managers because of the breadth, as opposed to the depth, of their experience. In any case, it will be different. The journey of Gen Ys into management will be watched closely.

Gen Y will bring unique skills and perspectives to management. They are already starting to have influence with more flexitime and remote working.

Indeed, their impact is starting to be felt in broader society. After all, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, a business started by a Gen Y entrepreneur in Zuckerberg, is women over the age of 55.