ME-llenials – who are they and what’s their concept of work?

published on Jun 7, 2016 by I. Nacheva

Diversity of generations is among the biggest topics of discussion among business and organisational experts during the recent decade. The reason is connected to the fact that a large number of young people entered the workforce and managers think these people differ significantly from the “average employee” we are familiar with. Certain sectors are especially affected by this trend and IT is an emblematic example.

Experts still argue if we can speak about big differences or a real “generation gap”, and for this reason researchers and organisational psychologists put more and more efforts to find out the truth.

The buzzword in this discussion is one letter: Y. “Generation Y” is a term, usually used to describe people, born between 1980 and 2000. Other names referring to the same group are “Millenials” or “Generation Me”. When speaking about generations we have to keep two things in mind – first, these are cohorts that include individuals born around one the same time. And second, they have experienced significant social or economic changes during some critical moment of their development. This special experience is believed to be the basis of common value system that characterises and sets significant differences between this group of people and those born before them.

Well then, do managers have reasons to believe such thing as “Generation Y” exists? Certainly, there were some changes in that period that may have strong impact on the development of the individuals – such as glŠ¾balization, technology boom, world economy crisis. Of course, in different parts of the world these factors varied in their impact and speed of penetration. In addition, significant local social events also have affected generations (let us take the youth in the ex-communist block in Eastern Europe, that experienced dramatic social transitions in the 90-es). In that sense the exact time boarders that describe Generation Y may need some corrections.

What is so interesting about Generation Y?

This new generation on the workplace demonstrates values and behavioural patterns that seem different from those of well-known “average employee worker” from the past. If you search the articles in the popular media, you will find that most of the authors have critical approach on the issue.

Generation Y is often called “selfish”. Young workers are accused of being “non-loyal” (because they change organisations more quickly), they are described as “lacking social skills” (because they often use technology instead of the traditional face-to-face communication), they are claimed to be “impatient” (because they seek to see immediate results and feedback from their work). Some of these analyses try to rest on evidences like statistics and research, but even in these cases the interpretation of facts is disputable. Predominantly those critical voices over Generation Y belong to (or are created for audience of) disappointed managers from older generations. The negative tone of the articles can be explained with frustration from the discrepancy between traditional methods of management and the needs of this new generation.

But when we turn to the real investigations, thing go really interesting. The biggest part of the reliable researches on the topic is done with US samples, but there are also several international reports from big consultancy companies and some data for Europe and Asia from social psychologists (for more info we recommend Twenge, Farrell and “NextGen” Report). On the basis of the conclusions from such studies, here we present summarised profile of the remarkable characteristics of Generation Y, which can help you understand and manage better the young experts in your team:

  1. A significant group of characteristics is connected to the tech orientation. Because these employers were the first generation raised in environment where computers and mobile devices were so accessible, their attitude and skills towards technologies are more positive and complete. By default, spatial distances are not considered to be a problem (even sometimes they are underrated when they shouldn`t be). Speed of work is important as well as the results and feedback. Although there are no irrefutable evidences, we see strong connection between the patterns of communication in virtual networks and games and the tendency for Millenials to constantly seek for attention and feedback on the workplace. Another aspect is the ability of young people to separate task into smaller pieces and work simultaneously on several directions. This allows them to join project work without resistance, to work in virtual teams and to coop with situations that require multi-tasking. 
  2. Among the leading values is work-life balance. This idea is so strong for Generation Y that it can lead to some “unconventional” career choices and preferences. Often there is no clear separation between work and personal life – young people believe these two can naturally co-exist together. That explains why social entrepreneurship, personalized businesses and “I work my hobby” activities are easily embraced. If work and life crash into conflict, this may cause serious problems for employers, because Millenials will look for other opportunities that bring them sense of balance. 
  3. Wok-life balance is also connected to another phenomenon – the new concept about what is the actual meaning of “work”. One of the key differences between Generation Y and those born before them is the clear understanding that your job is not a “place”. These employees are not keen on the idea of spending 8 hours every day in one and the same office - they are not attached to the “going to work” ritual, nor to the office environment. Their vision is that “work” is a process/concrete actions which lead to results. Because of the attention on the result the generation is often described as achievement-focused. And there is no surprise, talent hunters now attract Generation Y with flexible work time, home office options and unconventional work experiences like power weeks in the nature, wellness programs, personalized working spaces etc.

As you can see this new workforce has attitudes and characteristics that are different, but certainly cannot be called negative. Technological literacy, multitasking, focus on the results, teamwork and search for feedback are definitely things that can help businesses and organisations if managed properly. But maybe the most fascinating feature of Generation Y is their search for work-life balance which enables them to build a new vision about the concept of “work”:  it is no longer a “place”, now it is a “thing”…