Tamara Erickson says managers should encourage Gen Y workers to innovate.
If you think managing Generation Y workers is tricky, just wait until the next generation walks through the door.
Generational expert Tamara Erickson says children aged four to 17 have been heavily influenced by the global financial crisis, the environmental movement, mobile technology and easy access to information on the internet. That is translating into a generation of savers who feel empowered to take action and aren’t very keen to work for big companies.
“They will make very interesting consumers and employees,” Erickson, who was listed as one of the World’s Top 50 Business Thinkers in 2013, says. “We have a generation of kids coming on who would like to be entrepreneurs if they could.”
The United States-based consultant has written three books on the different generations in our workplaces and is working on a fourth book on the next generation of workers, which she calls the “ReGeneration”.
Speaking to The Australian Financial Review before her keynote speech at the Australian Human Resources Institute national convention on Wednesday, she argues that each generation’s attitude to work makes perfect sense given childhood influences – but we rarely cut other generations any slack.
Erickson acknowledges there are plenty of things that influence our preferences at work, from life stage to gender and personality. But she argues our generation has a big impact on our “knee-jerk reaction” to things. “There’s really good evidence that show some of our generational biases follow us throughout our lives.”
Erickson is a follower of Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget who argued that children’s experiences from age 11 to 15 have a lasting impact on the way their perceive and interact with the world. This helps explain the differences between generations, from traditionalists (in their 70s) who created many of our hierarchical organisations to those about to join the workforce.
Keeping Gen Y interested
Older executives tend to think that Gen Y workers don’t want to “pay their dues”, Erickson says. “Frankly, [Gen Y] don’t want to do some grubby job for five years in the hope it pays off.” She argues it is not that the generation is lazy and entitled, but it is influenced by the September 11 terror attacks and the wars that followed, as well as other acts of violence like the Port Arthur massacre. All this taught the generation that random things can happen and it is best to live life to the fullest now.
Managers should accept that is a reasonable way to think and start catering to it and encouraging them to innovate, she says. “One way to make even menial tasks more challenging is to let them [Gen Ys] figure out how to do them,” she says.
Options appeal to Gen X
Erickson urges companies to change traditional career paths to attract and retain Gen Xs. These workers in their 30s and 40s saw climbing divorce rates, corporate collapses and job lossess in their formative years and they are focused on being self-reliant, having options and having back-up plans, she says. Offering lateral moves around a company appeals to Gen X as it broadens their skill set and options, she says.
Boomers want cyclical work
With an ageing population, companies need to be able to keep the best of their workers aged in their 50s and 60s, Erickson argues. The key is offering flexible work. Her surveys have revealed that the most popular form of work for this generation is cyclical fulltime work (such as working on a project for a few months a year) rather than the usual part-time option. This gives boomer workers the freedom to travel. This type of work is slowly growing more popular in the US. For example Mitre, a US consultancy, has “reserves at the ready” – former full-time highly trained staff who can be called back in for big projects, Erickson says.