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Managing Generation Y.

The workforce is becoming relentlessly younger but for the present contains four generations; the Traditionalists, born before 1945; the huge post-war Baby Boomers, born 1945-64; the small Generation X group, born 1965-80, and now Generation Y, born after 1980. Many HR professionals report conflicts between younger and older workers, reflecting each generation's very different values, attitudes toward work and authority, ways of operating, degrees of socialization, skills, and so on. Managers may save themselves some headaches by becoming familiar with Gen Y--a mini baby boom generation now pouring into the marketplace.


With the entry of Generation Y to the working world, the workforce for the first time contains four generations: Traditionalists (also called Veterans, Silents, or Greatest Generation; 75 million born before 1945; 10% of the workforce), Baby Boomers (80 million born 1945-1964, 45% of the workforce), Generation X (46 million born 1965-1980, 30% of the workforce), and Generation Y also called Echo Boomers, Millenials, Internet Generation, or Nexters; 76 million born after 1980; 15% of the workforce) (Paul, 2004; Francis-Smith, 2004; Johns, 2003; Martin and Tulgan, 2004; Raines, 2002). Despite some variations in the way the literature names these generations and classifies start and end dates, there is general descriptive consensus among academics and practitioners regarding these generations.

More important, there appears to be agreement that this confluence of generations has immediate consequences for managers. Over the next 10 years, the U.S. population older than 65 will increase by 26%, those 40-54 will fall by 5%, and those 25-30 will increase by 6% (Connelly, 2003). By 2006, two experienced workers will leave the workforce for every one who enters it (Piktialis, 2004). Already, nearly 60% of HR professionals in large companies report conflict between younger and older workers (Work Ethic Primary Conflict, 2004), and cite impending labor shortages as increasing the value of every employee (Southard and Lewis, 2004; Dealing With Your New Generation Mix, 2004). Against this backdrop, intergenerational differences may become a foremost aspect of diversity in the U.S. workplace.

Web sites targeted to various generations have been created and consulting specialty of intergenerational management has also emerged. Bruce Tulgan, author of the 2003 report "Generational Shift: What We Saw at the Workplace Revolution" (Tulgan, 2004), has been active in that arena for more than 10 years. A survey of peer-reviewed academic articles and practitioner-targeted publications finds that research providing foundational literature regarding intergenerational management has begun. This paper seeks to contribute to that literature, management practice, and business education through secondary and primary research. It examines the characteristics of the newest entrants to the workplace, Generation Y, and the strategic implications for management in a workplace already comprising three generations.


This paper is stimulated by findings of, and reactions to, articles I have presented at peer-reviewed conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals (1) in recent years regarding Generation Y (Gen Y). Sensing some changes as Gen Y entered our business school classes, I conducted a stream of research that found changes which might be linked to a shift in student generations. My research focused largely on the pedagogical challenges of teaching Gen Y business school college students and on strategies to enhance their learning. Feedback from this research was a catalyst for this paper. That is, Gen Y business students, who are entering the full-time workforce, appear to present generational challenges for many educators. A question arose: Will Gen Y's presence in the workplace present strategic challenges for managers?

As I began exploring answers to that question through existing literature, I also began surveying our students regarding their workplace perceptions and satisfaction levels based on their experience. Consistent with North American demographics, most of our students worked part-time for years (Loughlin and Barling, 2001). I have conducted and analyzed the results of those surveys in 14 academic sessions beginning with summer 2000. Along with a review of the existing secondary literature, this paper presents the findings of that original survey research.

Research Questions and Methodology

This paper, seeks to present winning strategies for managing intergenerational implications of Gen Y's entrance to the workplace. In reviewing the existing literature, some 100 articles were located on-line through academic databases including ProQuest and LexisNexis using "managing Gen Y," "Gen Y at work," and "managing generations" among the search locators. Practitioner Web sites were also sampled using "managing Gen Y" as the main search locator. Survey data conducted by the Gallup Organization was accessed through the Gallup Brain database.

From that research, it became clear that managerial implications of Gen Y's entry to the workplace are complex and should be investigated within the multi-generational context that contemporary managers are experiencing. As a result, several core questions emerge: 1) What are the relevant core characteristics of each of the four generations that compose today's workforce? 2) What are Gen Y's perceptions and satisfaction levels toward work? 3) What challenges and opportunities are presented by the entry of Gen Y in to the workplace? and 4) What management strategies are likely to be most effective for achieving high performance in today's intergenerational workplace?

Four Generations al Work

The literature is remarkably consistent in its descriptions of the four generations now in today's workforce. On the whole, it describes the coexistence of age-diverse workers in a transitioning workplace once characterized by long-term, mutually loyal, employer-employee relations that produced work through command and control management. That workforce is moving toward a 21st century workplace characterized by free agency. There, workers no longer expect long-term rewards, but instead negotiate each new job seeking the best overall working environment including opportunities for training and work-life balance (Connelly, 2003; Tulgan, 2004).

The most senior generation at work today is frequently termed Traditionalists. Children of Depression and World Wars, Traditionalists were socialized through scarcity and hardship. They tend to value family and patriotism, have had a parent at home to raise children, prefer consistency, and use a top-down management style. They are inclined to inform on a need-to-know basis, be satisfied by a job well done, remain with one company over time, and have amassed wisdom and experience (Allen, 2004). Traditionalists are likely to be loyal and self-sacrificing employees who prefer a traditional, hierarchical management structure (Francis-Smith, 2004). When in command, they tend to take charge. When in doubt, they tend to do what is right (Martin and Tulgan, 2004)

The Traditionalists' children were socialized in the 1950s and 1960s feeling prosperous, safe, and that anything was possible. The largest generation in history, these Baby Boomers believe in growth, change, and expansion. Their numbers alone made them competitive. Baby Boomers tend to want it all and seek it by working long hours, showing loyalty, and being ruthless if necessary; many do not plan to retire. They are likely to respect authority, but want to be viewed and treated as equals (Allen, 2004). Baby Boomers tended to be the center of their parent's attention and redefined many social norms, especially family, in which their generation increased divorce rates. They tend to be driven to succeed and to measure that success materially. Like their parents, they are inclined to lack technological skills but to be social beings; networking works well for them in career building (Johns, 2003). Baby Boomers tend to be optimistic and confident and to value free expression and social reform (Francis-Smith, 2004).

In the workplace, Baby Boomers tend to seek consensus, dislike authoritarianism and laziness, and micro-manage others (Francis-Smith, 2004). They have paid their dues and proactively climbed the corporate ladder making new rules along the way. But now they tend to find themselves reactive in an era of downsizing and reengineering. The sink-or-swim survival mode they are accustomed to becomes more difficult as they reach a life stage in which keeping up a nonstop pace becomes an ever-greater challenge (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

Gen X is the child of the workaholic Baby Boomer. Socialized as latchkey kids in a downsizing work world where technology was booming, Gen X tends to lack the social skills of its parents but to have strong technical ability (Johns, 2003). It is likely to be self-reliant, individualistic, distrustful of corporations, lacking in loyalty, and intent on balancing work and personal life. Independent, entrepreneurial Gen X lives on the edge and embraces change; it produced the 1990's dot-com stars. Gen X tends to be outcome-focused, and seeks specific and constructive feedback (Allen, 2004). It is skeptical but loves freedom and room to grow (Francis-Smith, 2004).

At work, Gen X is not likely to prioritize long-term employment with a single company or value long hours. It tends to respond well to competent leadership and to be educated and technically skilled enough to move into management more quickly (Francis-Smith, 2004). Gen X is likely to value developing skills more than gaining in job title and to not take well to micromanaging. Reflecting its lack of social skills, Gen X tends to be reluctant to network and is attracted more by ads and recruitment (Johns, 2003). It pioneered the free-agent workforce and believes security comes with keeping skills current. This generation is likely to find a way to get things done smartly, fast, and best even if it means bending the rules. It tends to respond well to a coaching management style that provides prompt feedback and credit for results achieved (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

Gen Y is the most recent cohort to enter the workforce. Far larger than the generation before it, much of Gen Y was raised in a time of economic expansion and prosperity. But Gen Y is coming of age in an era of economic uncertainty and violence. Though it is the most affluent generation (Allen, 2004), some 16% of Gen Y grew up or is growing up in poverty (Raines, 2002). In its post-Columbine, post-9/11, 24-hour media world, this latest generation has seen more at an earlier age than prior generations have seen (Sujansky, 2004). It is not surprising that Gen Y reflects some values held by Traditionalists. Like that "greatest generation," Gen Y tends to have a strong sense of morality, to be patriotic, willing to fight for freedom, is sociable, and values home and family. But Gen Y's large size, level of education, and technical skill position it to echo the Baby Boomers' impact on business and society (Allen, 2004).

Having worked throughout high school while continuing to live with parents in a 24/7 digitally connected and globalizing world, Gen Y is the most technically literate, educated, and ethnically diverse generation in history and tends to have more discretionary income. It tends to want intellectual challenge, needs to succeed, seeks those who will further its professional development, strives to make a difference, and measures its own success. Meeting personal goals is likely to matter to Gen Y, as is performing meaningful work that betters the world and working with committed co-workers with shared values. Making a lot of money tends to be less important to Gen Y than contributing to society, parenting well, and enjoying a full and balanced life (Allen, 2004).

Gen Y was socialized in a digital world. It is more than technically literate; it is continually wired, plugged in, and connected to digitally streaming information, entertainment, and contacts. It has so mastered technology that multitasking is a habit it takes into the workplace, where it tends to instant message its contacts while doing work (Lewis, 2003). A recent study found Gen Y consuming 31 hours of media (through multi-tasting) within a 24-hour period (Weiss, 2003).

Gen Y has been told it can do anything and tends to believe it (Martin, 2004). It has lived with strong social stressors ranging from pressure to excel in school to parental divorce and one-parent homes. It is accustomed to being active in family decisions and is likely to expect to contribute to decisions in employer organizations (Johns, 2003). Overall, Gen Y is inclined to be positive, polite, curious, energetic, and respectful of its parents and grandparents (Francis-Smith, 2004).

In the workplace, Gen Y tends to favor an inclusive style of management, dislike slowness, and desire immediate feedback about performance (Francis-Smith, 2004). It is a truly global generation, socially conscious and volunteer-minded and positioned to be the most demanding generation. If treated professionally, it is likely to act professionally. Gen Y is likely to perform best when its abilities are identified and matched with challenging work that pushes it fully. Speed, customization, and interactivity -two-way nonpassive engagement--are likely to help keep Gen Y focused (Martin and Tulgan, 2004). Technically able, highly informed and confident, but lacking direction, Gen Y is more likely to "rock the boat" than any prior generation (Johns, 2003).

Survey Results: Gen Y's Perceptions and Satisfaction Levels Toward Work

Against this backdrop, a key question emerges: What is Gen Y's perception of and satisfaction level toward work? To explore this, I constructed a questionnaire that incorporated management criteria from leading textbooks. The survey was administered in the 300-level Organizational Theory and Behavior course at Ramapo College of New Jersey in every academic session taught beginning with summer 2000. Ramapo is a four-year public college in the New Jersey state system, located in suburban Bergen County about 35 miles from New York City. The Organizational Theory and Behavior course is part of the required core at Ramapo College's School of Administration and Business, which is the largest of the college's five schools. As characterizes their generation, most of our increasingly Gen Y students have worked part-time for years. An average of 25 students completed the survey in each of the 14 academic sessions, resulting in 350 completed questionnaires. The responses were similar regardless of semester or class size.

The survey asks student respondents to reflect upon their workplace experience, indicate the level of their managers' competence in each of 18 characteristics, and specify the level of their own overall satisfaction with work using a whole number response scale of one/low to four/ high. Surveys were distributed at the start of the term, following an introductory lecture presenting an overview of the contemporary workplace in descriptive, not prescriptive, terms. For most students, that introduction is a review of concepts learned in prior courses. The characteristics included in the questionnaire are among those described in the course introduction, assuring that all respondents understand the characteristics they are assessing. The four-point response scale coincides with the four point grading scale used at Ramapo, to provide an assessment tool students are familiar with.

Respondent perceptions of their managers' competence are reported in the following tables. Table 1 details, and Table 2 summarizes, that although Gen Y perceives managers to be more competent in some areas than others, it perceives competence in all areas to be in the 2.52 (C+) to 2.99 (B-) range. When results are presented to the student respondents, they repeatedly describe that performance level of managers to be average at most, below a desirable level, and below a level they would find acceptable for their own performance.

As summarized in Table 2, our mostly Gen Y students ranked their managers most highly overall on the qualities (accessible, competent, ethical, respected, and fair) they possess. They ranked their managers relatively similarly on the remaining three categories, in this order: 1) functional competence (plan, organize, control, and lead), 2) managerial skills (communicate, analytical/quantitative, interpersonal, technological, and critical/creative thinking), and 3) managers' effectiveness at achieving goals through and with others (create positive work environment, lead proactively, present opportunity to achieve high performance, and provide incentive to achieve high performance). This result is interesting in that the most highly ranked category, qualities, contains attributes that tend to be expected of managers in both traditional command/control and contemporary flat/empowered workplaces, and would be most likely to be possessed by Traditionalists and Baby Boomers maintaining management jobs.

The five attributes our students perceive managers to be most lacking are also interesting, as they confirm generational descriptors identified earlier. Given their different skill sets, work style, and values, it is an expected result that Gen Y would find managers from prior generations lacking in the following areas: ability to use technology, present opportunities to achieve high performance, lead, think critically/creatively, and provide incentives to achieve high performance. Survey responses are consistent with the expected result. Most notable, though, is the final attribute, manager's effectiveness at providing incentive to achieve high performance, ranked lowest by our student respondents. Does Gen Y find that attribute lacking due to intergenerational variances in preferred management style? Or do they find it lacking due to intergenerational variances in meaningful incentives? That is, would managers appear to be more effective to Gen Y if incentives were a greater part of the employer-employee transaction? Or is it the nature of the incentives offered by managers that need to be more meaningful to Gen Y? Or both? Future research might target this area.

A particularly interesting result is reported in Table 3. When Gen Y respondents' ratings for all 18 assessed managerial characteristics were averaged, and the resulting perception of overall managerial competence was compared with the respondents' reported workplace satisfaction, the two ratings were almost identical. The relationship between Gen Y workplace satisfaction and perceived managerial competence appears to be strong, and both factors are in a range that student respondents continually describe as less than desirable. This result is especially notable given Gen Y's affinity for those who will further its professional development. Would increasing managerial competence increase Gen Y's workplace satisfaction? Or would increasing Gen Y's workplace satisfaction increase its perception of managerial competence? Or both? This is another area for future research.

Gen Y: Opportunity and Challenge

Gen Y has been deeply affected by several trends of the 1990s and 2000s: a renewed focus on children, family, scheduled and structured lives, multiculturalism, terrorism, heroism, patriotism, parent advocacy, and globalization. Coincidentally, Gen Y has been socialized with several core messages: be smart--you are special, leave no one behind, connect 24/7, achieve now, and serve your community (Raines, 2002). It tends to ignore traditional media and advertising channels, play video games, and watch DVDs rather than listed TV programming. Those in Gen Y tend to live with their parents before college, plan to return to their parents' home after college, and are less at home in the real world than in the virtual world--in which they spend more than six hours a day online. One-third of 21-year olds are not Caucasian. A similar number is being raised by single parents, and three-quarters have working mothers. Perhaps reflecting 9/11/01, Gen Y tends to want to connect with its parents rather than rebel. As consumers, Gen Y is likely to be independent and not brand loyal. Traditional at home, it tends to be nontraditional and sophisticated in the marketplace (Weiss, 2003).

Gen Y's entrance in to the workplace would seem to present many opportunities in today's ever-more competitive organizations in which high-performing workers are an asset, and demographic shifts point to impending labor shortages. Gen Y workers would seem to be a timely addition. They tend to be goal-oriented (Southard and Lewis, 2004) and interested in self-development and improvement (Dealing With Your New Generational Mix, 2004). They are likely to have high expectations of personal and financial success, feel that hard work pays off, and have a get-it-done result-producing attitude (Breaux, 2003). They are inclined to plunge into work they find interesting and important even when they know little about it (Lewis, 2003).

Some of Gen Y's characteristics may make it easier to manage than Gen X. Gen Y tends to value teamwork and fairness and is likely to be more positive than Gen X on a range of workplace issues including work-life balance, performance reviews, and availability of supervisors (What You Need to Know, 2003). Moreover, Gen Y descriptors include attributes predictive of high performance. Gen Y workers are inclined to be sociable, hopeful, talented, collaborative, inclusive, and civic-minded. In addition to being well educated and technically savvy, they tend to be open-minded, achievement-oriented, and able to work on parallel tasks (Raines, 2002). Cautiously optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, Gen Y is likely to have a solid work ethic and entrepreneurial bent. At the same time, it tends to acknowledge and admire authority, especially Traditionalists. Strength, cooperation, energy, conformity, virtue, and duty tend to be among Gen Y's values (Pekala, 2001).

A recent Work and Education survey by the Gallup Organization also suggests that Gen Y will not be harder to manage than workers from other generations. Like workers in the 30-49 and 50+ age groups, Gen Y has a strong sense of company loyalty, is at least as satisfied with supervisors as are older workers, is as content as the others with the amount of praise received, and is as satisfied as the others with amount of vacation time and work flexibility or hours required. Additionally, Gen Y feels no more workplace stress than the other workers and is as satisfied as the others with retirement and health benefits (Saad, 2003).

At the same time, Gen Y's entrance to the workforce seems to present some challenges. Although Gen Y workers tend to be more positive than Gen X about working in general, Gen Y tends to be less satisfied than Gen X with their jobs and employers. The survey described earlier in this paper pinpoints several dimensions of that dissatisfaction. Further, Gen Y is more open than Gen X to leaving for something better (What You Need to Know, 2003). Gen Y is likely to equate job satisfaction with a positive work climate, flexibility, and the opportunity to learn and grow more than any prior generation. Compared with other generations, Gen Y tends to have less respect for rank and more respect for ability and accomplishment. It is likely to trade more pay for work it feels is meaningful at a company where it feels appreciated (Alati, 2004). Gen Y tends to value respect and wants to earn it. Acknowledgement and freedom to perform as it finds best tend to matter to Gen Y, too (Dealing With Your New Generational Mix, 2004).

Additionally, Gen Y workers are likely to dislike menial work, lack skills for dealing with difficult people, and be impatient (Raines, 2002). Less than half of this youngest generation describe themselves as confident or prepared to enter the workforce. Their strong technical skills are not matched by strong soft skills such as listening, communicating, independent thinking, being a team player, and managing time (Pekala, 2001). Mercer Human Resource Consultant's 2002 People at Work Survey found Gen Y rating employers lower than other employees do on being treated fairly, getting necessary cooperation from others, and having opportunity to do interesting and meaningful work (The Next Generation, 2003).

Moreover, Gen Y workers tend to look for instant gratification rather than long-term investments of time and effort (Southard and Lewis, 2004). In addition to demanding immediate rewards, they are likely to prefer special projects rather than "dues-paying chores." They often prefer being given time off to receiving money; putting in face time tends to puts them off. Accustomed to coming, going, and staying as needed, and being involved when present, Gen Y workers tend to be constant negotiators and questioners. As one author describes it, "The forty hour workweek doesn't apply ... (and) 'how' meetings become 'why' meetings" (Lewis, 2003). Intergenerational management expert Bruce Tulgan describes the resulting challenges of Gen Y workers this way: "Gen Y'ers are like X'ers on steroids ... They are the most high-maintenance generation to ever enter the work force" (Breaux, 2003).

Recommendations: Management Strategies

Presenting both challenges and opportunities, Gen Y is entering the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. What management strategies are likely to be most effective for achieving high performance in today's intergenerational workplace? Experts suggest that managers apply messages and strategies deliberately tailored to the characteristics of each of the four generations. They recommend identifying and addressing the motivational needs of each generation, and training each generation mindful of its learning styles. Age stereotypes should be avoided, and age differences should be built into diversity training. Team building should include intergenerational pairing based on complimentary strengths. Open and ongoing discussions for discussing intergenerational needs should become corporate culture norms (Piktialis, 2004).

What strategies should resonate with Traditionalists? Members of this longest-working generation should respond well to being told that their experience is respected and important to the company and that their perseverance is valued and will be rewarded. They should be encouraged to share their knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past. They are likely to welcome training that is offered in formats consistent with their more traditional learning style (Kogan, 2001). Also, Traditionalists should be encouraged to respectfully assert their authority and demonstrate their track records. Engaging them as teachers is recommended. Rehiring them as part-time team leaders and coaches when they retire is also suggested (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

On the other hand, Baby Boomers should respond well to being told that they are important to the organization's success, are valued for their unique and important contributions, and are needed. They should be provided feedback with sensitivity. Change should be presented to them in a way that minimizes conflict (Kogan, 2001). What's more, Baby Boomers should be encouraged to become facilitating coaches rather than authoritarian figures dictating expectations and methods. They should be offered flexibility, authority, and respect. Additionally, Baby Boomers should be challenged to keep on growing (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

For its part, independent Gen X should respond well to being told to do things its own way, with minimal rules and bureaucracy. This first techno-savvy generation should be provided with current hardware and software (Kogan, 2001). Its growth-oriented nature should be managed with a coaching style. At the same time, this outcome-focused generation should be asked to learn just-in-time for each new assignment (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

The newest entrants to the workplace, the Gen Y group, are largely uncharted territory for many managers. Gen Y workers tend to have unbridled energy, endless enthusiasm, and the skills and experience of those much older. They too, then, should be managed with a coaching style (Sujansky, 2002). Gen Y should respond well to being told that it will be working with other bright and creative people, and that the boss is over 60. Hearing that, together with peers, they can turn the company around, and that they can be heroes at the company, should also resonate with Gen Y workers (Kogan, 2001). Flexibility and voice, access to co-workers and company information through technology, and project-centered work are recommended (Allen, 2004). Expectations should be explained to Gen Y from the outset, including the big picture and how they fit into it. Gen Y should be given a sense of belonging (Hansford, 2002).

Leaders would do well to model expected behavior for Gen Y workers and interact with them, creating a sense of enjoyment and challenge. Candid talk without hype and with a sense of humor should help reach Gen Y. Movement toward cultural openness and transparency is recommended, as is investment in programs encouraging teamwork and flexibility. At the same time, roles and responsibilities should be defined and written for Gen Y. Task lists and timelines should suggest how and when to reach goals (Dealing With Your New Generation Mix, 2004).

Job conditions that cannot be attained should not be promised, as doing so will leave Gen Y feeling disappointed and betrayed. Instead, Gen Y workers should be given the chance to contribute to a greater good and to work for a socially responsible company (Loughlin and Barling, 2001).

Spaces, processes, and practices tailored to Gen Y should be well worth the cost. Office spaces set up to facilitate the exchange of ideas with others are recommended. Goal accomplishment in Gen Y team projects should be evaluated as a whole. Reverse mentor programs in which Gen Y's technical skills can be recognized and shared are also suggested (Raines, 2002).

Furthermore, it is advisable to meet the high expectations of Gen Y workers with respect and positivism (Raines, 2002). Digital-based training programs should resonate with Gen Y, for whom work and play are blended and achievement and winning matter. Training for Gen Y workers should focus on strategic areas and not be trivial. Optimally, it will engage them experientially, allow for practice, and provide a valued pay-off at the end (Salopek, 2003).

Some companies are tackling the challenges of recruiting and retaining Gen Y using innovative strategies tailored to Gen Y characteristics. These techniques include providing on-site leadership academies, creating formal mentoring programs to maximize Gen Y access, and giving early chances to do meaningful work. To better reach Gen Y, some are streamlining the recruitment process and providing longer vacations after shorter service. For similar reasons, some are building comprehensive intranet sites, allowing conversion of unused administrative leave into cash, and permitting conversion of health benefits into deferred compensation accounts (Southard and Lewis, 2004).

Some companies are literally going where Gen Y workers are, connecting with them through the media and locations such as Internet cafes and video game stores. Or they recruit Gen Y through on-site career-day seminars in which ranking personnel share their own success stores. Some companies are using their Gen Y employees as the first outreachers to peer Gen Y candidates in an effort to quicken the pace of recruitment. In this way, the companies aim to both engage their Gen Y employees more fully and to create a workplace ally for the Gen Y candidate (Employing Generation Why, 2004).

Wider Horizons?

A 2001 article by Loughlin and Barling provides solid foundation for understanding the context within which today's intergenerational workforce operates. It reports that almost 80% of North American high school students worked part-time for pay before graduating from high school. Coinciding with this unprecedented rate of employment is the conclusion Gen Y has drawn from their parents' work experience. Gen Y workers tend to distrust long-term job security and seek immediate payoffs from employers as a result. Many have developed a work-to-live rather than live-to-work mindset that spills over into valuing the quality of the work environment as well as work-life balance. Moreover, an increasing number of jobs awaiting Gen Y are "non-standard;" 30% of North American and European jobs are temporary, part-time, or contract. Under-employment is an additional reality. Some 75% of the labor force in most industrial countries is doing little more than simple, repetitive tasks. The level of skilled jobs available is far less than the skill levels of the employable population (Loughlin and Barling, 2001).

In 2003, intergenerational expert Bruce Tulgan reported the results of a comprehensive 10-year study that interviewed more than 10,000 people and studied management practices of more than 700 companies to explore the contemporary U.S. workplace. The study found generational shifts amounting to significant and lasting workplace changes. Tulgan states, "Between 1993 and 2003, a profound revolution has taken place in the values and norms of the U.S. workforce; the impact has been felt throughout the world ... the new economy is a far cry from dot-coms with magical business models, and rather has created a very challenging environment for most workers today" (Tulgan, 2004).

In that study, Tulgan identified several core dimensions of the workplace transformation. First, work has become more demanding. Second, the employer-employee relationship has become less hierarchical and more transactional. Third, employers have moved away from long-term employment relationships. Fourth, employees have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectations for short-term rewards. Fifth, immediate supervisors have become the most important people in the workplace. Sixth, supervising employees now requires more time and skill at the very time when there are fewer managers (Tulgan, 2004).

Tulgan's study depicts a 21st century workplace in which traditional career paths and management techniques, long-term employment, and cookie cutter approaches to employee relations are disappearing. What replaces them? Employees take responsibility for their own success and failure. Employees make their own way by attaining and marketing cutting edge skills that they leverage through networking into career opportunity. Managers are pressured to hire the best person for every opening. Managers aggressively push each person to unleash the highest productivity (Tulgan, 2004).

The result? Tulgan's study projects an inevitable push-pull between the employer's need to squeeze the employee and the employee's need for quality of work life. To resolve this, the employee is likely to become more assertive about exacting short-term transactions in return for meeting the employer's goals. Tulgan describes that transforming 21 st century workplace this way: "Managers will have to discard traditional authority, rules, and red tape, and become highly engaged in one-on-one negotiation and coaching with employees to drive productivity, quality, and innovation" (Tulgan, 2004).

To older workers, that description may seem like a brave new world in which the culture shock is unpalatable and even incomprehensible. But younger workers may have a leg up. The following summary of this paper shows that, to Gen Y, the workplace Tulgan describes seems very much like the one it expects to enter.

Uncharted Territory

Research is rich in providing relevant generational profiles and suggesting attendant managerial strategies. Conversations with students, educators, and practitioners underscore the timeliness of investigating the implications of Gen Y's entrance to the workplace and the extent to which research-based conclusions are just beginning to be formed. At the recent Society for Advancement of Management International Business Conference, for instance, several sessions stimulated lively discussion regarding intergenerational effects. Many qualified their remarks by establishing that this was their first exposure to Gen Y intergenerational workplace issues, so their initial reactions would be largely perception-based. Most noted that divergent perceptions expressed tended to correspond with generational profiles suggested by the research (e.g., those of Traditionalist age were more likely to question the impact of intergenerational differences at work, while those of Gen Y age were more likely to affirm the impact of intergenerational differences at work). Few, if any, were disinterested.

Because the managerial implication of Gen Y's entrance to the contemporary workplace is still largely uncharted territory, it may be helpful to present some recurring comments from such discussions. First, some say that generational labels tend to be determined by marketers, and should not be allowed to create differences between people that might otherwise not exist. A second point some raise is that managers should be careful not to oversimplify workplace differences, but should see intergenerational differences as one of several aspects of diversity. A third set of comments contemplates the consequences of management failure to manage intergenerational realities and projects the resulting possibility of further erosion of psychological contract between manager and employee. This is a particularly interesting line of thought given the free agent, quality of work life, and inclusive mindset of newer entrants to the workplace. If these workers are alienated by managerial strategies that do not resonate with them, will managers be able to retain them, let alone unleash their potential? The relevance of that question is underscored by a final line of comment, expressed repeatedly by those of Gen Y: Will managers recognize intergenerational workplace factors and begin to use responsive strategies that optimize this aspect of diversity?

Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research

The primary research conducted for this paper incorporated responses of several hundred students over a five-year period. Their responses were on the whole consistent regardless of year, class size, or semester surveyed. The experience of the other three generations at work also suggests that generational factors do provide a common frame of reference. However, future investigation can provide a more solid basis for managerial strategies optimal for Gen Y workers. Typical of their cohort group, most of our Gen Y students worked part-time for years. But would the responses of full-time Gen Y workers who are not students be different? Are factors relating to our Gen Y students' need to balance school and work, as well as social life, instrumental in their responses? Additionally, the respondents were mostly business majors, living and working in the New York-New Jersey region. Would Gen Y students with other majors, working in other industries in other geographic areas respond the same way? Does the impact of generational factors moderate or accentuate as a worker ages? Do gender, race, or income strongly affect the perceptions and satisfaction of Gen Y workers? Do multinational corporations face special intergenerational challenges given variances in their workers' socialization?

These questions not only shed light on the bafflement many contemporary managers are expressing, but also reflect the intricacies of the important work to be done by those engaged in intergenerational research. The following table suggests specific foundational hypotheses that future research might explore:


This paper began with what appeared to be an obvious but simple question: Will Gen Y's presence in the workplace present strategic challenges for managers? An extensive literature review and primary research reveal that, however obvious, the question is anything but simple. Rather, seeking to answer it opens the door to largely uncharted territory. Application of findings presented in this paper, then, would appear to be timely. Moreover, future research would appear to be compelling.


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Susan Eisner, a professor of management, focuses her research on organizational behavior, management communication, business and society, diversity, and entertainment and arts management. She has received several awards for excellence in teaching. Prior to teaching, she held key positions with several businesses, including a television station, a health care foundation, a public interest group and a Presidential campaign.
Table 1. Survey Results--Perceptions of Managerial Competence

Characteristic Rating
 (1 Low to
 4 High)

Managerial functions (what managers are responsible for)

1. Plan: what (set goals, scan environment, make 2.80
2. Organize: how (design structure and assign tasks) 2.78
3. Lead: why (move/convince others to accept and carry 2.61
 out decision/plan)
4. Control: what if (take corrective action if needed) 2.78

Managerial skills (what managers can do

5. Communication: reach common understanding 2.81
6. Interpersonal/attitude/team: make positive 2.71
 contribution to/with others
7. Critical/creative thinking: ask original questions; 2.53
 generate new alternatives
8. Analytic/ quantitative: answer questions solidly, 2.78
 collecting and using data
9. Technological: facile with implements of production 2.67

Managerial qualities (what managers are like)

10. Ethical: know, model, promote, and reward moral 2.95
 behavior and decisions
11. Competent: can do the job 2.97
12. Respected: show valued qualities (likability) and 2.88
 believability (credibility)
13. Fair: make rules known and lay by them, provide 2.81
 chances, be impartial
14. Accessible: be approachable and available 2.99

Managerial effectiveness (what managers do to achieve
through/with others)

15. Lead proactively: envision/initiate opportunities, 2.79
 and motivate others to seize them enthusiastically
16. Create positive work environment: deliver high 2.81
 performance workplace where employee needs/
 interests/goals are met re: performance and
17. Provide incentive to achieve high performance: offer 2.52
 meaningful rewards for attaining goals
18. Present opportunity to achieve high performance: 2.62
 make it possible to attain goals and rewards

Table 2. Survey Results--Perceptions of Managerial Competence;
Overall Areas Ranked

Characteristic Rating
 (1 Low to
 4 High)

Managerial qualities (average of Table 1: #10-14) 2.92
Managerial functions (average of Table 1: # 1-4) 2.74
Managerial skill (average of Table 1: #5-9) 2.70
Managerial effectiveness (average of Table 1: #15-18) 2.69

Table 3. Survey Results--Worker Satisfaction and Perceptions
of Managerial Competence

Characteristic Rating
 (1 Low to
 4 High)

Overall managerial competence (average of Tables 1 2.76
 and 2: #1-18)
Overall worker respondent satisfaction 2.75

Table 4. Summary (1)--Four Generations at Work

 Traditionalists Baby Boomers

 75 million born 80 million born
 pre-1945; 10% of 1945-1964;
 workforce 45% of workforce

Formative Great depression Post-war prosperity
Events World war Largest generation

Socialization Scarcity/hardship Prosperous/safe
 Parent at home Anything is possible
 Parent's focal point

Imprint Made Greatest Free generation
 generation Redefined norms
 Dual incomes Civil rights

Pattern Stay with Loyal
 company Workaholic
 Sink or swim

Qualities Loyal Pro-growth/change
 Self-sacrificing Competitive
 Paid dues/climbed
 Want it all

Value Family Success/materially
 Patriotism Free expression

 Generation X Generation Y

 46 million born 76 million born
 1965-1980; post-1980; 15% of
 30% of workforce workforce

Formative Globalization Prosperity/uncertainty
Events Downsizing Violence/terrorism
 Technology boom Outsourcing/under-

Socialization Latchkey kids Strong social pressure
 Structured life/live at home
 Nontraditional families
 Active role in family
 Fallout from work
 Nonstandard work

Imprint Made Me generation We generation stars Wired/switch/populist
 Free agency Work at early age/worldly

Pattern Live on edge Expect to make decisions
 Embrace change Need to achieve/self-

 Devalue long hours Curious/energetic/question
 Job hop Distrust job security
 Will find a way Dislike face time/menial job

Qualities Independent Large size/diverse/loyal
 Individualistic Skilled/energetic
 Distrust companies Polite/positive/leave none
 Lack loyalty Socially conscious/hopeful
 Entrepreneurial Sophisticated/demanding

Value Skill more than title Heroism/patriot/virtue/duty
 Work-life balance Elderly/family/home/time
 Service/respect more than $
 Work to live; shared norms

Table 5. Summary (2)--Four Generations at Work

Assets Wisdom Social skills

Lack Technology skills Technology skills

Style Top-down Respect authority
 Directive Network
 Inform as needed Micro-manage
 Take charge Proactive
 Do what's right Work hard

Strategy Respect experience Give important roles
For Share past lessons Value contributions
 Reward staying Show respect
 Teach to assert Minimize conflict
 Match learning style Sensitize feedback
 Use as teachers Be flexible
 Rehire to coach/lead Challenge to grow
 Have coach/facilitate

Assets Technology skills Educated/experienced
 Education Sociable/technical/perform
 Fast track to manage Work ethic/multitask

Lack Social skills Direction/focus/confidence
 Interpersonal/soft skills

Style Skeptical Get done/produce/negotiate
 Reluctant to network Plunge right in/fast-paced
 Outcome-focused Open and civic-minded
 Achieve well/fast Blend work and play
 Bend rules as need Measure own success

Strategy Recruit traditionally/ad Treat fairly/professionally
For Manage by coach Give meaningful/fun work
 Don't micro-manage Challenge intellectually
 Reduce rules/layers Meet growth/personal goals
 Allow innovation Model expected behavior
 Update technology Manage inclusively/belong
 Feedback quickly Provide importance/voice
 Specify and help Have positive/open environ
 Credit for results Don't over-promise/hype
 Train just-in-time Assign projects/teams/tasks
 Allow freedom to try/access
 Focus by speed/target/win
 Train strategically/digitally
 Clarify big picture/timeline
 Specify roles/responsibilities
 Use to reverse mentor
 Streamline/target recruiting

Table 6. Hypotheses for Future Research

1. Managers will appear more effective to Gen Y workers if incentives
 are a greater part of their transactions.

2. Gen Y will be more receptive to incentives that are consistent with
 its generational profile.

3. Generational factors provide a common frame of reference for workers
 despite other socioeconomic variables.

4. Increasing managerial competence will increase Gen Y's workplace

5. Raising Gen Y's workplace satisfaction will raise its perception
 of managerial competence.

6. Managing Gen Y in ways that strengthen its workplace satisfaction
 will positively influence retention of Gen Y.

7. Using intergenerational strategies will strengthen the
 psychological contract between employer and employee.

8. Reconstructing generational profiles for workers whose formative
 socialization and dominant cultural norms significantly differ from
 North American-based profiles will enhance intergenerational-based

9. Managers are open to recognizing intergenerational workplace
 factors and crafting responsive strategies.
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Author:Eisner, Susan P.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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