Managers routinely complain about their Gen Y employees as entitled, disloyal, and lazy — and as a result, conflicts arise. In a study in partnership with American Express for my new book, we found that while managers have a negative view of Gen Y, employees from this generation generally have a positive view of their managers. Employees feel that their managers have experience (59%), wisdom (41%) and are willing to mentor them (33%). On the other hand, managers feel that Gen Y employees have unrealistic salary/compensation expectations (51%), a poor work ethic (47%), and are easily distracted (46%). While there is a tendency to blame their employees for generational conflicts, managers in today's companies may need to rethink their own management styles.
The first step is to drop generational stereotypes and give Gen Y employees a chance to prove themselves. "The standard Gen Y stereotypes are pretty well accepted in the workplace," says Carrie Hirst, a Regional Marketing Coordinator at Allstate. "Once people have gotten to know me, they will say that the stereotypes don't apply."
One of those misconceptions is that millennials are "entitled," a word that has become synonymous with Gen Y in the management ranks. "I believe that they expect many things to come easy before the work has been put in," says Dean Lawyer, Regional Director of Business Sales for T-Mobile. Contrary to what managers say, Gen Y's are work horses and have a persistent hunger to discover new experiences, take advantage of opportunities and push the boundaries. The recession has forced millennials to develop this work ethic, with 44% of students who are working to help finance their education, reports Rutgers University. Through our research, we've discovered that millennials are the most optimistic generation despite economic setbacks. Furthermore, the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University reports that 84% of millennials view making a positive difference in the world as more important than professional recognition.
Managers view them as having a sense of entitlement because they fail to realize that they want to make a big impact, get connected with executives and engage in professional development opportunities. "Just because someone is younger doesn't mean they can't complete at a high level," says Ryan Brown, a Twitter employee. This isn't entitlement — it's being personally accountable for your own career.
Another Gen Y stereotype is that they lack the company loyalty held by their older colleagues, and this is at least partly true: The average tenure at a firm for Gen Y is two years (compared to five years for Gen X and seven years for Boomers). But those numbers don't tell the whole story. The real issue here is that managers fail at setting expectations with their Gen Y employees, and often don't inform them on criteria for promotions or suggest a path to upward mobility. In our study, we found that 20% of managers don't give annual performance reviews and only 12% give quarterly reviews. Millennials need regular feedback and a set of expectations in order to improve and feel engaged. For the same reason a manager may also get frustrated with a "lazy" Gen Y employee who isn't performing at the expected level — but most of the time it's because the supervisor is not dictating what that level is. When managers don't invest in their Gen Y workers and help them create a path within the company, they look elsewhere — and that costs firms $24,000 per employee on average. Companies simply can't afford to lose Gen Y talent because in the next ten years, they will become the majority of the global workforce.
The real opportunity to bring both generations together is mentoring programs that connect Gen Y talent to senior leaders. PepsiCo is one example of a company that has accomplished this with a mentoring program called Conn3ct, a global network of young professionals within the company. Through the program, Gen Y voices are heard, their ideas are implemented and they received executive exposure and sponsorship. "This young talent pool continues to support recruiting events for new young professionals to enter the company, helps in product development and marketing initiatives, and contributes to improving the overall work-life balance of employees," says Paul Marchand, SVP of Field HR at PepsiCo. Gen Y employees benefit from networking, training and development and their careers are accelerated in the process. Managers benefit from learning about new trends and how to leverage the latest technology from Gen Y, who doesn't know a world without computers.
By understanding how to work with Gen Y employees and creating programs that allow them to network, learn and feel part of the company, you will retain them and they will become your next leaders. If you don't, then you will lose them to your competitors.