One of the debates that swirl around the topic of Generation Y in the workplace is that they are still just growing up. In the same way in which the Boomer generation of hippies and radicals “grew up” and became the conservative business leaders of today, so, the argument goes, Generation Y will eventually shake off the tags of lazy, entitled, narcissistic and disloyal and become the hard working, self sacrificing corporate leaders of the future.
Leaving aside the labels, the idea that Generation Y are still growing up has some merit. Part of what we see exhibited in their behaviour are normal adolescent traits apparent in generations before them. Latest research shows that the brain does not finish its development until around age 25 and the last area to fully develop is the frontal lobe which is that part of the brain that is responsible for logic and reasoning.
Now if your brain, up until age 25, is still developing the ability to utilise logic and reasoning, what effect might that have on your ability to plan and set goals, avoid impulsive decisions based on emotion, and be mindful of the impact of one’s behaviour on the larger picture? The manager’s despairing and insulting cry to “get a brain” may not be as far from the truth as we might think!
So as employers what are we to do with our under 25’s who can so easily frustrate us with their attitudes and behaviours?
Understand and accept their cognitive limitations. Don’t be reactive, but instead be proactive. Just because a young employee does not instinctively see the relationship between their behaviour and the effect on your company, doesn’t meant they can’t have it explained to them. A wise and patient manager will take the time to explain what might be obvious to them in a way that a young Generation Y employee can understand. They will help them to set aside emotion at times and look at a situation dispassionately in a way that helps them use their emerging faculties of logic and reasoning. They will work with them in setting goals and developing plans that are realistic and coherent, and they will walk them through exactly what is required of them on the job, checking that the young employee has heard them correctly and filling in any gaps in understanding that may exist.
In conclusion let me add, that although the idea that Generation Y will eventually “grow up” has some merit, it is far from the full picture. At Y Consulting we operate out of the conviction that many of the differences in Generation Y are not developmental at all but are symptomatic of the culture in which they have grown up – a culture quite different from previous generations.
To better understand these differences download a free copy of our booklet “Y? Understanding the New Generation in the Workplace.”