Managing Gen Y offers benefits, challenges

With "Generation Facebook" entering workforce and forming sizeable group at work, enterprises unveil some challenges and benefits of having new blood as well as discuss common perceptions about this tech-savvy bunch.

Generation Y (Gen Y) employees are tech-savvy and capable of bringing new ideas and innovation into the workforce but similar to previous generations, some employers say managing this group of workers has its ups-and-downs. ZDNet Asia talks to enterprises in the region to uncover the challenges as well as debunk myths about hiring Generation Facebook.

Asked about the biggest challenge in managing Gen Y, George Chang, regional director for Southeast Asia and Hong Kong at Fortinet, demurred, saying: "We have good experience in hiring Gen Y employees and it is more about bringing out their potential than dealing with the challenges.

"For instance, by tapping their potential, Gen Y can prove to be energetic, hungry and innovative employees," he said. With their fresh perspective on technology, Chang added that these employees can combine their energy and ideas into practical applications for their company.

Cameron Pitt, Asean and Korea general manager at talent and career management consulting firm, Right Management, also pointed to this generation's familiarity with technology as a key benefit for companies. In an e-mail interview, he said the Gen Y cohort--as an early adopter of technology--has brought in collaboration, innovation and communication into the workforce at a pace that is never seen before.

However, Pitt noted that the workforce today is occupied by three generations of employees, which he described as "pre-digital, digital and post digital". This can result in much uncertainty about how companies can unleash the potential of Gen Y employees, where managers must learn to balance the excitement brought by the young employees with the apprehension that others may have.

For Daphne Liew, employee retention is the biggest challenge when Gen Y workers are involved. The managing director of public relations firm, NBS Consulting, Liew said in an e-mail interview that many employers grapple with ways to keep Gen Y motivated and retain such talent in the company.

This issue is also difficult to address because of the inconsistency in this generation's behavior, she noted. "Some are motivated by money while others may not be," she said.

Liew added that a company's working environment is most important for the millenials. "It's not just the physical environment but also the people they work with, the 'cool' factor in the work they do, and how cool their bosses or supervisors are whether these [managers] can be viewed as mentors," she said.

Chang noted: "[For Gen Y workers,] the world is still a relatively new place for them so they have the curiosity to seek new adventures and challenge existing schools of thought."

Perhaps by challenging existing schools of thoughts at the workplace, these young employees may also have garnered an unfavorable reputation. ZDNet identified five traits commonly used to describe Gen Y workers and asked employees if they thought agreed, or disagreed.

1. Gen Y are easily distracted in the workplace.
Liew agreed, noting that digital communication tool in the form of mobile phone calls, text messages, instant messages and social media can be distracting.

Chang, though, said this distraction signals the need to keep Gen Y motivated and kept challenged.

Pitt challenged the description, noting that their intentions are misconstrued. "Gen Ys are extreme multitaskers and other generations confuse the ability to e-mail, text-message, blog and hold a conversation at the same time as being 'distracted'," he said.

2. Gen Ys prefer to take shortcuts and expect instant rewards.
While Liew opposed to labeling Gen Y as "lazy", she noted that this group of employees generally believe there is a short cut to everything. "It's the digital age that makes them think everything can and should be done faster or by [taking] shortcuts," she said.

And when they do manage to achieve something through a shorter route, they expect instant gratification, she added. "Unfortunately, many things cannot be done that way," she said.

However, Pitt again pointed to a culture clash between Gen Y and the rest of the workforce as the source of this perception.

"In Gen Y's world, faster is better," he said. "We must remember that they grew up online where they have access to relationships on every continent on the planet, instantly, on their handheld."

"Yet in the workplace, we expect them to work through [proper] processes and layers of management to do their job," he added.

Pitt noted that Gen Y employees, like everyone else in the workforce, want to be recognized and rewarded for their achievement. However, the challenge lies in the difference between how Gen Y and the rest of the organization measure achievements.

3. Due to their reliance on text-based communication, Gen Y workers are not good communicators when involved in face-to-face conversations.
Pitt argued that Gen Y's ability to communicate is no different from other workers, noting instead that "communication effectiveness is linked to what the listener thinks, feels and does post-interaction".

However, he noted that other generations might interpret Gen Y's text-messaging and blogging during work meetings as form of poor communication.

Fortinet's Chang also pointed to a technology gap between Gen Y and their older counterparts. "[Gen Y] were basically raise on Web 2.0 and other online communication."

Noting that text-based communication has its own merits when compared to some written communication such as "over-crafted memos", he suggested that older co-workers and managers should compromise and meet Gen Ys halfway.

4. Gen Y don't want to pay their dues when climbing up the corporate ladder.
Liew noted that most Gen Y workers likely think there is no need to climb the corporate ladder because they are turned off by over-structured or hierarchical organizational structures.

Pitt concurred, adding that these young employees might see formal structures and processes as a hindrance to their ability to advance their career more quickly.

"Highly ambitious and achievement-oriented, Gen Ys expect to be heard and they want to know that what they are doing is valuable to the company, the environment as well as valuable to them and their career," he said.

5. Gen Y is overly attached to technology and insistent on bringing in tools even in disregard to enterprise security.
According to Pitt, technology is an integral part of a Gen Y worker's daily life. This tech-savvy employee has the skill and mindset to work alongside IT systems that support companies today. He added that they do not see clear lines between work and personal, virtual and physical, sanctioned and prohibited.

Hence, IT managers can be frustrated by these users, he said, noting that some Gen Y workers are not completely aware of the company's IT policies while others choose to ignore the policies and bypass restrictions.

But rather than simply lament Gen Y's disregard for enterprise security, Liew said enterprises can address such issues by deploying technology and security tools.

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