Canadian Consulting Engineer

Generations X & Y

October 1, 2006
By Catriona Lander, Advance Corporate Training

Hey dude, that report you drew up for me is sweet!"

Hey dude, that report you drew up for me is sweet!”

If this is how you communicate with your organization’s young employees, you are probably having no trouble adjusting to the challenges of today’s diverse workforce.

If the thought of communicating like this sets you on edge, read on. There are many other things you can do to more effectively recruit, motivate and manage your younger staff.

Young employees fall into two groups. Generation X are those born between 1965-80, while those from Generation Y are in the group classified as born between 1980-94. Each generation has a distinct set of values, view of authority and sense of loyalty. They must be motivated as well as managed differently. Since most of today’s managers are Veterans and Baby Boomers (yes, two different, older generations), there can be a communication gap that feels as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Managing staff by their generation’s needs is the secret to keeping your young employees motivated, engaged and retained. A warning though: X-ers and Y-ers are quite different, despite their relative closeness in age. For example, when you need your young staff to work late, X-ers may resent doing so if they know it only benefits their boss. Y-ers may not put in the time if it conflicts with their personal schedules. Differences like this need to be reflected in your management approach.

How did they get that way?

The difference in expectation, attitudes and performance of different generations was first noticed when Boomers entered the workforce. This generation had experienced the same social and economic environments, so commonalities were easily identified. In fact, people of the same generation had more characteristics in common than members of the same gender or cultural background.

Commonalities exist with Generations X and Y even though they are fewer in number than Boomers. For example, entering the workforce was a competitive experience for X-ers, so they are aggressive. As well, this was the first demographic group that was largely parented “in absentia,” which gave them an increased sense of independence and self-direction.

Y-ers developed a reputation for being less motivated than previous generations because when they began entering the workforce there were more jobs than people. There was simply less need to prove themselves in order to be hired. Y-ers were also parented by a generation of working parents, and also by older first-time parents who valued relationships over activities. These parents exposed Y-ers to more new experiences than previous generations, making this group harder to “wow.”

How to attract the young

To create a workplace that attracts and retains X-ers and Y-ers:

* Encourage goal-setting and create and pay for learning opportunities.

* These generations are mobile so if your organization has multiple offices, advertise openings at each location.

* Encourage lateral moves within your firm so that employees are less likely to become bored and leave. Help them have their “career changes” within your organization.

* Create flexible jobs that parallel an employee’s development and lifestyle.

* Forget managing — coach! X-ers prosper with frequent guidance; Y-ers prefer the freedom to be creative and like constructive feedback.

* Ensure leaders “walk the talk.” Young employees will not tolerate inauthentic leadership. X-ers will leave under poor leadership; Y-ers will identify and challenge inauthenticity, then leave.

The commitment and loyalty of these young employees are far more determined by their feelings than by rational and deductive thought. Engage them by investing in their development and creating an emotional bond.

Young employees will stay if they feel valued and see room for advancement as well as opportunities to reach their personal goals. When high expectations are set for them, they deliver. When expectations are unclear, they flounder.

Dealing with information-age learners

We worked with one client to design an in-house learning program specifically targeted to Generations X and Y. The Boomer boss wanted stand-and-deliver and lecture-driven courses, but we helped him see that his younger staff needed experiential, just-in-time learning events where training is tied to an immediate learning need. This training also dealt with their challenges using interactive and fun methods.

The boss wanted heavy content too, but X-ers and Y-ers are information age learners and don’t buy in to experts just because they stand at the front of the room and recite their credentials. They need externally referenced sources they can take away and validate themselves. By having us change its staff training model, the client dramatically improved the amount of learning transferred back into the workplace and had more positive and supportive staff.

The X Factor

Generation X-ers seek recognition and are drawn to opportunities to learn and enjoy their work. Since X-ers value the workplace environment, employers should create a light and lively learning culture. Be honest and unafraid of conflict when providing feedback. X-ers seek responsibility: create a career ladder or promotion plan for them.

X-ers love technology and toys; equip them with the latest office technology. They also work to live lives full of the best and the biggest; therefore give them perks that are personal.

In return, expect a strong work ethic and an amazing ability to multi-task. X-ers will commit to you if they feel you have committed to them.

Ask Y

Generation Y employees are adaptable, innovative and efficient, so don’t be afraid to give them challenging projects. Motivate them by providing educational and personal skill building; give them time to take online courses. But let Y-ers choose the courses because they don’t respond well to being told what’s good for them.

They are also self-focused and demanding; they want to be asked their opinion and want to set their own work plans. They have a strong desire to fit in, so learn their personal and career goals, discuss how they fit with the company’s and then help them accomplish their goals.

As a result, they will impress you with their energy and creativity. They will refer your company to their friends, and they will work with a fury.

Way of the future

Are you sure you want these employees if they are this much work? You may need them! Just remember they can, and will, weigh their options and compare your firm with other potential organizations. These employees are your future. Engaging and motivating them will help you retain the best and brightest of Generations X, Y and beyond, ensuring your continued success.

Advance Corporate Training of Vancouver provides training and consulting to performance-driven organizations. Visit This article is based on a presentation given at this year’s annual general meeting of Consulting Engineers of B.C.


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