Knowing Y

Managers will soon face a new generation of workers who require more hands-on attention and more development to build needed skills

In almost any organization, managers wear many hats: supervisor, mentor, disciplinarian, motivator, decision-maker, conflict resolver and more. But in the public sector, which will soon need to hire unprecedented numbers of younger, entry-level employees, they’ll need to add a new one: surrogate parent.

That’s the assessment of Terese Corey Blanck, an employee development consultant who focuses on helping organizations learn how to attract, retain and manage so-called Generation Y employees (also called Echo Boomers). They are the 75 million or so workers age 18 to 30.

After interviewing thousands of Generation Y college graduates during her career, Corey Blanck concludes that this generation is largely bereft of the decision-making and conflict-resolution skills that came as standard equipment with most Baby Boomers. It’s much more than a generation gap, says Corey Blanck, CEO and president of CTC Consultants, based in Minneapolis, Minn.

Umbilical cords

Instead, she points to overly protective parents who not only paved the way for their children but went out and built the road, too. And then striped it, put up guardrails, posted traffic signs and handed out GPS units.

“I remember when I got dropped off on my first day at college,” she recalls. “During that first week, I navigated everything myself. I didn’t ask my parents for anyhelp making decisions. Now, parents set up their loft beds, buy their books and then talk to their kids’ professors. And after they leave, they’re still attached by umbilical cords called cell phones and text messaging.

“As a result, most members of this generation aren’t really adults yet. They haven’t had the experiences or developed decision-making skills because their parents have been so involved and had them so programmed. In a way, they’ve delayed growing up. Their hearts are in the right place, but they just don’t have enough life experiences. They’re still navigating toward adulthood. They don’t know how to fail — and build their skill sets in doing so.”

There are aberrations, Corey Blanck notes. She estimates that 10 to 20 percent of Gen Yers have enough moxie to thrive as entry-level employees. But there aren’t enough of them to fill the job openings, which means it’s very likely that some maturity-challenged workers will soon be working near you.

Making it work

So what’s a manager to do? First of all, managers might want to temper expectations. Corey Blanck has heard many Gen Y horror stories: employees who balk at menial tasks, or who ask if it’s okay to come in late on certain days to accommodate their social lives. Many find it difficult advancing to the next level because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of people they now supervise who used to be their peers.

“Managers will need to push them out of the self-absorbed mode — make them make decisions based on the greater good of the organization,” she says.

Supervisors also must become much more hands-on, developmental managers. Gone are the days when managers could hand off projects to employees with minimal direction and assume they would figure it out on their own and get things done.

“Managers need to get to know employees in a more personal way,” Corey Blanck says. “Instead of solving a problem for them, managers will have to walk them through their thoughts and discuss what kinds of resources are available.”

Managers should also work closely with their human resources departments to perform developmental assessments of Gen Yers and figure out where they are in terms of cognitive competencies and emotional development. Then they need to talk candidly to employees about their deficiencies.

“Managers will need to sit down with these employees and discuss specific experiences they want them to navigate,” Corey Blanck says. “Whether they fail or succeed isn’t even the point. It’s all about learning through new challenges and experiences. If you never fail, you never truly know who you are.”

Gen Yers also demand more dialogue and communication. Managers will have to continually benchmark and assess their development, and patiently correct mistakes. “The more you do something and get corrected, the more efficient your brain becomes at executing the task,” Corey Blanck says. “You want them to practice these new skills on a frequent basis. Part of this is about developing an identity.”

Touch base often

In addition, managers will likely find they need to check in more often with Gen Y employees, rather than relying on a weekly staff meeting. They’ll also need to tailor their management styles.

“Get rid of the half-hour weekly staff meeting and coach these employees,” Corey Blanck suggests. “It doesn’t need to take more time. You just spread it out over the course of a week. And you need to get to know people well. Some will respond better to e-mail, while others will prefer face-to-face contact. You have to ask them often if they need help and give them specific times you’ll be available if they need help later on.”

Corey Blanck urges managers not to look at this as handholding. Managers always have some star employees and some who need help and development — and some need it more than others. Gen Yers are no different.

In many ways, managers will be forced to do the work that family, neighbors and society, and even neighborhood games and contests, did in generations past: Help children mature into adults, learn how to manage conflict and develop assessment skills.

“It’s a daunting challenge, but we have no choice,” Corey Blanck says. “Managers need to look at these employees differently and start developing them differently. They can get help by using other employees who are further along. They’ll know who those employees are.”

Who knows? If you properly and patiently coach and develop this new breed of employees, you might be able eventually to slip back into normal management mode, and wear one less hat along the way.


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