'Over-parenting' may not be an entirely new invention, but studies like this recent one out of Australia
suggest it's on the increase in younger generations. 'Helicopter parenting', as it's sometimes referred to, is in some respects becoming the new normal.
For managers of Gen Y, and those following close behind, this presents a formidable challenge—not least of all because these parenting and educational trends have helped shaped an attitude to work that older generations simply don't 'get'.
One key difference between growing up in the mid-1980s through to the 1990s and the 2000s (as opposed to previous decades), has been the way in which children have experienced self-directed play, and more importantly, risk and freedom.
Many studies and articles have discussed the increased emphasis during recent decades on the following elements of parenting and education:
- Risk aversion
- Positive feedback
- Adult or parental supervision during play, then during school, and now at work
What's ironic about this is that many of the complaints about how Gen Y now operates in the workplace come from the very individuals who pioneered these parenting and educational changes. However, we need to recognize that there is a big difference between parenting someone and being his or her boss. Simply raising a Gen Y individual does not prepare you for managing one in the workplace. Parenting and managing are different.
First and foremost, older generations must recognize that some of the foundations of their management style, and the messages they have heard from their HR department, are in fact reinforcing (rather than bridging), the generational divide.
Older workers have been trained to focus on issues of fairness and uniformity in their management style. In many ways, they’ve been asked to provide a homogenous experience of being managed; one where everyone is treated the same way. Yet, this is a recipe for failure in the Millennial workplace.
Instead, older managers need to develop a more individual approach, one that addresses the needs and motivations of individuals, not ‘employees’, as if they were one homogenous group with the same thoughts and motivations. After all, one Gen Y employee won’t be the same as the next, and the real answer lies in finding appropriate ways to treat people fairly, but differently.
In understanding the foundations of Gen Y, we cannot ignore the role of technology. While technology has influenced all of us, Gen Y has evolved with technology as a life center. It has particularly influenced their communication styles—partly because parents have been less inclined to let their children roam the outside world, and instead have allowed them to do so online, in the comfort and protection of their home.
Believe it or not, this hasn’t always had disastrous outcomes. Millennials have developed a new version of community, friendship and connectivity. And, the networks they’ve learned to form are not always superficial, meaningless and disposable.
In October 2010, we may have argued that these social networks are very broad and very popular, but that they were tenuous in nature. After the Arab Spring, it became clear that they aren’t tenuous at all—they are tenacious. And they are powerful.
Gen Y’s ability to build, shape, dismantle, evolve and grow networks quickly and easily is one thing. But their ability to create networks that are genuine forces for change is something else entirely. We often minimize social media as pure entertainment. It’s not, and proficiency in using it is a skill that has genuine applications in the workplace—one that older generations have yet to fully grasp.
The foundations of Gen Y are different from the previous generations. They’ve been parented and educated differently, and the technology that may have influenced all of us has fundamentally shaped them. Broadly speaking, Gen Ys tend to value and expect:
- Constant feedback
- Opportunity and reward for a job well done
This means that managers and organizations as entities have a new challenge. Instead of ‘managing’ Gen Ys, they need to deeply study what makes them tick on an individual level. They need to understand them, and this is something no generation ever does easily. However, if you understand the demographics, this time it’s non-negotiable.
This post about GenY belongs to the white paper Don’t Manage Me, #understandme. You can download a free copy here.