Gen Y in the workplace: we’re here, get used to it.

Gen Y cuspers like me have been here for a while (I entered the post-graduate workforce 5 years ago). Yet even in my current company, which is full of Gen Y workers and relatively young executives, I don’t think the corporate culture is quite used to having us around. I’ve observed more generational divide in my eight months here than I did in four years of agency work.

While there will always be some misunderstanding on both sides of a generation gap, making the most of a Gen Y workforce doesn’t mean overhauling the corporate structure. With a little bit of give, employers can get a lot out of their younger workers.

Give Us a Plan

We’re full of ideas and personal goals. We think we can do anything. Many of my peers have some mental roadmap of what they want to do with their lives. We want to know whether our current work will help us forge a career path that matches our own vision, inside the company as well as outside of it. And if it doesn’t, we want to know how we can make it so.

Give Us Career Creativity

We’d like to have a career roadmap, but we’d also like to have some influence over that roadmap. We’re fans of career design. Give us the opportunity to explore different ways we can contribute to the organization and different ways we can advance our careers. Climbing the same old corporate ladder through a succession of jobs we aren’t passionate about doesn’t hold much appeal. We don’t want to climb for the sake of the climb.

Give Us a Challenge

We’re an ambitious bunch, always looking for the next challenge. Sometimes this appears as a sense of entitlement: that we expect to be given bigger and better positions without “paying dues”. The reality is that the learning and growth we seek doesn’t need to come with a new position; a promotion is often just the traditional corporate way of getting more demanding work and responsibilities. A promotion is the traditional “next level”. But our quest for challenge can just as easily be completed through projects and assignments that test and hone our skills; by giving us greater responsibility, new goals, and rewarding us for our achievements.

Give Us a Sense of Purpose

The stereotype says Gen Y doesn’t like doing grunt work. The reality is, grunt work is fine as long as we’re still learning, have a sense of purpose and believe that our work is helping us fulfill our dreams. We have dreams and ambitions, and many of us have been raised by supportive parents who have fed those dreams for 20-plus years. We do understand that you have to start somewhere, and entry-level isn’t always glamorous. But we like to know that what we do is valuable, to our company as well as to our own development.

Give Us Both Independence and Belonging

This may seem kind of oxymoronic, but a Gen Y worker needs both. We don’t want to be micromanaged; we want the freedom to prove ourselves and do our work our way. But at the same time, we want to be part of a great team. We’re social and we enjoy being able to share ideas, connect and brainstorm.

Give Us Mentors

Gen Y has big dreams, but we need mentors to guide us, challenge us and help us realize our strengths, weaknesses, passions and competencies. We cherish relationships. We want the support of mentors to help us grow and succeed—and in turn, we want to offer our support to such people, too. We’re very reciprocal, and contrary to the stereotype, very loyal as well. We’re just loyal to people more than organizations.

I find it interesting that so many bloggers, authors, journalists and businesspeople have carried on so much conversation about Gen Y and what we’re all about, but in many corporate cultures, we still feel the disconnect.

What do you think makes the Gen Y worker different and how can companies make the most of their new workforce of educated, connected, driven young people?


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