How Gen Y is Shifting the Get-Stuff-Done Culture

By David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

When it comes to the workforce, Gen Y has often been given a bad rap. They have stereotypically been presented as disliking authority, job-hopping like it’s nothing, and demanding work-life balance.

They’re the ones who will show up to work in flip-flops, show up to meetings in gym shoes, and work from home like it’s nobody’s business. Not to mention, they’re damn competitive with themselves and with each other. Your company just can’t keep up.

The thing is, you have no choice. By 2025, Gen Y will reportedly comprise 75% of the workforce. Your company needs to adapt, which means debunking their stereotypes and jumping into their heads. For one, Gen Y’ers want promotions yesterday because they’re awesome — they’re the highest educated of any cohort.

Because of the recession, however, they’ve entered the workforce in jobs that are completely underwhelming. They’re also under immense pressure to pay off their student debt, buy houses in markets that their parents have taken over, and find a sense of stability. Thus, regardless of their dislike for bureaucracy, they have an innate drive to succeed that needs to be tapped in to.

Instead of focusing on the existing stereotypes of Gen Y, we need to understand their unique perspectives and embrace their strengths. They’re debunking office politics in favor of getting stuff done. Here’s why you need to kick the following three stereotypes to the curb.

Inexperienced Leadership

When poor leadership stifles employee engagement, analysts are quick to blame younger managers.

“With many seasoned baby boomer leaders now retiring, less ‘downturn-experienced’ leaders are being pushed through the ranks,” says the LifeByDesign blog. “As such, Generation X & Y managers who are filling the leadership void are, in many instances, ill-equipped to deal with crisis management and the humanistic leadership skills required to cope with retaining and engaging their remaining time-poor key talent.”

This is an overly simplistic and narrow perspective of Gen Y leadership. The problem isn’t novice leadership — it’s the fact that managers are under immense pressure to do more with less and that organizations are so money-minded that they fail in cultivating an environment where employees can excel and feel happy. Years ago, boomers had the luxury of fair wages, job security, reasonable working hours, and pension plans. Of course such employees will feel more stable in their professional life.

Younger managers are dealing with layoffs, limited resources to get things done, and low salaries. You can rest assured that they’re highly empathetic, but in the grand scheme of happiness, empathetic management means nothing to a company that simply doesn’t care.

Here’s where Gen Yers are so invaluable to your organization. They’re making your company care by leveraging technology to save money, make money, and better-engage your organization. They’re working on solving a problem much bigger than them instead of just talking about it and throwing blame.

Low Attention Span

Try rephrasing that stereotype into “high entrepreneurial drive.” Sounds much better, doesn’t it? Generation Y, alternatively known as the Entrepreneur Renaissance, is creating more small business owners and founders than any other generation.

They’re finding problems worth solving. Because they give a damn, they are investing their emotional energies in solving that problem. When organizations fail to support them, they’ll leave to start their own ventures. “Low attention span” does not even begin to describe this dynamic.

Societies, and organizations especially, need an entrepreneurial mindset to continuously grow, remain influential, and move forward. Your organization truly serves to benefit when you retain perpetually fleeting Gen Yers, engage their entrepreneurial instincts, and reinvest their energy into your business. That’s how you get stuff done.

Constantly Distracted

You know the story. You walk by your team’s screen and see 100 browser windows open. Meanwhile, they’re texting friends about the weekend, and who knows what the heck is going through their heads. Nobody’s actually working, right? Wrong. Gen Yers have learned to embrace the ‘art of the brain break.’ They are more focused and dedicated than you think. They’re just yearning to stay connected with their social circles and world at large.

Thing is, it’s very easy for this behavior to deteriorate into a culture of distraction.

“We threaten the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our “gap” time with stimulation,” wrote Joe Kraus for his blog. “And we inhibit real human connection when we prioritize our phones over our the people right in front of us.”

Your company is equally at fault here. It’s not just the employees. For one, when you force people to focus on one thing for eight to ten hours a day, of course people will burn out. If you limit their social media resources and moderate how much time they can spend checking personal email, of course, they’ll jump on their phones to start texting.

Stop forcing your employees to focus, and instead, encourage an environment of trust. That means implementing a system for clearly identifying employee goals and helping team members self-regulate their progress. Stop treating personal lives like they’re a bad thing. They’re natural, valuable, and human. That’s how you get stuff done.

Final Thoughts

In corporate settings that relentlessly prioritize politics, profit, and egos, Gen Yers care about infrastructure, solving real problems, and getting things done. Even if that means showing up in flip-flops and demanding a promotion every so often.

How do you think it’s best to incorporate Gen Y into your work culture? Share in the comments below.

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