by Gabrielle Dolan

The secrets to managing Gen Y staff

Aug 19, 2015
CareersIT Leadership

By 2020, the majority of the workforce will be comprised of people born between 1980 and the early 2000s. Many senior managers comment that one of their biggest challenges is how they manage and lead this cohort – which is often referred to as the Millennials or the ‘dot-com’ generation.

Seeing that Gen Ys aren’t going away, judging them will not help. As a result leaders need to understand them, to successfully manage them.

Secret 1: They have great expectations

Generation Y wants to be challenged; they want to be inspired and will not accept the status quo. It’s this innate sense of curiosity and their ability to question tradition that has given them the moniker ‘generation why’.

With so many options available to this generation, if leaders are not providing a workplace that challenges and inspires them, they will seek to work somewhere that does.

Additionally this generation has different expectations and beliefs about what they want out of work and from their employers. Naturally they want to achieve and be rewarded financially but it is not just about that.

Gen Ys are looking for greater fulfillment, more personal development and opportunities to cultivate a well-rounded life. More importantly, they genuinely want to make a difference and, therefore, they take corporate responsibility very seriously. Leaders need to tap into this and provide these opportunities where they can.

Secret 2: They are loyal

Due to their tendency to change companies at a much faster rate than previous generations, they have, at times, been unfairly labelled as disloyal. However, they are simply responding to the environment they were raised in.

Many members of generation Y saw their parents lose their jobs after decades of service in the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. After witnessing the fallout from this job loss, they are not inclined to provide the same level of loyalty to companies that their parents did. When their earliest exposure to the business environment taught them that the world offers little job security, can you blame them for changing roles more frequently than previous generations?

However, just because they are more likely to change employers (the average employee tenure in 1960 was fifteen years; today it is four), this should not be seen as a sign of disloyalty.

Gen Ys are loyal. They are loyal to friends and brands. You only have to be outside an Apple store the day before a new iPhone is released to see evidence of this in the queues that snake down the street.

Secret 3: They are smart cookies

Generation Y is the most formally educated generation ever. Unlike previous generations, they don’t feel the need to work in an organisation for years before they ask for a change in role or promotion, or increased work-life balance. Many demand these aspects from day 1 and discuss their expectations during the interview process.

They are also not fooled easily with corporate jargon and leaders who think they have all the answers. They want their leaders to be more authentic in the way they talk and in the way they act. They are not looking for perfect leaders, they are looking for real leaders. They know that perfect leaders are not real and real leaders are not perfect.

Secret 4: They want to have fun

Generation Y employees expect to enjoy their job. The thought of staying in a job they hate is absurd to them, and you really can’t blame them. A mindset of ‘If you’re having fun you can’t be working’ will not serve you well if you are leading this generation.

When it comes to having fun at work, we can learn some important lessons from the Danes. Many words exist in one language and not in another language.

One such word exists in the Danish language but not in English — ‘arbejdsgl?de’. ‘Arbejde’ means ‘work’ and ‘gl?de’ means ‘happiness’, so ‘arbejdsgl?de’ is ‘happiness at work’. This word also exists in the other Nordic languages but does not exist in any other language group.

As a leader, you don’t have to turn into a stand-up comic, but thinking that you can’t have fun at work is misguided and, I would argue, not realistic.

Secret 5: They want to be included

Gen Y responds best to leaders who are more collaborative, flexible and inclusive. Leaders should seek their opinions and involve them early in the process. Involve them in the work they do and how they will do it as well as how they will be measured and rewarded.

Allowing the space to work with collaboration and flexibility with this generation can result in a win-win for both individual and organisation.

Leaders need to be prepared to be more consensus then command and control, more inclusive than autocratic and more flexible than structured.’

It goes without saying that not every employee in the Generation Y category will be the same. As with any individual employee, leaders need to respond to their various needs. However, the more leaders understand Generation Y the more they will be able to manage and lead them successfully.

Gabrielle Dolan works across Corporate Australian helping leaders humanise the way the lead by being more ‘real’. Her latest book Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results, is available online at all major retailers. To find out more head to