Integrating Generation Y Into the Workplace

Holly J. Culhane SPHR
May 12, 2009 — 1,984 views  
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Whether they're sizzling singles, magical marrieds, or living in a dream home, if they're in your workplace you want them to be enthusiastic, energetic, extraordinary employees.  Just how do you manage this?  Well, indeed, that's the billion dollar question.  Fortunately, there is a simple answer - you train them.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do this, especially when you consider the diverse individuals moving into our modern workplace environments.  Each person is from a unique background and, therefore, each needs specific training that may not fit what others need.  Is this a daunting task?  Yes, it is; but we have some tips for you.

First of all, today we are dealing with Generation Y, also known as the Net Generation.  These are also sometimes referred to as the millennial generation and currently include approximately 80 million people between the ages of eight and 29.  As this group enters the workplace, they are presenting unique challenges to human resource professionals and managers.  Most of them definitely do NOT need technical training as they have grown up with cell phones, computers, the Internet, and personal electronics.  However, because they have had all of these technological advantages, many of them lack social skills and a sense of what is appropriate in an office.  They have always relied on their technology and are accustomed to interacting remotely, rather than on a face-to-face basis.  As a result, many are grossly unprepared for working in a professional office and dealing with a demanding public. 

In fact, in some areas, businesses are demanding that institutions of higher learning address this problem and offer courses specifically designed to prepare young people for entering the workforce after graduation.  In HR Magazine's article, "Generation Gaps," (January 2008), one such course entitled "Professionalism at Work" is discussed.  This particular course covers such issues as "dressing as an office professional and not as a student."  This specific issue arose out of complaints from employers that college-educated, highly qualified young people were showing up to interviews so inappropriately dressed they were sent home, deemed unacceptable for even an interview.  Okay, so does this sound familiar?  How many of you have had prospective employees with fabulous resumes show up for an interview looking like they dragged in off of skid row?  Pathetic?  Yes.  Insurmountable?  Sometimes.  However, often these individuals can be taught the basics so their incredible expertise can be accessed in order to become an asset to your company.

Sheryl Barbich, owner of Barbich Consulting located in California, concurs, but believes it is important to start earlier than college.  She states, "Recently, due to rising complaints from business, the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) developed important pointers to be provided through school presentations by business people, hoping students as young as junior high may listen when ‘outside' business people tell them how to be successful in the business world." 

So, let's look at how we can take these accomplished youngsters, well-meaning but clueless, and transform them into quality employees.  On which topics do we need to concentrate for our Generation Y babies?  Obviously, we need to start with the basics.

First, training needs to be directed at dressing and acting appropriately and professionally on the job.  While most of us were raised with a sense of propriety and an intrinsic understanding of appropriate behavior and dress for different situations, the current generation is woefully lacking in these skills.  They have been raised in an "anything goes" era where even at church services, any type of clothing is okay and audience participation is encouraged.  This isn't bad, but it is different.  It simply illustrates why young people may be unprepared for recognizing when professional dress is appropriate.

Also, these young people entering the workforce are masters at multi-tasking.  They have grown up watching television, working on the computer, listening to music, and instant messaging their friends - all at the same time.  Therefore, they have no idea how offensive it is to be talking with a client, face-to-face, and never look up from their computer.  Again, they are competent to do several things at once, and may actually be well aware of the personal interaction, not ignoring the customer at all.  However, they must be taught that this simply is poor customer service and can be construed as downright rude.

And speaking of instant messaging.  That brings up another huge training issue.  Today's new employees have always had spell check for writing, and have also come to rely on their instant messaging abbreviations for written communication.  Because they have used this type of shorthand since they first began to write, they have major deficits when it comes to producing professional correspondence.  Even e-mails need to be written with acceptable English conventions in the workplace.  Again, they need to be guided in this area.

According to Barbich, the GBCC presentations emphasize the importance of "showing up, on time, every day, dressed appropriately for the position.  Furthermore, the second half of that presentation focuses on communication skills, including spelling, grammar, and face-to-face communication."  She agrees that the workforce is changing and explains, "This new workforce learns differently, and needs training in presentation skills and work ethic.  There is also a recognition that perhaps this training needs to start at a young age in order to become incorporated into the thought process of this emerging workforce."

One more tip - conduct the training face-to-face.  Even though they may be more comfortable with electronic training, they need the modeling and social experience of personal training in groups with other employees.

Holly J. Culhane SPHR

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Identified the need for human resource and organizational assistance for small- and medium-sized business­es and formed Profes­sional Administra­tive Systems in 1987. Now known as P A S Associates, this firm combines specialists in the fields of human resources, labor and employment law, affirma­tive action, and substance abuse policies and education, providing an unsurpassed Human Resource Center.